Turkish Breakfast: The Best in the World?

Turkish Breakfast: The Best in the World?

By Shannon Sims


Being a global citizen means keeping an open mind, even before your first coffee.

By Shannon Sims

For many, breakfast is the best meal of the day — and it’s pretty serious business across Turkey. Surprise: You’re not going to have a heavy bacon-pancakes-eggs combo greasing up your plate. What you are going to find is a pixelated meal, scattered into a dozen different plates of bright colors and contrasting textures. And not a kebab in sight.

Among the highlights: bitter tea and sweet jams, olives of every color of the rainbow and a cheese you’ll want to smear across everything. It’s served in family dining rooms from Istanbul to the North Sea, and in specialty restaurants, from dawn till dusk. And even if you aren’t sold on the contents of the Turkish breakfast, you might be sold on the presentation. Each ingredient is served in tiny dishes, with delicate little spoons and sporks to match. 

In Van, there is actually a street called “Breakfast Street,” lined with salons specializing in breakfast.

Georgia Hartman, a 33-year-old anthropologist at the University of California, Irvine, fell madly in love with breakfast during her Fulbright fellowship in Ankara, Turkey. When compared to the postcard American version, the Turkish offering was a revelation: It meant sampling a variety of options, as opposed to being handed a heavy plate. The Turkish breakfast is “more of a style of eating than any particular plate,” she explains. And the only rule seems to be that there “always must be olives on the table.” She recalls drizzling olive oil and homemade pomegranate syrup from an unmarked jar over blanched tomatoes, and then sopping up the delicious mixture with fresh bread. 

Breakfast is an easily overlooked aspect of Turkish cuisine, but for those who have lived in Turkey, it can be a game-changer — whether they are creating it at home or experiencing it at restaurants, with rarely a high price tag. Way out east near the border with Iran, the city of Van takes the morning meal to another level. In Van, there is actually a street called “Breakfast Street,” lined with salons specializing in breakfast. And in the south-central, near the Syrian border, the town of Gaziantep offers up its own version of börek, called katmer: phyllo dough layered with sugar, that sweet clotted cream kaymak and pistachios … sorry, swooned a touch there. 

Of course, even Turks like something heartier from time to time. The deluxe version of Turkish breakfast might feature heavier items, like menemen, Turkey’s juicy version of scrambled eggs, with tomatoes, green peppers and onions, served in a lovely copper dish called a sahan. And on-the-go Turks grab a simit, a round, sesame-encrusted pretzel of sorts. 

Of course, if you prefer a more delineated morning meal, the Turkish breakfast, with its multiple plates and flavors, might seem like a scattered, ADD affair. And the idea of cucumbers in the morning might shock some palates — especially those who prefer sausages and waffles on their plate. Lastly, a word of warning to java addicts: There’s usually no coffee included with breakfast. That comes later in the day; in fact, the Turkish word for breakfast, kahvaltı, actually means “before coffee.” But you will find black Turkish tea, served in handleless, hourglass-shaped glasses (which some tourists take and lovingly wrap in socks for the trip home). 

If you haven’t had the pleasure of a Turkish breakfast, here’s a sampling of what you’re missing.

– Black and green olives, sometimes marinated
– Fruit jams, often with the same flavors that inspire hookah tobacco: rose petal, orange peel, sour cherry
– Honey, often served as a dripping chunk of honeycomb
– Sweet butter
Kaymak, or clotted cream, a spreadable, fatty treat also popular around the Balkans
– Salty cheese, like Turkish beyaz peynir or Greek feta, or the harder kashkaval
– Fresh tomatoes, often peeled or quick-blanched
– Cucumber slices, peeled
Börek, flaky pastries made from phyllo dough and layered with ground meat or cheese
Sucuk, spicy Turkish sausage
– A soft-boiled egg adorably served in a tiny pedestal
– Black Turkish tea