When it comes to breakfast, I've long believed people can be split into two camps: those who see the first meal of the day as a time to inject the right fuel into the body so that it runs like a well-oiled machine, and those who are hedonists. They're the ones who eat like they've been invited to a feast at Marie Antoinette's castle, all cakes, batter and attractive men feeding them fruit dripping with chocolate.
Lavish Turkish breakfasts aside, I've actually never been one for consuming anything besides coffee until midday, but the one dish that brings me Marie Antoinette-level undone? Hamur kızartması, a super-yeasty dough which is fried until it balloons like a pillow and is then consumed piping hot and sprinkled with sugar. In Turkey, land of the dedicated glutton, it is considered a breakfast food and I hear it goes well with cigarettes, disappointment and endless cups of tea (I'm a non-smoker and pretty happy-go-lucky so I can't — and won't — vouch for this). What I will say, however, is my commitment to this dish is absolute.
My aunty's name is Sabiha, but I refer to her as "the drug pusher" for she is the one who first introduced me to this dish back when I was visiting her in Ankara as a small child. Frustrated by my unwillingness to eat anything, she got to work in the kitchen, hands busily kneading a particularly pungent dough (decades later I now know it smells like beer), a lit cigarette dangling from her lips. "If this doesn't get you eating, I don't know what will," she uttered as she pulled the dough into small pieces and pounded them with the palm of her hand. She was terrifying in her determination, but with a mouthwatering smell filling the kitchen as the fritters fried, I had to admit I was also excited. "Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!" Dom Perignon apparently said when he tasted the first Champagne, and this is precisely how I felt when I took my first bite of Hamur kızartmazı. Stars that stretch on for eternity.
Over the years, it's become our little habit, a starting gun sounding the beginning of my annual trip back to Turkey. "Yenge, I'll be there next week," I'll message my aunt before my trip. "Excellent! I'll go and get the dough," she'll respond, sticking to her time-honoured tradition of buying her dough ready-made from a specialty shop around the corner. When I arrive in Istanbul, where she now lives, she throws open the door, runs toward the kitchen and begins throwing pieces of dough into the oil. Hamur kızartması bookends each trip to Turkey. It's our first meal and our last. I always savour the last bite knowing it will be a year before I eat it again. Well, I did until COVID-19 hit.
"Hamur kızartması bookends each trip to Turkey. It's our first meal and our last."
It's been two years since I've tasted my aunty's hamur kızartması, indeed, two years since I've seen my family and how I yearn for both. There are recipes for the dish online of course, but something about making and eating it in my own home feels off, like a betrayal. I stick to my coffee and my weekend Turkish breakfast spreads and try not to think about what I'm missing. Or, that was the case until recently when I came across a version of the dish at a stall at Kings Cross Organic Food Markets. It didn't quite look the same (this one is rolled into a snail like börek), but one bite was all it took for me to be transported back to my aunty's house in Istanbul. "Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!" I shouted to my children playing in the playground beside us. Then, together we sat, side by side, eating the Milky Way together. It's a new tradition that will have to make do until we can go back and reclaim the old, and I for one, cannot wait.
My dislike of breakfast has been well documented, but when I lived in Sydney I would go to this one place religiously to eat this dish, yes, at breakfast. I don’t remember the name of the place, and sadly it has since closed, but the memory of their delicious Middle Eastern dish lives on in this cracking recipe.