As some of you may or may not know, I am currently living in Istanbul, Turkey. I love Spain and will be back soon, but I decided to take a job at a summer day-camp here in the city where East meets West. Living in Turkey for the summer was an opportunity that I could not pass up!
I must admit that when I first arrived in Turkey, I didn’t know much at all about the country. I had read some books about Turkish history and politics, and even studied a little bit of the language (one of the most difficult languages to learn). Although I felt like I had prepared myself adequately, I soon realized that there was much more to be discovered about this beautiful country, namely its food.
One of the first cultural phenomena I’ve noticed here in Turkey is the Turkish breakfast. On my first day of orientation for my summer job, I was woken up by an interesting blend of cheeses, bread, olives and fruit. Upset by the lack of fresh coffee ( çay, or tea, has been the drink of choice here since after the first World War when the Ottoman Empire lost its coffee-producing regions. This means I’ve had to deal with instant coffee more than I would have liked to. Spain’s café con leche culture really spoiled me) and a little confused by the breakfast options, I opted for a simple piece of toast with jam. I soon realized that breakfast in Turkey, or kahvaltı (kahve-coffee, altı-under, so “before coffee”), is a light, healthy and delicious feast that is extremely vegetarian-friendly. The next day, I abandoned my toast with jam and filled my plate to the brim with cheese, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh fruit.
A few days into my stay in Turkey, I went out for a proper breakfast with some co-workers to sample different breakfast foods. We started out with some simit, a circular bread roll covered in sesame seeds that could best be described as “the Turkish bagel.” It tastes delicious on its own or with butter/jelly and even cheese. Our next plate was a scrumptious platter of crisp vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers), savory olives, fresh fruit, fruit jelly, toast, butter and honey, salami, and three kinds of creamy and string cheese. Next, we had börek, which is a pastry made with layers of phyllo dough and stuffed with cheese, spinach or meat.
One of my personal favorites, which seems to not only be limited to breakfast time as I have seen it on lunch and dinner menus around the city, is menemen. It is a dish that is prepared with eggs, tomatoes, green peppers, onion and olive oil. The eggs are lightly scrambled and have an almost runny consistency, which makes this dish excellent for dipping bread in. There are many varieties of menemen, such as kaşarlı menemen, which is served with cheese. Unfortunately, menemen is not served in the cafeteria on campus, but we do get to enjoy a lot of the other breakfast foods during the week.
Turkish breakfast is an incredibly delicious and healthy way to start your day. With bread, cheese, meat, vegetables (mainly cucumbers, tomatoes and olives), and fresh fruit as the main ingredients, it encompasses all of the food groups and provides more vitamins and minerals than typical Western sugary breakfast foods.