Savouring the Morning: A Guide to the Best Breakfast in Istanbul
Istanbul, the city that straddles two continents, is renowned for its rich culinary history that spans centuries. The food culture here is a testament to the myriad civilizations that have thrived in this region. One of the most cherished meals of the day in Turkish culture is breakfast, or as locals call it, ‘kahvaltı’.
The Turks believe in starting their day with a hearty and nutritious meal, as it sets the tone for the rest of the day. In this article, we will explore the best breakfast in Istanbul, focusing on the traditional Turkish breakfast, its key components, and why it holds a special place in the hearts of the locals.
The Traditional Turkish Breakfast: Kahvaltı
Kahvaltı is the Turkish word for breakfast and is derived from two words: ‘kahve’ (coffee) and ‘altı’ (before). Ironically, coffee is not a common beverage at breakfast; instead, it is a tea that dominates the Turkish breakfast table. A classic kahvaltı spread is a feast for the eyes and the stomach.
It typically includes an array of options for breakfast, such as green and black olives, several types of cheese, including white cheese, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, jams, honey, ‘kaymak’ (clotted cream), ‘menemen’ (scrambled eggs with tomatoes and peppers), ‘börek’ (a pastry made with thin layers of dough and filled with cheese or minced meat), and much more.
An indispensable element of any Turkish breakfast experience is the ‘simit,’ a circular bread encrusted with sesame seeds, often likened to a bagel.
It is enjoyed with tea, another vital component of the breakfast spread. Turkish tea is brewed strong and served in small, tulip-shaped glasses. It is a delightful way to start the day and an integral part of the Turkish breakfast menu.
In summary, breakfast is not Just a meal in Turkey; it is a ritual, a celebration of food and life. Whether sitting down for a mini breakfast or a mixed breakfast with friends and family, it is a time for sharing delicious food, catching up on each other’s lives, and savouring the moment.
Enjoying a traditional Turkish breakfast is an amazing food experience you must not miss when visiting Istanbul.
Istanbul’s Modern Breakfast Scene
In recent years, Istanbul has seen a surge in trendy cafes and breakfast spots that offer a modern twist on the traditional Turkish breakfast. These establishments combine the classic components of a Turkish breakfast plate with contemporary flavours and presentation styles. For instance, you may find a special omelette with a side of ‘suckle muhurta (eggs with Turkish sausage) or a delicious dish of ‘menemen’ topped with avocado and feta cheese.
Some popular spots for a modern breakfast experience include Privato Cafe, located near the Galata Tower, and Emek Cafe, situated in the Kılıçali Paşa neighbourhood. These cafes offer various delicious options, from a single breakfast serving to a luxurious breakfast spread, all at reasonable prices. Many of these trendy spots also offer vegan options, ensuring something for everyone.
Regional Specialties in Istanbul
Istanbul is a melting pot of cultures and culinary traditions from all over Turkey. The city’s breakfast scene reflects this diversity by incorporating regional specialities into the breakfast menu.
Aegean Influences: The Aegean region of Turkey is known for its high-quality olive oil, a variety of cheeses, and an abundance of fresh herbs. A typical Aegean breakfast might include a selection of olive oil dishes, white cheese, and fresh tomatoes sprinkled with aromatic herbs.
Black Sea Flavors: The Black Sea region is famous for its ‘hamsi’ (anchovies), cornbread, and collard greens. A traditional Black Sea breakfast might consist of a plate of fried ham, a slice of warm cornbread, and a serving of sautéed collard greens.
Southeastern Touches: The Southeastern region of Turkey is renowned for its spicy sausages, sweet baklava, and rich clotted cream (‘kaymak’). A breakfast spread from this region might include:
- ‘Sucuk’ (spicy sausage).
- Slices of baklava drizzled with honey.
- A generous dollop of kaymak served with fresh bread.
In conclusion, the breakfast scene in Istanbul is a beautiful blend of traditional and modern flavours, with influences from different regions of Turkey. Whether you are craving a traditional Turkish breakfast plate or trying something new and trendy, Istanbul offers a plethora of choices for breakfast that will surely satisfy your palate.
Vegan and Vegetarian Breakfasts in Istanbul
As health-conscious eating has gained momentum worldwide, Istanbul has also witnessed a rise in eateries offering vegan and vegetarian breakfast options. Nowadays, it is common to find breakfast spots serving delicious plant-based versions of traditional Turkish breakfast items.
For example, instead of the regular ‘menemen,’ you might find a vegan version made with tofu instead of eggs. Other popular vegan and vegetarian dishes include ‘çılbır’ (poached eggs in yoghurt) made with vegan yoghurt and ‘börek’ filled with spinach and vegan cheese.
Çeşme Bazlama Kahvaltı is a famous restaurant offering various vegan and vegetarian options. Their breakfast spread includes fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, green olives, black olives, and various jams and pastries.
Another popular spot for vegans and vegetarians is Kahve 6, located in the Cihangir neighbourhood. They offer a delightful vegan breakfast spread that includes avocado toast, hummus, and a selection of fresh fruits.
Sweet Beginnings: Desserts for Breakfast
In Turkish culture, starting the day with something sweet is not uncommon. Sweet treats like ‘künefe,’ ‘baklava,’ and ‘lokum’ (Turkish delight) often reach the breakfast table. Künefe is a traditional dessert made with thin strands of pastry soaked in syrup and filled with cheese.
It is served warm, often with a scoop of clotted cream (‘kaymak’) or ice cream. Baklava, conversely, is made with layers of thin pastry filled with nuts and soaked in syrup.
Turkish delight, a soft, chewy confection made from sugar, starch, and flavourings, is also a popular choice for a sweet start to the day.
For those with a sweet tooth, Galata Konak Cafe is a must-visit. This cafe is located near the Galata Tower and is famous for its delicious pastries and desserts. Their breakfast menu includes various sweet options, such as baklava, künefe, and a special omelette with honey and walnuts.
In summary, whether you are a vegan, vegetarian, or someone with a sweet tooth, Istanbul offers a variety of breakfast options to suit your dietary preferences and cravings. From health-conscious eateries to cafes serving breakfast desserts, there is something for everyone in this beautiful city.
Beverages to Start Your Day
No Turkish breakfast experience is complete without a hot beverage to start your day. In Turkey, tea and coffee are not just drinks but essential to culture and daily life.
Traditional Turkish Tea: Turkish tea, served in small tulip-shaped glasses, is a staple at any breakfast table. It is brewed in a special two-tiered teapot known as ‘çaydanlık,’ with loose tea leaves steeped in the top pot and boiling water in the bottom. The strength of the tea can be adjusted by adding more or less water. Drinking tea is a significant ritual in Turkish culture, symbolizing hospitality and friendship.
Turkish Coffee: A UNESCO-recognized tradition, Turkish coffee is made by finely grinding coffee beans into a powder, then simmering it with water and sugar (if desired) in a special pot called ‘cezve.’ It is usually served in small cups and is strong and thick. The coffee grounds left at the bottom of the cup are often used for fortune-telling, a popular Turkish tradition.
Modern Twists: Modern twists on traditional beverages have become popular recently. Freshly squeezed juices, smoothies, and international coffee varieties like lattes and cappuccinos are now commonly found on the breakfast menus of cafes and restaurants in Istanbul. Çeşme Bazlama Kahvaltı, for example, offers a wide range of fresh juices and smoothies, perfect for a refreshing start to the day. Similarly, Kahve 6 serves a variety of international coffee varieties, catering to the tastes of locals and tourists.
In conclusion, whether you prefer traditional Turkish tea, a strong cup of Turkish coffee, or a refreshing modern beverage, Istanbul has something to offer everyone. Starting your day with a delicious drink is an integral part of the Turkish breakfast experience and a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Local Recommendations: Hidden Gems and Popular Spots
Istanbul has surprises, and its breakfast scene is no exception. While many famous restaurants and cafes serve delicious breakfasts, there are also hidden gems that locals love. Here are some recommendations for the best breakfast in Istanbul:
Overview: Van Kahvaltı Evi is a small, family-owned restaurant specializing in breakfast. The menu features traditional Turkish breakfast items, including simit, borek, menemen, and scrambled eggs.
Must-try dishes: The simit, borek, and menemen are must-try dishes at Van Kahvaltı Evi. The limit is a sesame-coated bread often served with butter and jam. The borek is a savoury pastry with cheese, meat, and vegetables. The menemen is a scrambled egg dish typically served with tomatoes, peppers, and onions.
Why people love it: Van Kahvaltı Evi offers a delicious and authentic Turkish breakfast experience. The food is fresh and flavorful, and the service is friendly and attentive.
Overview: Privato Café is a trendy cafe in the heart of Galata. The cafe serves a variety of coffees, teas, pastries, and light meals.
Must-try dishes: Turkish coffee, baklava, and pide are must-try dishes at Privato Café. The Turkish coffee is strong and flavorful, traditionally served in a small copper pot. The baklava is a sweet pastry made with layers of phyllo dough and filled with nuts. The pide is a flatbread typically filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables.
Why people love it: Privato Café is a great place to relax and enjoy coffee or a pastry. The cafe has a warm and inviting atmosphere, and the staff is friendly and helpful.
Nezih Kebap & Muhlama (Bebek)
Overview: Nezih Kebap & Muhlama is a traditional Turkish restaurant in the Bebek district. The restaurant specializes in kebabs and muhlama, a traditional Turkish dish with cheese, cornmeal, and butter.
Must-try dishes: The kebabs and muhlama are must-try dishes at Nezih Kebap & Muhlama. The kebabs are perfectly grilled and served with various sides like rice, salad, and grilled vegetables. The muhlama is creamy and delicious.
Why people love it: Nezih Kebap & Muhlama offers a delicious and authentic Turkish dining experience. The food is fresh and flavorful, and the service is friendly and attentive.
Overview: Kale Cafe is located in the Rumelihisarı district and has a beautiful view of the Bosphorus Strait. It is a popular spot for both tourists and locals.
Must-try dishes: The coffee, desserts, and views are at Kale Cafe. The coffee is freshly brewed and served in a variety of ways. The desserts are delicious and made with fresh ingredients.
Why people love it: Kale Cafe is a great place to relax and enjoy a coffee or a dessert. The cafe has a beautiful view, and the staff is friendly and attentive.
Overview: Naan Bake&Shop is a bakery located in the Beyoğlu district. The bakery specializes in Indian breads, pastries, and desserts.
Must-try dishes: The naan, samosas, and gulab jamun are must-try dishes at Naan Bake&Shop. The naan is a flatbread perfect for scooping up curries and chutneys. The samosas are crispy and savoury pastries filled with vegetables or meat. The gulab jamun is a sweet and syrupy dessert made with milk and rose water.
Why people love it: Naan Bake & Shop offers a delicious and authentic Indian dining experience. The food is fresh and flavorful, and the service is friendly and attentive.
Beykoz Kundura Fabrikası (Beykoz)
Overview: Beykoz Kundura Fabrikası is a historic factory converted into a restaurant and event space. The restaurant serves various Turkish and international dishes. It has a large outdoor terrace with stunning views of the Bosphorus Strait.
Must-try dishes: The fish, lamb, and desserts are must-try dishes at Beykoz Kundura Fabrikası. The fish is fresh and locally sourced. The lamb is slow-cooked to perfection. The desserts are delicious and creatively presented.
Why people love it: Beykoz Kundura Fabrikası is perfect for special occasions or romantic dinners. The setting is unique, the views are stunning, the food is expertly prepared, and the service is top-notch.
Practical Tips for Breakfast in Istanbul
Best times to go: Breakfast in Istanbul is usually served from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., although many places serve breakfast all day. The best time for breakfast is between 9 am and 10 am when it is not too crowded, and you can enjoy your meal in a relaxed atmosphere. However, if you are an early bird and prefer to avoid the crowd, aim to be there right when the places open.
Cultural etiquettes to be aware of: It is customary in Turkey to greet people with a friendly ‘Merhaba’ (hello) and a smile. It is common to see people sharing tables with strangers, so don’t be surprised if someone asks to share your table. Regarding dressing, Turkey is a relatively conservative country, so it’s best to dress modestly.
Payment methods and tipping customs: Most restaurants and cafes in Istanbul accept credit cards, but it’s always a good idea to carry some cash with you, just in case. Tipping is customary in Turkey, and it is usual to leave a tip of around 10-15% of the bill. However, always check the bill; some places may include a service charge.
Istanbul’s breakfast scene is a delightful blend of tradition and modernity. From classic Turkish breakfast spreads with olives, cheeses, and menemen to trendy cafes serving international breakfast favourites with a Turkish twist, there is something for everyone. The rich culinary history of Istanbul is reflected in its breakfast offerings, and it is a meal taken seriously by locals and visitors alike.
Whether you prefer a sweet start to your day with desserts like baklava and künefe or a savoury feast with kebabs and muhlama, Istanbul has it all. And don’t forget the Turkish tea or coffee, a vital part of any Turkish breakfast.
So, next time you find yourself in Istanbul, set aside some time to explore and savour the city’s morning delights. Each place offers a unique experience, from hidden gems to popular spots. Remember to be mindful of cultural etiquette and tip your server.