Friday, August 19, 2011

Turkey: We Should Probably Start With Breakfast

So, back in town to LA and happy to report gratitude is back in droves.  And not just in a all-my-limbs-intact, able-to-pay-the-bills kind of way, but, and I fear jinxing it, feeling actually lucky.  In the random-person-offers-me-boat-ride-to-perfect-mediterranean-bay-for-no-reason kind of way.  Like, that actually happened.  So many things happened on this trip, it was so packed with moments, chance meetings with interesting people, instant connections, incredible coincidences, that they all piled on top of each other, so densely that I'm overwhelmed with the task of processing it all.  But one thing was consistent and easy to report from our trip to Turkey:  breakfast.  It was the same every day, and every day it was heaven.  So, let's start at the beginning.  Let's talk about breakfast.

Turks are very serious about breakfast, and every place you stay will include "Traditional Turkish Breakfast" in your room rate.  There were definitely variations, but the basics are this:

- Bread.  Typically, crusty slices from a French-style loaf, though we happily got wheat bread on some occasions.
 - Tomatoes.  The tomatoes we had during this trip were consistently delicious.
 - Cucumbers.
 - Olives.  Usually black, slightly shriveled, and very salty.  Sometimes green ones too.
 - Cheese.  Usually beyaz peynir, Turkish "white cheese", but sometimes you get a selection.
 - Butter.
 - Honey or jam.
 - Tea.  Lots of it.  Turkish çay is poured quite strong, and is usually served in tiny narrow-waisted glasses. 

At our hostel in Istanbul, breakfast was served at the bar on the rooftop terrace. 

Every day the tomatoes were perfect.  Every day we sat at this table.

The view to our left looked like this.

One of the most awesome things we did on this trip was a day-long food tour with Istanbul Eats.  I can't recommend it highly enough, and it will get its own post here soon.  But in the meantime, we started the day with breakfast -- traditional Turkish breakfast, of course -- at an old local spot in the dreamy Cihangir neighborhood called Özkonak.  It's known for a sweet pudding that secretly houses finely shredded chicken breast, but for us, they laid out a perfect breakfast spread.

Here we discovered something new:  kaymak.  (Note, it's the one next to the tomato and cucumber plate in the photo above.)  It's an amazingly delicious dairy product similar to clotted cream.  It's very rich, and has that complex creamy taste that you simply will not find in American dairy products.  Spread some on a bite of bread, top with honey, swoon.  Oh, kaymak.

We also met menemen, an egg dish with a sauce of tomatoes and mild green peppers.  Similar to the shakshuka we know and love from Israel and the rest of the Middle East, it has an equally adorable name.

And then there's sucuk (pronounced "soo-JOOK".  'C' is pronounced like 'j' in Turkish.  Just accept it now, so we can move on).   Heavily spiced, fatty, garlicky beef sausage.  I couldn't get enough of it. (PS I want these little handled pans in my life!)

The next day was Sunday, and our new Istanbulite friend Evren, whom we had met Thursday night, graciously invited us to breakfast on the Bosphorus.  She is a woman with great love for her beautiful city, and wanted to make sure we experience its tradition of laid-back Sunday breakfast on the waterfront.  We went to a place called Sade Kahve ("Plain Coffee") in the Bebek neighborhood: a colorful spot, all outdoors, under a tent, across the street from the beautiful Bosphorus Strait.  The spread was so dreamy: all the basics were there, including beloved kaymak (thank God), this time drenched in honey; as well as a couple extra cheeses, and a new variety of cold cut.  The vegetables were a little fancier, as they included long mild green peppers and fresh parsley.  Here, we ordered eggs with sucuk, and they came fried together in a copper pot, runny yolks perfect for sopping up with bread.  A serious highlight that you can bet will be gracing my LA kitchen (not that it'd ever taste the same... sigh).

After Istanbul, we went to Kapadokya (Cappadocia if you prefer.  The Turkish way is easier to spell, so I'm sticking with it.), a magical desert with crazy rock formations called fairy chimneys (!!) which have been carved into cave homes and monasteries, underground cities, and ancient cathedrals over the centuries.  We were extremely lucky to stay at the Kismet Cave House, a small and homey guest house with beautiful rooms furnished with the work of local artisans, and rustic farm breakfast on the terrace every morning.

Tiny apples and apricots were clearly from someone's tree.

Homemade yogurt sat in a clay pot.

And beside it, a glass and wood box held honey, complete with honeycomb.  It hardened like candy the second you pulled some out from the box.

On the first morning, Shukru, the sweet Afghan guy who worked there every day and who spoke to me in Persian with his cute Afghani accent, came around with French toast for all.

On the second day, we got the most amazing treat of all:  fresh cream that came from the cow of Faruk, the hotel's owner, that very morning.  I can't believe I had this experience.  It kind of makes my heart swell.  And my God, it was one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted.
Oh, and tea!  Always tea.  The Turkish word for breakfast is kahvalti, which means "before coffee".  With breakfast, you have tea.  After breakfast, maybe some coffee (then again, maybe more tea).  At best, it comes in these tiny, curvy glasses, the sexiest bit of glassware I've ever seen. 

Our last stop before going back to Istanbul was Olimpos, a little vacation village consisting of a single valley leading through evergreen forest to the Mediterranean.  The valley is lined with 'pensions', modest hotels usually consisting of wooden bungalows to sleep in, and a big open-air common area for meals, drinks, and hanging out.  We stayed at the Orange Pansiyon, a cozy spot that felt like Turkish working-class family summer camp to us.  So, here's traditional Turkish breakfast, summer-camp style.

Look familiar?

Breakfast at Orange means tea for the masses. Sometimes, Turkish tea is not about daintiness: this contraption allows three big teapots to steep over boiling water, (similar to Persian-style tea), and a little spout on the side allows you dilute your tea with said boiling water to the strength of tea you desire.
And fifteen photos later, that's breakfast! Guys, processing this trip is gonna take a while.


  1. Dreamyland...thanks for sharing Tannaz!!

  2. tannaz, I am swooning. what an epic, amazing trip!! i had never before thought Istanbul was a place I wanted to go, but now I am putting it at the top of my list!!

    p.s. would die for a bite of the kaymak.

  3. it really was an epic, amazing trip. breakfast just scratches the surface.

    amelia, definitely bump up instanbul --
    it's really a beautiful and very special city. i'm already figuring how i'll go back!

    and fear not, i am on the kaymak hunt! i've found something that claims to be kaymak but seems more like iranian sarshir to me (which is also insanely delicious, but not quite the same), but i will keep searching!

  4. What a culinary feast. Any meal served with tea is divine. Wonderful pictures, great blog and fantastic narration.

    Oxyhives Review

  5. You should come back and this time we should go to Rumelikavagi for a cozy seafood restaurant,Barinak. I already planned, what is missing is you and Ashley:)

  6. agreed, Sam!

    And Evren, you should know that cozy, seafood, and restaurant are three of my favorite words. Must add this place to itinerary for fantasy return to Istanbul!