Most self-proclaimed egg lovers will have tried the most popular eggy-heavy brunch dishes that are currently making the rounds: There's the Middle Eastern shakshuka, Mexican huevos rancheros, and Italian uova al pomodoro (eggs in purgatory).
Tried them all, love them all... but am also slightly bored by them.
Last summer, I spent a couple of days in Istanbul and expectations were high. It was my first visit to the Turkish metropolis and I had heard so many good things from friends.
Unfortunately, through no fault of the city, the trip fell short. It rained the entire time, our Airbnb was tiny, dirty, and located right above one of the neighborhood's loudest clubs, and I dropped and subsequently broke my camera on the first day. It wasn't great. But on our last day we decided to hit a local menemen joint; a precursory Google search had told me that “menemen is a traditional Turkish dish which includes eggs, tomato, green peppers, and spices”—and it sounded exactly like what we needed.
The menemen came served in the piping-hot dish it had been cooked in, accompanied by various accoutrements: beyaz peynir (a type of white, brined cheese), a ring of simit (Turkish sesame bread), and fried, salty slices of sujuk (garlic sausage). We dug in, dipping the bread into the eggy mixture, which reminded me of a cross between a juicy omelet and loose, scrambled eggs—essentially, a tomato and pepper sauce that's thickened with egg. We ate the salty pieces of sujuk with our hands and delighted in this cheap, filling dish.
To this day, I cannot tell you how many eggs they used per serving. But I'm going to go ahead and assume it was a lot. We had breakfast around 9 A.M. and spent the whole day trekking across the city and only in the evening did we feel those first pangs of hunger. All of my travel companions are solid eaters, so I'm going to venture a guess and assume that we probably consumed around five eggs each that morning.
Back home in Berlin, I became obsessed. I made different pans of menemen for days on end, sometimes rich and involved—using both olive oil and butter and blanching the tomatoes to peel the skin before throwing them in the pan—, sometimes quicker iterations that substituted smoked paprika for the spicy peppers. I tried versions with and without sujuk; I served it with white rolls instead of simit; I made some that were bone-dry and others that resembled soup more than eggs. I never managed to recreate that Istanbul menemen though.
Luckily, Berlin, sometimes referred to as little Istanbul, is home to a thriving Turkish community—and there's enough menemen to go around.
Finally, after speaking to two Turkish bartenders who both recommended the same spot, I found my holy grail: La Femme has five outlets around Berlin and serves the closest version to the Istanbul menemen that I remember. I asked several of La Femme's employees what they considered to be “a good menemen.” To pretty much no one's surprise, I got varying answers: Some liked it with onion, others didn't. Some liked the peppers stewed into oblivion, others enjoyed it when the pieces retained a slight crunch. One waiter loved his family's more liquidy menemen, another preferred it dry. The preferences continued.
Menemen is a personal dish, as most egg dishes are. I've come to find that my ideal version includes both oil and butter because now that I've curbed my obsession, I tend to enjoy menemen for a lazy Sunday brunch, which deserves two kinds of fat.
During my visits to the numerous menemen establishments, I learned that it's a dish for anyone and everyone. All you need is a handful of vegetables (preferably picked from your garden, but hey, that's a dream we can't all fulfill) and some eggs. You can use as many or as few eggs as you like and it easily serves a crowd. It's a meal that satisfies you to your very core. The eggs' richness pairs beautifully with the slight tang of the white cheese, and the smattering of parsley lends a note of freshness and some lovely contrast. You can even go completely off course and eat it with some crusty ciabatta!
When eaten in a restaurant, menemen is served in individual metal dishes, usually sizzling furiously and nicely firmed around the edges whilst tender and deliciously moist in the middle. But at home I either eat it straight out of the pan, dunking the bread into it, or I pile it high into a bowl.
If you can't find the mild green Turkish peppers, substitute a mix of red and green ones. I typically have no use for green peppers, but their earthiness goes well with the tomato's sweetness so I tend to keep a sole green pepper at hand, for menemen emergencies. It's a fantastic brunch dish but is as nice eaten for lunch or even for a light August dinner, when the tomatoes are so ripe all you need to do is to throw them into the pan for the fruits to release their juices.
Berlin’s culture and day-to-day life is strongly influenced by the city’s Turkish inhabitants. Many of us shop in large Turkish grocers on a regular basis; the recent street food movement was practically birthed by kebabs and köftes; and drinking a fresh ayran while the sun rises after a particularly long night out is a rite of passage.
And still, menemen has yet to go mainstream, with an invisible line dividing Berliners: those who know and love menemen, and those who have have yet to discover its delights. I often find myself in a tiny Turkish bakery, sharing the lone table with a family, all of us smiling as we heartily dip chunks of bread into the dish. And that's the beauty of menemen: We're all the same when we have egg smeared across our face.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 small white onion, diced
- 3 green, mild Turkish peppers, seeded and chopped (or substitute 1 red bell pepper and 1/2 green bell pepper)
- 1/2 teaspoon good-quality red pepper flakes, ideally a medium-spicy Turkish or Aleppo variety
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 4 large tomatoes, chopped
- 5 eggs, room temperature
- salt and pepper to taste
- Parsley, chopped
- Turkish simit or other crusty bread
- Optional: fried sujuk (garlic sausage) and beyaz peynir (brined Turkish cheese similar to feta), to sprinkle on top
What's the best egg dish you've tasted while traveling? Tell us in the comments below!