Istanbul: Redefining Breakfast

It has been a week since we got back, and every day I find myself reminiscing about Istanbul. The trip was so satisfying that it was almost impossible for me to pick what to write about first. Finally, I decided to start from the beginning, as in Turkey, breakfast is definitely in the top 3 most important meals of the day.

We experienced a wide variety of breakfast menus, from a simple but satisfying simit (an iconic Turkish snack of circular bread with sesame seeds) and tea, to the ubiquitous traditional tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and feta plates (plus slices of watermelon in the summer), to the over-the-top lavish Van-style breakfast. One thing stayed the same: it was always made with local fresh ingredients, and it was often savory rather than just sweet.

Çay (tea) is what many Turks start the day with, and drink throughout the day. Contrary to what one might think, they do not just drink Turkish-style coffee; as a matter of fact, the quality of coffee available in Istanbul widely varies, and many settle for the weak, milky Nescafe. Some believe that the best coffee in the city can be found at Mandabatmaz in Beyoglu. I certainly thought that their rich, dense, and aromatic version was pretty close to the Platonic ideal of türk kahvesi :

Now back to Van-style breakfast (Van is a city in the Eastern part of Turkey). A Van-style Kurdish breakfast takes the traditional Turkish breakfast of feta, tomato, cucumber, olives, and bread, and turns it up more than a few notches.

At Van Kahvalti Evi, along with the standards, the breakfast plate comes with an assortment of local cheeses (including the wonderfully grassy otlu and orgu, and string cheese), cacik (thick yogurt), homemade butter, jam, olives, selection of bread, and tahini. Along with the breakfast plates, they also serve casserole-style dishes, such as my favorite sucuklu menemen (scrambled eggs cooked with sautéed onions, green peppers and tomato, with an addition of sucuk, a spicy Turkish sausage):

They also serve excellent gozleme, which are thin sheets of hand-rolled dough wrapped around cheese, beef, potato or spinach; kind of a cross between a quesadilla and a crepe:

One of the highlights of the Van breakfast was an amazing dish that could easily double as dessert: local honey with tiny bits of wax served alongside kaymak, the Turkish version of sweet clotted cream. (Besides the porcine gene, I believe I have always had the ursine gene, as am terribly fond of good honey).

The fabulous kaymak (besides being eaten with a spoon :-)) can also be tasted as a lokum (Turkish delight) filling, as well as in kaymakli baklava, where it gets baked into a luxurious layer, pushing the envelope on perfection just a bit further:

At a place like Van Kahvalti Evi, breakfast can be had throughout the day (one of the many things I loved about Istanbul restaurants is that they are open all day, – virtually any time I might feel hungry!).

Another notable breakfast example was served at Hotel Amira, which, among many, many other things included sheep’s milk yogurt with grape molasses, or rose jam (my favorite!), or dried fruit and nuts. They also offered the best freshly squeezed orange juice I had ever tasted in my entire life. Incidentally, my daily intake of nar (freshly squeezed pomegranate juice) was something one gets used to very quickly.

Whatever the source, after breakfast we would feel sufficiently fortified to go about our day, exploring the secrets of the Ottoman Empire, or just gazing over at the Bosphorus…