Starting our Days with Turkish Breakfast

I participate in a monthly writing project with other traveling families. Last month we wrote about how Anyone Can Travel. This month, we’re sharing stories about a major reason why many of us travel – food. After reading about our breakfasts in Turkey, you can go on a culinary journey around the world with other families by clicking on the links at the bottom of this post.

The first meal of the day in Turkey is an elaborate affair, one traditionally enjoyed over hours with family. Visitors can experience a Turkish breakfast at leisure in one of Istanbul’s cafes or restaurants, each competing for the best breakfast spread. Turkish cuisine reflects the country’s position at the cross roads of East and West. Of all Turkish meals, breakfast best showcases the effect these cultural exchanges have had on Turkish food.

The Turkish word for breakfast is Kahvalti, which translates to before coffee. No respectable Turkish person would consume coffee without first starting with a hearty breakfast and plenty of cay (tea). Equally as important as the food, numerous tulip shaped glasses of black tea accompany the traditional Turkish breakfast. I am a tea drinker but I’m not a big fan if Turkish cay. I find the brew bitter and would love to add just a little bit of milk to calm the flavor. I’ve been told that the locals would gasp in horror if I tried.

To truly understand the ingredients in Kahvalti, we went to the market to assemble our own Turkish breakfast. It’s hard to name the main dish in Kahvlati as the meal is more of an assortment of various nibbles. Most of the dishes do not require cooking, which means that even though the meal is broad in variety, it can be somewhat easy to prepare. Consuming it is another issue. It takes time to enjoy traditional Kahvalti and our Turkish friends tell us that in modern days, a full spread Kahvalti is a treat for weekends and holidays.

Cheese, peynir, is a key ingredient. The most ubiquitous cheese is white sheep’s milk, which is creamy and salty. This is usually paired with a couple of other cheeses, one fresh and mild and another aged and sharp. I put a cheese plate for breakfast up there on the list of genius culinary inventions.

For meat eaters, there is always a selection of cold meats. Being a predominantly Muslim country, this rarely includes any pork products. What’s missing from bacon is more than made up with cuts such as pistachio studded beef or garlicky Turkish pastrami. Various countries claim to have invented pastrami, and the Turkish say it originated with their bastirma, which means to depress and reflects the process of squeezing out the juices from air dried meat.

Green and black olives, zeytin, add additional saltiness to the spread.

To balance out the meal there are fresh seasonal vegetables, currently tomatoes and cucumbers.

The savory side of kahvalti is married to sweet goodness. White bread, ekmek, baked twice daily serves as a vehicles for freshly churned butter, jams and honey (called bali). At least one syrupy jam, recel, is on every Kahvalti plate. Usually there is also some honey, preferably still in its comb. The recel and honey are meant to be mixed with the fresh butter and then applied to the bread.

Fancier Kahvalti include boiled eggs or mememen scrambled eggs and fresh juices. However, with all the food and cay these additions seem superfluous.

If breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, then the Turks have their priorities straight.

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