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Istanbul’s Big Breakfast Experience

Posted on 05 March 2014

Istanbulites don’t need online men’s lifestyle magazine Thrillist (www.thrillist.com) to tell them that the Turkish breakfast is one of the world’s best. In fact most would, with justification, take issue with being silver-medalist to Venezuela’s gold. Fat, succulent olives picked in Aegean groves, piquant garlic sausage from the heart of Anatolia, ripe, crumbly goat cheese brought from the high pastures of the Toros mountains and fresh-baked, sesame-flecked bread-rings from backstreet Istanbul bakeries, are just some of the highlights of a full-Turkish.

A slap-up Turkish breakfast is important anywhere in the country; in Istanbul it’s a cult. As important to a meal as the food is the location, and there are few places in the world as atmospheric as a Bosphorus-front café to relax over an appetising morning spread.

Super tankers bound for the Black Sea or Mediterranean glide silently up or down the strait, gulls circle the immense suspension bridge straddling Europe and Asia, and the ghostly shell of an Ottoman fortress firmly planted on the shores of Asia looms in the distance. More prosaic, perhaps, is a foreground filled with eager hawkers peddling raw almonds on ice and Lycra-clad power walkers snaking their way between fishermen setting-up their tackle along the promenade.

What’s on the Menu?

Most breakfasts include several types of cheese; generally a soft, creamy white goats, another from the same animal, crumbly and pungent from having been cured in the skin of one of its unfortunate fellows. Then there’s a salty, distinctively plaited variety from distant eastern Anatolia, or fried Cypriot-style halloumi. There are always olives, often wrinkled, salty and black, sometimes sprinkled with dried thyme and chilli flakes. Tomatoes and cucumbers are peeled, sliced and dribbled with olive oil and sour-sweet pomegranate molasses.

Eggs come hard boiled or sunny-side-up; the latter often enlivened with slices of fried, spicy garlic sausage from the Anatolian heartlands around Cappadocia. Menemen features on most breakfast menus, a delicious dish made from beaten eggs fried in a tomato and green pepper sauce served in the double handled pan that it is cooked in, just begging to be mopped up with hunk of bread.

Bread is a staple of Turkish cuisine and arrives in never-ending baskets of thick crusty slices, or homemade flatbread. You may also be served simits (sesame seed-coated bagel-like rings) usually sold from street carts, açma, a softer bread ring, similar to croissant in texture, and pogaça, a crumbly bun filled with savoury potato or cheese. Frankfurter-style sausage and chips is another favourite breakfast treat; more typically Turkish are gözleme, similar to Indian paratha, usually stuffed with cheese and parsley, spinach, savoury mince or potato.

Turks have a famously sweet tooth and there are plenty of saccharine delights worth saving room for. Jams are homemade, runny and made from everything from peaches, plums and persimmons to aubergines. Tahin-pekmez is a tasty blend of thick, sticky sweet grape, mulberry or carob molasses and sesame paste, but the ultimate breakfast indulgence is fresh golden honey served with a curl of clotted water buffalo cream.

Big Breakfast Culture

Mealtimes in bustling Istanbul are often frantic affairs. Waiters swipe your plate the second your cutlery comes to rest, and it’s quite common to order, eat three courses and pay in less than twenty minutes. By contrast the weekend breakfast is a near sacred event. Sunday is by far the most popular choice, as many Istanbulites work six days a week, leaving the seventh day as the only one they can slow down and spend unhurried hours with friends.

A big breakfast also provides the opportunity see and be seen, and perhaps impress a prospective partner. This provides excellent people watching opportunities, especially in the gentrified streets of Galata, Cihangir and Karaköy. But perhaps the best setting for an Istanbul breakfast experience is the shore of the European side of the Bosphorus, a setting that affords breath-taking views of the waterway that both defines and divides this city.

An Istanbul big breakfast is a genuine phenomena – and the tulip-shaped glasses of steaming black tea that accompany it come in seemingly never ending procession.

Three Favoured Big Breakfast Spots

Van Kahvalti Evi (Tel 0212 293 6437). In buzzing Beyoğlu, close to Çukurcuma’s antique and vintage shops, this popular place specialises in breakfasts from the predominantly Kurdish city of Van. Think tender slices of lamb fried up with egg in a mini-wok, lashings of honey and dense wheels of delicious cream.

Sütis, Emirgan (www.sutis.com.tr, Tel 0212 323 6500). A stone’s throw from one of the city’s leading galleries, Sakip Sabancı Musuem (www.muze.sabanciuniv.edu) , this perennial upmarket favourite specializes in all things dairy. They make their own yogurt, cream and cheese, and use sourdough to prepare their many types of bread, which come served warm in a basket.

Kale, Rumeli Hisarı (www.kalekafe.com, Tel 0212 265 0097). Shadowed by an Ottoman fortress and a short hop from hip Borusan Contemporary Gallery (www.borusancontemporary.com), this breakfast institution often has large queue waiting outside on weekend mornings. As you arrive plates of cheese, olives, tomatoes and honey with cream are set down without you having to utter a word.

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