If you marry into a Turkish family, one of the greatest surprises must surely be how committed we are to the art form that is enjoying a traditional Turkish kahvaltı (breakfast).
Raised in England where a weekend fry-up was as decadent as brekkie got, my husband would marvel as tray after tray was brought out until little bowls covered not just the dining table but any other flat surface in the vicinity. Three or four types of olives — from chargrilled to marinated — four to five cheeses running the gamut — from shanklish and feta to kaşar (a mild yellow cheese made from sheep milk) — and endless meat products (pastırma, which is beef pastrami, sucuk, a spicy sausage, and the list goes on).
Of course, you will also have cherry jam, tahin pekmez (a sweet sesame spread), honey and clotted cream with walnuts, sliced fruits and vegetables, bőrek, egg dishes and a variety of bread such as pide and simit.
It isn't just about the variety (and amount) of food, it's just as important to focus on traditional elements. Turkish breakfast, for example, must always be served alongside a bottomless glass of çay — strong, black, Turkish tea. The çaydanlik (a traditional teapot) serves as a constant bubbling presence in the background.
Turkish breakfast isn't a quick grab-and-run job either; it can take hours to enjoy (depending on the dishes, just preparing and setting up the table can take an hour alone). What's more, our breakfast isn't reserved for the early hours of the day. Turkish breakfast can be enjoyed at lunch, at dinner or any time in between. Many people always have breakfast basics ready to go.
But the idea behind kahvaltı isn't so much to fill your stomach before a big day, and instead to bring loved ones together for an extended period of time. Food for the body and the soul, if you will.
"The idea behind kahvaltı isn't so much to fill your stomach before a big day, but to bring loved ones together."
Breakfast has always been an important meal for the Turks. During the Ottoman period, a standard breakfast consisted of a hearty soup, bread and cheese, but the current spread was really only popularised in the 20th Century when its current definition spread across the country. Today, there are commonalities in a standard breakfast, such as feta, olives and bread, but certain elements can change depending on the town you're in. Van breakfasts, originating in the eastern town of Van, for example, feature around 20 individual dishes, with many incorporating the herbs grown in this region. They've become so popular that they've sprung up all over Istanbul.
During the first few years of my marriage and after we had our children, Turkish breakfast was something my husband and I primarily enjoyed at my parents' or during our yearly visits to Turkey. With young daughters, I was far more inclined to pour a bowl of cereal or make toast, but then the pandemic hit and visiting my ancestral land became a fantasy.
Yearning to return to the simplicity of my childhood, I first tried to fill that Turkey-shaped hole with a glut of Turkish movies on Netflix, and when that didn't work, I turned to fill the house with Turkish music. Eventually, I realised what I was missing most was Turkish food. We all know the taste, texture and smell of food can be evocative. Food helps to bring back memories of places and times close to our heart. I needed to get busy in the kitchen.
"Food helps to bring back memories of places and times close to our heart."
The change happened organically. One day I simply woke up, drove out to Auburn, the Sydney suburb stacked with Turkish supermarkets and produce specialists, loaded up my cart and came home to prepare a feast. Watching my family gathered around that day, enjoying the same foods and traditions I hold so dear, made me so happy that I made kahvaltı again the following morning.
Several months later, Saturdays and Sundays have been devoted to Turkish breakfast, with monthly trips out to Gima, my favourite Turkish supermarket, to buy food in bulk (yes, I have to freeze, then heat the pide and simit in the oven, which is less than ideal). I converse with the guys at the deli, I argue with other shoppers over which cherry juice is the best, and if I didn't happen to be paying with Australian dollars, I'd swear I was in Istanbul.
There are times, of course, when I feel too lazy to get into the swing of things, but that's OK. On those days, we enjoy kahvalti at a Turkish restaurant. We tend to go to Cook & Co because it's located across the road from Gima (two birds, one stone, etc) and it does a sensational spread in a comfortable environment. The best part? For an hour or two, it feels like the world has opened up to me once more.