The Anatomy of a Big, Glorious Turkish Breakfast

Nothing short of a feast.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

One of the most special times of day in Istanbul is breakfast. It’s a ritual, a way of life, and definitely not only for Sundays. A beautiful Turkish breakfast can happen any day of the week, and you can find one anywhere in Istanbul. Wherever there’s a cafe, there’s breakfast.

What makes Turkish breakfast different is the diversity of the food that comes to the table. From different types of cheeses and breads to eggs and jams, breakfast in Turkey is nothing short of a feast.

Even when my family and I are just visiting Istanbul, we often purchase our own supplies and make this breakfast at home. Having kept an apartment in the city, which we've been visiting regularly for almost seven years, making a Turkish breakfast spread comes naturally to us—which emphasizes how easy it is to throw together at home.

Here's a full picture of the glory of breakfast in Turkey, by element:


Photo by Me

Simit is probably the most important bread that comes to the table. It’s shaped like a ring and covered in sesame seeds. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, simit is a staple of any Turkish breakfast.

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Top Comment:
“Our standard menu is: Him - Sucuk Menemen; Turkish coffee (a double, usually) Me - feta yumurta or feta menemen Kid - silver dollar pancakes All served with Turkish pita fresh from the oven. We share a plate of sigara borek filled with cheese and a little chive. Before leaving, I'll get a few of the Turkish baklava made with pistachios that are soooooooo good.”
— HalfPint

Beside simit, you can also find pogača, which are single rolls stuffed with different filling such as cheese and cooked potatoes. My favorite kind is the dill and white cheese (feta cheese) pogača.

Photo by Me

Acma is another type of bread that’s commonly served in Turkish breakfasts. It’s usually made plain or stuffed with black olive spread or chocolate. Alongside these special breads, you can usually find plain white and whole wheat bread as well.

On top of all of these, a common breakfast item is also börek, a savory pastry item made with layers of yufka dough and cheese, ground beef, spinach, or potatoes. Börek itself comes in many forms: sliced, rolled, or even shaped as a triangle. Turks have börek any time of the day; it’s not solely a breakfast item. They usually enjoy it with a small glass of tea.


Photo by Me

The diversity of cheese in Turkey always amazes me. You’ll find at least three types of cheese on any breakfast plate. Each town and city has its own cheese that’s made from sheep, cow, or goat milk. Textures differ from super creamy and soft to very hard cheeses—there's a little something for everyone. Basic white cheese called beyaz peynir is the most common breakfast cheese, which can be soft and creamy or quite hard with less fat.

Other common cheeses are kasseri, which is a semi-hard cheese made from unpasteurized sheep milk, and çeçil peyniri, which is stringy with very little salt. My favorite Turkish cheese is Ezine peyniri, a white cheese from Ezine, a town in western Turkey.


Photo by Me

Olives, cucumbers, and tomatoes are always present on the Turkish breakfast plate. They’re usually drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and topped with some dried mint. Turkey has some of the best olives I’ve ever tasted. There are so many varieties of green and black olives, and the best thing is that most shops let you sample all of them before buying.

Turks love fresh tomatoes and cucumbers with cheese and bread in the morning—as do I, since it’s so close to what we have for breakfast in Iran.


Photo by Me

Sahanda yumurta, aka fried eggs, are a common breakfast item. They’re usually made in small copper pans. But sucuklu yumurta (eggs with sucuk) is an even more popular dish. Sucuk is a dry beef sausage that’s quite spicy and pairs perfectly with fried eggs. I usually don’t use any oil to fry sucuk because I want the pieces to release their fat, which make the eggs so delicious. The yolks are usually runny, and I love dipping a piece of simit in the egg yolk.

Another common egg dish is menemen which is basically eggs, fresh tomatoes, green bell peppers, and onions all cooked in a pan and seasoned with salt and pepper. It’s served warm, usually straight in the pan, into which you dip bread.

Sweet & Savory Spreads

From strawberry and raspberry jams to apricot preserves, you can find so many different variations of fruit spreads at breakfast. My favorite is tahin pekmez, which is essentially tahini and grape molasses mixed in a bowl. I like a 1:1 ratio, but you can modify the ratio to your liking.

There's also a savory black olive spread that I love for its spreadable consistency and unique flavor.


Photo by Me

Tea is an ingrained part of Turkish culture and Turkish identity. And it can be found everywhere: in restaurants after each meal, on the ferry when you’re traveling from the European side to the Asian side, in the bazaar, and in every shop while you’re waiting for the shopkeeper to bring an item for you. It’s always served in a gorgeous small glass with a curve in the middle (so you can hold it easily). Somehow those of us from the Middle East are capable of holding this hot glass of tea in our hands without burning ourselves, which I suppose comes from within.

Photo by Me

Turkish breakfast is a lifestyle. It’s where many important conversations happen, from business talks to marriage proposals. It all happens over simit, cheese, and tea. Maybe it's the diverse flavors of the fresh food, each bite inviting you in for another, which means prolonged quality time spent at the table with whomever you're sharing the meal with.

It is, for me, about sharing what’s at the table, including what’s in the heart.

What's your favorite part of a Turkish breakfast? Tell us in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sadaf Naeem
    Sadaf Naeem
  • Carlos C. Olaechea
    Carlos C. Olaechea
  • Jennifer Uzumcu
    Jennifer Uzumcu
  • Chris Clarke
    Chris Clarke
  • Stephanie B.
    Stephanie B.
Shadi HasanzadeNemati is a food writer and recipe developer at Unicorns in the Kitchen. She loves a good tahdig and her favorite spice is saffron.


Sadaf N. August 12, 2020
Exactly the recepies i was looking for...i am in live with turkist breakfast since i travelled there once... i would like to request to introduce some basic turkish spices also...and how they are used in different recepies...the famous kebab with bbq tomatoes and greenchillies...
Carlos C. April 19, 2019
This looks like my ideal kind of breakfast - a combination of sweet, savory, meaty, carby, spicy, fresh, juicy. All the flavors and textures all together....AND TEA! I will need to take this approach the next time I make a weekend breakfast
Shadi H. April 19, 2019
Hope you enjoy it Carlos!
Jennifer U. April 14, 2019
Where is the Antep Kaymak?? I miss the rose jam too.
Chris C. April 13, 2019
I adored Turkish Breakfast and had it every where I went, from north to south. A Turkish friend told me that there are so many options because the Turks can't make up their minds. Sound aok to me! The tahini and grape syrup were my fav part of the whole thing.
Shadi H. April 13, 2019
I agree with you Chris. Love the diversity of Turkish breakfast, so many options!
Stephanie B. April 12, 2019
Would love recipes for the breads mentioned!
Eric K. April 12, 2019
Hi! Here's Shadi's recipe for simit: https://www.unicornsinthekitchen.com/turkish-simit-recipe/

As for the others, I'll let my recipe developers know. ;)
Shadi H. April 12, 2019
Thank you Eric! :)
Stephanie B. April 14, 2019
Thank you Eric, and Shadi for the mouth-watering post!
Aja A. April 12, 2019
I am personally so excited to see this article! Turkish breakfast is one of the most amazing yet simple feasts to be had. Your combo plate of the cucumbers, peynir, simit, parsley and egg sum it up perfectly. Afiyet olsen!
Shadi H. April 12, 2019
Thank you Aja! Turkish breakfast is absolutely a simply but mighty feast!
HalfPint April 12, 2019
Once a month, my husband and I have breakfast at a Turkish diner that's about 20 minutes from our house. Our standard menu is:

Him - Sucuk Menemen; Turkish coffee (a double, usually)
Me - feta yumurta or feta menemen
Kid - silver dollar pancakes

All served with Turkish pita fresh from the oven.

We share a plate of sigara borek filled with cheese and a little chive. Before leaving, I'll get a few of the Turkish baklava made with pistachios that are soooooooo good.
Shadi H. April 12, 2019
Yes! Turkish baklava is so delightful, and sigara borek is always a good idea :)
RWen April 12, 2019
I've been looking for recipes for pogača and simit for a while... any suggestions on where to look?
Eric K. April 12, 2019
Here's simit! https://www.unicornsinthekitchen.com/turkish-simit-recipe/

More soon...
Kate L. April 12, 2019
I used to go to Turkey for work, but it's been a long time now and this article and these pictures just brought me SO MUCH JOY. Thank you. I will never forget that morning feeling, that glorious spread of food. Nothing like it anywhere else.
Shadi H. April 12, 2019
That's right, the joy that freshly brewed tea and that fresh simit brings is hard to find elsewhere!
Selin G. April 12, 2019
There is absolutely no equal to the Turkish breakfast. I have traveled to many different countries and have never seen the diversity of items we see and gladly eat at a Turkish breakfast! Yummm!
Shadi H. April 12, 2019
I agree Selin, there is no equal to this feast!
4376ab April 13, 2019
I completely agree. I spent many years exploring the globe for work and never have I had such an inviting array as a Turkish breakfast. It is one of the most memorable meals of my travels.