Anyone that knows me knows that I love a good breakfast. If you ask me to choose between breakfast, lunch or dinner, I'd choose breakfast every time. I love restaurants that offer an all-day breakfast, because there's usually more on the breakfast menu that I want to eat. I've even been known to get excited the night before about the breakfast that I am going to have the next day.
Gimme, Gimme, Gimme
For me, it's because it feels like nothing is off-limits under the breakfast category. Fancy something sweet? You can have pancakes, waffles, french toast, yogurt and muesli, overnight oats, porridge with maple syrup...You can even add some fresh fruit on if you are feeling guilty about not getting your 5-a-day and are worrying that your breakfast falls into the 'dessert' category. Want something savoury instead? Enter eggs Benedict or Marlborough, avocado on toast, a classic Full English, a simple omelette, kedgeree, salmon hash, huevos rancheros, milk rice and sambol...Literally any number of dishes can end up being breakfast.
It's also one of the first things I like to seek out when we land in a new country. I believe that having breakfast in a new place is a great introduction to the local food and also gives you a fantastic insight into the culture. So, small packets of nasi lemak from a street hawker in Kuala Lumpur? Yes please! A bowl of steaming beef or chicken pho to fuel a day of sightseeing around Ho Chi Minh city? Sounds great! (For that one I will admit I live vicariously through Vincent as I don't eat chicken or beef, but hey, it looks yummy). Egg hopper/appa with a blow-your-head-off spicy tomato and onion sambol in Colombo? Give it to me right now!
A Dream For Breakfast Lovers
Turkey is a dream for breakfast lovers like me. It's an elaborate affair, a veritable parade of so many dishes that you fear there won't be enough space for your plate on the table. It's probably not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Turkish cuisine (kebabs, anyone?), but you really can't discuss Turkish food if you don't talk about breakfast. For Turkish families, breakfast is often a sit-down meal that means quality family-time together. Of course, in today's increasingly busy world there isn't always time for a gargantuan breakfast and many Turks simply gulp down a cup of çay (Turkish tea) and a simit (sesame) bagel before heading off for work. But at weekends, it's time for the breakfast of champions.
So what does a traditional Turkish breakfast involve and which restaurants serve the best breakfast? Read on to find out and you may discover that you can never go back to your routine of Frosties and Marmite on toast ever again.
The Key Elements of a Traditional Turkish Breakfast
The word for Turkish breakfast, kahvalti (kah-vahl-tuh), originates from two words that mean 'before coffee' or 'under coffee'. This is because traditionally, Turkish coffee is usually consumed after breakfast or in the afternoon. The official accompaniment to a Turkish breakfast is therefore tea.
The Turks absolutely love their tea. And as this is coming from a British-Sri Lankan tea obsessed individual, you know I must be serious. It's completely ingrained in the culture - from sunrise to sunset you can see people drinking it everywhere, from sellers on the market stalls to people in shops and restaurants. It's a social experience and a sign of hospitality too - we found it a pretty standard thing to be offered a glass of Turkish tea by stall holders at our local market when we were buying our vegetables. You will also often find a Tea House or Çay Bahcesi in most Turkish towns and villages. This is, for the most part, a male environment where men go to play boardgames while drinking - you've guessed it - copious amounts of tea.
Turkish tea is brewed in a cayanlik, which is a two-tiered metal or porcelain teapot. The bottom pot is filled with water and the tea leaves and a little bit of water are placed in the top pot. When the bottom pot boils, the water is mixed with the tea leaves. The tea is served black, in tulip shaped glasses and often accompanied by a cube of sugar. Depending on where you are, your breakfast could be served with a single glass of tea or you can get free refills. In one place we had a whole cayanlik of tea to ourselves!
Bread, bread and more bread
Don't even think about bringing that low-carb diet to Turkey! The people here love their meat for sure, but they also love their carbs in the shape of a number of different and delicious breads.
A typical Turkish breakfast is always served with some kind of bread - you need something to accompany all the cheese, spreads, olives and oils. I've had my breakfast served with bazlama, a thick round flatbread also known as 'village bread'; sliced crusty white baguette; simit bagels; warmed bread rolls and even gözleme (a thin flatbread that usually has a stuffing such as spinach and cheese).
I would say that simit is as ubiquitous in Turkey as tea. When we lived in Kaya Köy village for three months, we would get a warm simit straight from the oven of our local bakery whilst waiting for the bus into Fethiye. In cities like Fethiye and Istanbul you can also see people selling piles of warm simit from carts on busy street corners. With a sweet and nutty flavour and a texture that is crunchy on the outside but chewy and fluffy on the inside, simits are addictive. One is never enough.
Cheese, cheese and - you've guessed it - more cheese
Turkish breakfasts aren't for people on a diet. If I haven't convinced you of this already, let's move on to the next element of a typical kahvalti, which is cheese. Almost every Turkish breakfast comes with a side plate on which you will be given several different types of fresh cheese, made from goat, sheep or cow's milk. The most common cheeses served with breakfast include beyaz penir (white cheese) which is similar to Greek feta and kasar, a firm light yellow cheese.
However, as there is such a variety of Turkish cheeses out there, this is by no means all that you will get. I've had Turkish breakfast served with tulum, a pungent crumbly goat's cheese mixed with walnut halves and melted butter. Simply divine. Dil peyniri, a fresh, white, stringy cheese is also served with some breakfasts - it is very similar to mozzarella cheese and has a mild milky taste. An even more decadent addition to the breakfast table is kaymak which is a thick and silky clotted cream made from water buffalo milk that is served with honey drizzled over the top or an actual honeycomb. Serious yums.
I have clearly watched too many episodes of Saturday Kitchen in my lifetime and the awful egg puns of The Omelette Challenge have had an effect on me. (If you have no idea what I am talking about, please go to YouTube and watch a few episodes featuring James Martin and you will see what I mean. By the way, I love the way that man uses a heart-attack triggering amount of butter in his recipes.)
Eggs are standard Turkish breakfast fare and can be cooked in a number of ways such as hard-boiled, fried, or in an omelette. Most of the Turkish breakfasts I have had came with eggs served 'sunny side up' and cooked in a small metal skillet called a sahan. Menemen is another popular way to serve eggs at breakfast - this spicy dish consists of scrambled eggs, onions, red and green peppers and tomatoes.
Butter, Jams and Other Spreadable Delights
The best thing about kahvalti is that there are no rules. You can eat something savoury, then dip into something sweet, then eat another savoury thing, then have another taste of something sweet and so on and so on until you are satiated. For those of you with a sweet tooth, a Turkish breakfast has you covered as it will be served with a number of fruit preserves, spreads, butter and honey. From homemade gül reçeli (rose petal jam), stewed persimmon preserve and thick creamy butter to fragrant pine honey, tahini and hazelnut spreads, there's plenty for sweet lovers to be excited about. Mixing sweet and savoury flavours is also not frowned upon: I personally like to have honey and walnuts on bread with the creamy feta-style cheese.
Turkish breakfasts are a vegetarian's dream but some restaurants will also serve a meat side dish as part of breakfast, such as sucuk which is a sliced, spiced sausage. Sucuk is made of ground beef and garlic combined with a variety of other spices such as sumac, cumin and red pepper. Restaurants can also serve börek, which is made out of thin sheets of filo pastry that is stuffed with cheese, mincemeat and/or vegetables.
Nuts, Olives, Dried Fruit
Tucked alongside the larger plates and bowls are smaller dishes containing an assortment of olives, dried fruits and nuts. Many restaurants specialising in kahvalti menus pride themselves on handpicking these elements from the different regions of the country. So think poppy seeds from Afyon, olives from Gaziantep, walnuts from Anatolia, dried figs from Izmir, spicy tomato paste from Adapazari, the list is simply endless. Want to taste food from all over Turkey without actually having to travel to each place? This is your chance!
'Salad for breakfast?!' I hear you cry. Yes indeed. A side salad of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers with a light drizzling of olive oil goes really well with all the cheese and bread, helping to refresh your palate and preventing everything from tasting too rich and heavy.
And if you still have room...Turkish Coffee
You will probably have slumped into a food coma by this point and so a Turkish coffee or türk kahvesi is the very thing guaranteed to perk you up.
Turkish coffee is made with extra-fine ground coffee that is mixed with ground cardamom and sugar and then boiled. As the coffee is unfiltered, it never completely dissolves and you will end up with a thick layer of coffee grounds at the bottom of your cup. The sugar is boiled with the coffee and so you can specify the level of sweetness that you want when you place your order: a little, just to take the edge off the bitterness; medium, which is what we often order and gives us the perfect balance between bitter and sweet; or just regular, which is a recipe for diabetes. Be warned though - have several of these coffees in a day and you may find that you are awake for a week.
So Where Can I Try a Good Kahvalti?
Arada Cafe, Istanbul
Okay, I will hold my hands up and say that this isn't technically a Turkish restaurant serving a traditional Turkish breakfast. The manager of Arada Cafe is from Beirut and the restaurant serves a genuine Lebanese serpme kahvalti or 'spread breakfast'. The cafe itself is really cute, with touches that give it such a cosy feeling that you just want to stay on and linger a little bit longer. When we arrived around 9.30am it wasn't that busy, although it did start to get more packed later on.
The breakfast is 39TL (£6.50) per person and comes with Turkish tea. I decided to also get a special winter tea from the menu, that was an infusion of apple, ginger and cinnamon. It was the perfect thing to drink in the freezing January weather.
The kahvalti at Cafe Arada might be one of the best breakfasts I have ever had in my life. (And trust me, I've had a lot of breakfasts).
There was crunchy and herby falafel; muhammara (a spicy, hot pepper dip); creamy hummus; labne (a kind of cream cheese) mixed with chickpeas; fried puffy bread; courgette-stuffed pastry; green and black olives; za'atar (a Middle-Eastern spice mix); a variety of cheeses including dil peyniri and beyaz penir and the wonderful kaymak clotted cream with honey; eggs in the form of a spicy and creamy menemen; a selection of delicious homemade fruit preserves that include fig and persimmon; and tahini and dried fruits. A lot of thought has gone into which dishes and ingredients go together and you really feel that you are eating a fusion breakfast, inspired by food from the Lebanon and Turkey.
We must have eaten for over two hours, taking small breaks in between to breathe (yes, really!), have a few sips of tea and then continue tackling the dishes in front of us! The staff at Arada Cafe were also super friendly and would keep coming around to refill our teas and ask if we wanted more bread.
The quality and variety of breakfast dishes at Arada Cafe and the really reasonable price make it a stellar option especially if you are looking for a different type of kahvalti in Istanbul.
Arada Cafe, Hacımimi Mahallesi, Lüleci Hendek Cd. 23a, 34425 Beyoğlu, Istanbul
Çesme Bazlama Kahvalti Nisantasi, Istanbul
There was a reason that I said the kahvalti at Cafe Arada 'might be one of the best breakfasts I have ever had in my life'. That's because the day after we had breakfast at Cafe Arada, we visited Çesme for breakfast and it became the best breakfast I have ever had in my life. It's also the only place where the amount of food has completely beaten me. I actually had to beg the waiter not to serve me anymore food as I couldn't physically eat another thing.
We'd read about queues stretching out of the front door of the restaurant and so woke up early and arrived bleary-eyed at 9.15am, to find that the restaurant was already packed (Çesme opens at 9.00am and does not take reservations). Luckily, they had a table for two available and we managed to get in. By 9.30am, groups of families started to arrive and half an hour later, the queues were crazy. We were really lucky to get in when we did and so our advice is to arrive early if you don't want to have to wait for your breakfast.
Breakfast for two people at Çesme's cost us 55TL (£9) per person including Turkish tea, which comes in a cyanlik that is placed on a warmer, so you can basically keep pouring yourself steaming hot cups of tea throughout your breakfast. We also each got a freshly squeezed orange juice for an extra 10TL (£1.65) each.
Çesme clearly makes an effort to showcase regional produce from Turkey in its serpme kahvalti. So, on our breakfast table we had black and green olives from Aydin and Hatay; tulum goat's cheese from Izmir; feta cheese from Ezine; aged yellow cheese from Kars; clotted buffalo cream from Aydin; hand churned butter from Trabzon; kuru dut (dried mulberry) from Malatya; vitex-flower honey from Aydin and even the tea was from Rize.
They also gave us a selection of delicious homemade bread, which we actually saw being baked as we walked in: gözleme filled with spinach or cheese; pisisi which are like large fried doughnuts; and bazlama bread. A number of items on the menu are homemade by the owner Mama Nurten, which adds a really nice personal touch.
In addition to all this (yes, there is still more to come) we were given karudut peynir, which are stewed, sweetened black mulberries combined with soft, white cheese (my absolute new favourite thing!); Aegean-style stuffed vine leaves or yaprak sarma, made using leaves from Tokat grapes; homemade acukasi, a spicy red pepper and walnut dip very similar to the muhamarra that we had in Arada Cafe; a huge dish of menemen; spicy beef sausage; tahini and mollasses; cucumber, pepper and tomato salad and dried apricots and kiwi fruit.
One of the things that makes the breakfast at Çesme truly unique and pushes it into that all-important 'best breakfast ever' category, are the 33 varieties of homemade preserves that are made by Mama Nurten. At the beginning, when the dishes were first laid out, we were given two jams: a delectable carrot and cinnamon preserve and a grape jam. Then, as we were eating, a very friendly waitress (or the Amazing Jam Lady as I liked to call her) arrived with a tray and asked us to select a few more preserves. You can try as many as you want as the staff will keep coming back and offering you more. We tried pomegranate, fig, persimmon and orange preserves and a caramel milk jam. If you like your breakfast on the sweeter side, this place is definitely for you.
The other thing that places the kahvalti at Çesme a notch above other restaurants is the fact that the food just keeps coming. You can basically have unlimited refills of everything on your breakfast table - you don't even have to ask! A lovely bearded waiter kept bringing us various breads and at one point I placed a hand over my plate and said, "I am sorry, I just can't eat any more." He looked at me with a sad face and replied, "But my mother is making the breads. Do you want me to go and tell her that you don't like them?". And so I capitulated, despite being full to bursting, and found a place in my stomach for even more gözleme because I didn't want to upset this man's mother.
If you haven't gathered this already, the staff at Çesme are amazing - funny, attentive, friendly and always happy to answer any questions that you have about the breakfast. And despite the long queues, they never make you feel like you are being rushed during your meal.
Mama Nurten is also almost always at the restaurant - she came out to speak to all the customers to check whether they were enjoying their food. Even though she doesn't speak much English and we barely speak any Turkish, she still came over to our table to find out what we thought about the breakfast and to ask how we found out about the restaurant. She even asked me what jam I liked the best (the carrot and cinnamon one was my favourite as it was so different to any other preserve I've ever had) and gave me a small bottle of jam to takeaway for free!
After about three hours, Vincent and I finally admitted defeat and told our waiter that we couldn't eat anymore. We walked out into the cold Istanbul afternoon ready for a bit of sight-seeing and to walk off all the food that we had eaten.
Çesme is definitely a place that we will return to for breakfast when we are next in Istanbul. The staff are great, the breakfast spread is delicious and at only 55TL, it is fantastic value for money. If you only have time to eat in one restaurant in Istanbul, make it this place. You won't regret it.
Çesme Bazlama Kahvalti Nisantisi, Teşvikiye, Osman F. Seden Sk. No:8, 34365 Şişli, Istanbul
And Slighty Further Afield...Yalçin Kebap BBQ Restaurant, Kaya Köy
If you visit Fethiye on the south west coast of Turkey, it's worth taking a 30 minute trip by local bus to explore the ruins of Kaya Köy. Not only is this area a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it also has a number of great restaurants that serve a mean kahvalti that will give you the fuel you need for your walk amongst the ruins.
Yalçin Kebap is one of the small local restaurants in the village of Kaya Köy that actually stays open all year round: something that was important to us when we lived in the village during the winter season. It quickly became a frequent haunt, as the food was consistently good and it also had a cosy fireplace and heaters that provided a welcome respite from the cold weather.
We had breakfast at Yalçin a number of times and found that the breakfast spread was never exactly the same. I think it depends on the ingredients they have available on the day and what is in season, but it all still tasted fantastic each time.
Breakfast at Yalçin costs 35TL (£5.60) per person and includes Turkish tea. On the day that the photo above was taken our breakfast included: warm bazlama bread; tomato and sliced cucumber salad; spicy ezme (like a spicy tomato salad); strong tulum cheese; a herby potato salad; sigara böregi (cigar-shaped cheese rolls); mild kasar cheese; beyaz penir (feta); honey; homemade persimmon, fig, strawberry and plum jams; hazelnut spread (basically Nutella); green olives with garlic; molasses; tahini; homemade butter; chips and raisins. I also asked for fried eggs because as you should know by now, a kahvalti should never come without eggs!
Yalçin Kebap BBQ Restaurant, Kuyubaşı Mevki No:13, Muğla, 48300, Kaya Köy, Fethiye
You'll find that kahvalti is a Turkish tradition that you will want to take home and embrace forever. Even after we left Turkey, we continued the tradition of preparing these decadent breakfasts at home on the weekend. I guess that once I had experienced the joys of kahvalti, my Quaker Oats just didn't compare anymore.
Happy eating and afiyet olsun!
Have you ever had Turkish breakfast? What is breakfast like in your country? Let us know in the comments below!