If there is just one thing that I could get behind in terms of taking as a Turkish tradition and bringing to my day to day (or at least, weekend) life, it could be Turkish breakfast, aka kahvalti, aka the most colorful and beautiful breakfast spread that likely exists in the entire world. When I was first exposed to it during morning rise-and-shines during my first Istanbul visit at the cozy family-owned hotel where I stayed, I was immediately hooked. Who could possibly decline a beautiful breakfast spread consisting of a rainbow variety of cheeses, olives, breads, jam, fresh fruits and vegetables, and eggs? Not only is it aesthetically pleasing with its many colors, textures, and shapes, but it’s also tasty and so satisfying, as there’s savory, sweet, umami, fresh — everything! As health experts always say, we really need to eat the rainbow in order to have a balanced diet, so I’m definitely on board with this.
While American children are oftentimes sent off to school with an Eggo waffle, Pop Tart, or a sugary sweet granola bar, Turkish children are told to eat a handful of cheese, olives, fruit, and/or a simit (a deliciously crunchy and soft Turkish version of a bagel, which can be easily found all over Turkey for less than 2 lira, or 25 US cents) before going off on their merry way.
Turkish breakfast spreads greatly vary depending on the day of week and where you are getting it from, but the general categories of foods you can expect to find on the table are: cheeses, olives, breads, fruit and jam spreads, fresh cut vegetables, eggs, and tea. On weekdays, the spreads may just be a handful of little plates, while on weekends when there is more time for preparation (and indulgence), you can expect the spread to overtake the table. And with all the above, there is rarely just one type of anything; there are always at least 2-3 types of cheese, two types of olives, several types of jam (my favorites were the sour cherry, fig, and apricot preserves), and two types of fruits or vegetables. Turks also love their tahini, so we oftentimes had a little dish of this on our table, as well, that would seem to be lightly sweetened, plus a hazelnut spread (mmmm, Nutella). And Chris would get very excited when he’d see a little dish of honeycomb with honey dripping off of it mixed with a bit of clotted cream — this really defined decadence on our breakfast table.
I really could not get enough of the fresh figs. Turkish people love their figs, as do many people in the Middle East, so not only are they plentiful here, but they are also cheap, whether they are fresh or dried. Figs are not only beautiful to look at (it always shows up heavily in my Instagram feed in the autumn), especially when cut in half, but they are just so sweet and delicious. They are a very underrated fruit back home and one I wish I had better and easier (and cheaper) access to in New York. Sometimes, I just wanted to stare at and photograph them without even eating them!
The other crazy thing is that the spreads, when you have them at restaurants, are quite inexpensive. We just had one today that was quite elaborate and complete with fried bagels, and it was only 80 Turkish lira (about $10 USD) for the two of us. That’s plenty for us to enjoy for a small price, plus no dishes for us to wash (and there are SO many dishes with these breakfasts!).