6 mins

How to breakfast in Istanbul

Turkish cuisine features a heady mix of fragrant flavours. Spice up your breakfast with these easy-to-cook recipes straight from Istanbul's streets

Cook up a breakfast feast straight from the streets of Istanbul (All images by Steven Joyce)

How to breakfast in Istanbul1. Menemen (spiced scrambled eggs)

This is great with slices of sucuk, rich grilled beef sausage, but you could also have it with chorizo or other spicy sausage. It’s a perfect brunch or light vegetarian supper, on its own with warm flatbreads or toast.

Serves: 2


Knob of butter
1 small, long green pepper, finely chopped (or ½ green (bell) pepper)
2 spring onions (scallions), finely chopped
1 large fresh tomato, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tsp Turkish tomato paste or tomato purée
1 tsp Turkish red pepper paste
4 eggs, lightly beaten
40g crumbled feta
1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Pul biber or mild chilli flakes
Flatbreads, pieces of baguette or crusty white bread to serve

1. Melt the butter in a pan big enough to take all the ingredients and gently fry the pepper and onion for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the chopped tomato and cook gently for 5 minutes.

2. Add the tomato and pepper paste, plus a tablespoon of water to loosen the mixture, if your fresh tomato is not very juicy. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring to blend, then pour in the beaten eggs. Stir gently and, as they start to scramble, add the crumbled feta, parsley and chilli flakes (you probably won’t need any salt as feta is quite salty).

3. Continue stirring gently to blend the eggs with the tomato. When the eggs are scrambled to your liking, remove from the heat and serve with flatbreads, pieces of baguette or crusty white bread.

How to breakfast in Istanbul2. Karpuz Salatası (watermelon, mint, olive and cheese salad)

This is a lovely zingy dish to start the day. You could use hard or soft goat’s cheese instead of feta (which I use because it’s easier to find than beyaz peynir, the Turkish equivalent), or different kinds of melon. For added richness, drizzle the salad with a little good-quality olive oil.

Serves: 4


200g feta, cut into 2cm cubes
1/2 watermelon, rind and seeds removed and cut into 2.5cm cubes
Large handful of mint leaves, roughly torn
24 stoned black olives
Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste

1. Mix all the ingredients except the lemon juice together. Taste and add lemon juice a little at a time – you want to balance the melon’s sweetness, so how much you need depends on its ripeness.

How to breakfast in Istanbul3. Cılbır (poached egg in garlic yoghurt)

This dish is a Turkish breakfast favourite. It sounds like a strange combination but works brilliantly. It’s easy to increase the quantities to feed more people – just poach your eggs until they are almost ready (1–2 minutes), gently transfer them to a bowl of iced water until you’re ready to serve, then reheat in boiling water for 30 seconds. Be sure to use the freshest eggs available, otherwise they’ll disintegrate into long trailing strands in the
pan. If you have time, bring the yoghurt up to room temperature, as otherwise there will be a big contrast between the cold sauce and the hot egg. If you find your paprika a bit insipid, experiment with Spanish smoked paprika. It’s not at all authentically Turkish, but it is much more delicious than the low-quality regular paprika sold in some supermarkets.

Serves: 1


75ml plain Turkish or Greek-style yoghurt
1/2–1 garlic clove to taste, crushed
Salt to taste
15g (1 tbsp) butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp sweet paprika
Chopped dill or flat-leaf parsley for sprinkling (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Pul biber or mild chilli flakes for sprinkling (optional)
Flatbread, baguette or white sourdough bread for dipping

1. Mix the yoghurt in a bowl with the garlic and a little salt, to taste. Transfer it to a bowl large enough to take the yoghurt sauce and a poached egg. Poach the egg to your liking in simmering water with the lemon juice added – I cook mine for 3 minutes maximum, over a low heat.

2. While the eggs are poaching melt the butter, in a pan over a very low heat. As soon as it starts to sizzle take it off the heat. Wait a moment before adding the paprika to the butter – if the spice burns it will taste bitter. When the egg is done, lift it gently from the water with a slotted spoon, allow it to drain and then slide it into the bowl so it nestles in the yoghurt.

3. Drizzle with the bright red melted butter and scatter over the herbs and black pepper and chilli flakes, if using. Serve with a flatbread, a piece of baguette or a chunky slice of white sourdough bread, for dipping in the yolk and yoghurt.

How to breakfast in Istanbul4. Gözleme (fried cheese parcels)

If you spy a woman sitting in the window of a café in Istanbul, wearing white and rolling circles of pastry out very thinly, stuffing, folding and cooking them on what looks like an upturned wok, the chances are she’s making gözleme, a stuffed and pan-fried street food snack. Often the pastry is folded into a large crescent shape around the filling, before being cooked on a rounded grill called a sac, then rolled up to serve, wrapped in paper. You can also fold gözleme into squares like envelopes before cooking, or serve it in slices for breakfast, which I like to do. They are very flat pastries, so don’t over-stuff them.

Makes: 4

For the dough:
300g plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra
For dusting:
1 tsp salt
For the filling:
200g halloumi (or hard mozzarella or cheddar)
1 small fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (or less to taste)
1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
30g (2 tbsp) butter, melted for brushing

1. Mix together the dough ingredients with about 200ml water, to form a sticky dough (you may not need all the water).

2. Knead for 10 minutes then place in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth or clingfilm (plastic wrap). Set aside for 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Finely chop or grate the cheese and mix with the remaining ingredients. Put your largest frying pan over a high heat.

4. Divide the dough into quarters and on a floured work surface with a floured rolling pin, roll one out into a circle about 30 cm (12 in) diameter and about 3mm thick. If your frying pan is smaller than this then make 6 or 8 smaller gözleme. Scatter a quarter of the filling evenly over the bottom half of the semi-circle and lightly wet the edges. Fold the top half
over the bottom half to make a half-moon shape and press to seal the pastry edges.

5. Using a large spatula, carefully slide the sealed gözleme into the hot pan.

6. Cook for 3–4 minutes, until little brown spots appear on the underside, then flip over.

7. Brush the cooked top with a little melted butter. When the other side is covered with little golden-brown flecks too, and the pastry no longer appears damp or raw, again about 3 minutes, slide the gözleme out of the pan and keep warm while you make the rest.

Cook’s tip:

Try these fillings. Quantities aren’t important but not too much as the pastries must be flattish once stuffed (so only around 225g total prepared weight):

  • A handful of fresh spinach with crumbled feta
  • A little cooked and finely chopped potato, sweet potato or squash, with softened onion, fresh herbs and/or cheese
  • Softened sliced leeks with dill
  • Goat’s cheese and parsley
  • Finely sliced mushrooms with spinach and toasted pine nuts (pine kernels)
  • Cooked spiced lamb or beef mince (ground beef )
  • Cooked spicy sausage with cheese

How to breakfast in Istanbul5. İncir Reçeli (fig jam)

This jam is delicious with kaymak, a Turkish clotted cream made with buffalo milk.  Fortunately, since it’s pretty hard to get kaymak outside Turkey, it’s also wonderful with regular clotted cream, or smeared onto hot toast with butter.

Makes: 2 jars, about 700g


450g ripe figs
Juice of 1 lemon
225g granulated or preserving sugar

1. Wash two jam jars and their lids, then let them dry in a low oven for about half an hour, to sterilise. Meanwhile, trim the tops off the figs and then slice each fig into eight segments. Then chop each segment into two or three pieces.

2. Heat 250ml water, lemon juice and sugar together in a stainless steel or preserving pan, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved then bring to a simmer.

3. Add the figs to the pan and simmer gently until the fruit is pulpy, about 30 minutes. If you don’t like seeds in your jam, skim them off with a shallow spoon as they rise to the surface (you could also sieve or strain them out).

4. When the fruit has broken down, check to see if the jam has reached setting point. If you have a sugar thermometer, it needs to boil for 10 minutes to 105˚C (221˚F). If you don’t have one, put a plate in the freezer.

5. When it has chilled, place a drop of jam onto the plate – if it slightly sets and wrinkles when you tilt the plate, then the jam has reached setting point. Pour into the warm sterilised jars. Seal with a lid immediately and allow to cool. Store in the fridge and eat within a couple of weeks.

How to breakfast in IstanbulThese recipes have been taken from Rebecca Seal's new book, Istanbul: Recipes from the heart of Turkey (Hardie Grant; £25). Order your copy on Amazon now.

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