ISTANBUL: Turkish cuisine is truly lavish. There is the whole restaurant scene that visitors will be more familiar with, but there is also a different array of meals and culinary traditions that may elude the foreign eye
Ever wonder what Turks eat throughout the day? The following is a general overview of what Turks consume in a day, from breakfast to late-night snacks.
While Turks definitely do enjoy lavish Turkish breakfast and will painstakingly prepare them on the weekends, during the workweek, the spread, if laid out, will be kept to the key must-haves. These include a medley of cheese and sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and olives, and for some Turks, the medley of tahini and pekmez or butter and honey. Eggs are a regular accompaniment and will either be included in the hard-boiled version or as an omelet, sunny-side up and joined by a serving of a flavorful sausage prepared with characteristic Turkish spices. But the true go-to breakfast dish in most households throughout Turkey is undoubtedly menemen. This popular breakfast dish is uniquely Turkish and perfect in its simplicity of being scrambled eggs mixed into sauteed tomatoes and peppers. Of course, the indispensable item of any Turkish breakfast is a loaf of freshly baked white bread, which in most cases is purchased street from the bakery first thing in the morning.
For those Turks on the go, several classic breakfast favorites are picked up to-go or can be eaten on the spot, such as simit, a crispy bagel-like hoop-shaped bread doused in sesame seeds and can be purchased with a little triangle of spreadable cheese. Or, there is always poğaça, which are small savory rolls stuffed with fillings such as feta-cheese and parsley, olives, potatoes, and even minced meat. These breakfast rolls, which are admittedly quite stodgy, can be purchased at bakeries. If you’re lucky, they might have su boreği, a delightful dry lasagna-like breakfast dish, except, in this case, the layers of pasta-like sheets are doused in butter, feta cheese, and parsley. Su boreği is either sold as square slices or chopped up with a cleaver into bite-sized pieces.
There are two different routes Turks take when it comes to lunch and it depends on whether they are eating at home or taking their mid-day break at work. At home, it is customary to have one or more bean dishes on hand, such as taze fasulye, green beans cooked in olive oil with tomatoes and onions, or nohut, the name for chickpeas prepared in a similar style. Both are served either with rice, a bulgur pilaf, or dipped into fresh slices of bread.
A few staple dishes are also regularly prepared in quantity to be on hand at homes, such as the beloved kısır, a fine bulgur salad prepared with tomatoes, tomato paste, pomegranate molasses, as well as finely chopped parsley and mint. The Turks also prepare a cold potato salad with pickles, red peppers, onions, and parsley dressed in olive oil and lemon juice. The Turkish variation on coleslaw is another olive and lemon-juice-dressed salad consisting of grated carrots, purple cabbage, and parsley.
One of the most popular snacks for Turks at home for lunch or otherwise is tepsi börek, which is a type of pastry baked in a tray lined with layers of phyllo dough and stuffed with a variety of fillings such as cheese and spinach, fresh herbs, leeks, and even minced meat and onions. While these types of “tray” börek are near impossible to actually purchase from somewhere, they are regularly prepared in households as a quick, delicious and savory meal.
As for those who go out to lunch from their workplaces or order in, it tends to be a different ballgame as most Turks will head straight for Turkish fast-food classics such as döner, köfte and lahmacun. In fact, many döner shops will sell out after lunch. Lahmacun is not only one of the least expensive meals you can get but also one of the most crave-worthy. The oven-baked thin crust Turkish pizza of sorts is filled with spices, tomato onions and ground meat and is folded over into a wrap and eaten by hand. Per tradition, the yogurt-based Ayran is the beverage of choice to accompany each of these meals.
While Turkish cuisine is famed for its lavish kebabs, and that is certainly the meal of choice for Turks when dining out, at home, for the most part, meat dishes tend not necessarily to take center stage. It is customary for homecooked Turkish dinners to have at least three or four different dishes, which are primarily vegetarian. Sure there may be kofte or meat in a stew-like dish, but otherwise, most meals at home tend to be centered on seasonal vegetables and beans. The meal may start with a soup and will most likely have rice and yogurt, but a near constant is a salad of fresh greens and tomatoes and cucumbers and a serving of fruit for dessert. In summer, most homes will artistically slice up a watermelon every evening as a refreshing dessert.
The Turks like to party well into the night and it is customary to end the evening with a visit to one of the wide varieties of street food vendors nearly every city and town have. The late-night street cuisine is a bit different and is awfully offal-heavy, to be honest. From kokoreç, grilled intestines, to kelle paça, a soup made from sheep’s head and feet. Tantuni Durum is a wrap of grilled cubed and spiced meat found in Turkey’s original food trucks, which are parked in certain locations and open late into the night to satisfy that late-night craving.
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