My friends back home know that I rarely sit down to eat breakfast. I prefer to sleep in and get up just in time to grab a cup of coffee and munch on a handful of Cheerios on my way to class. Sometimes I’ll even manage to put granola in a plastic cup of plain yogurt, but this extravagance is far from frequent.
Turkish breakfast, or kahvaltı, is nothing like my typical morning coffee run. Here, breakfast is more a cultural tradition than it is a simple meal; it is a grand but leisure start to the day, marked by a table overflowing with deliciously warm food and pleasant company.
Çelebioğlu Sokak is a street in Beşiktaş that seems to be dedicated to the celebration of breakfast. Located on the European shore of the Bosphorous, the municipality of Beşiktaş is bordered by Sarıyer, Şişli, and Beyoğlu. The area is known for many historical sites and its sports club, which is the oldest in Turkey. It is also full of crowded markets and beautiful neoclassical residential buildings, but in my case, my Turkish friend and I were hoping to commemorate my first full week in Istanbul with a hearty Turkish breakfast at one of Beşiktaş’ hip eateries.
Like many of the streets around it, Çelebioğlu Sokak is lined with small cafés and terraces, usually with an employee standing right outside each storefront to convince pedestrians to come in and eat. On its cobbled stones are dozens of soft cats lazing in the sun (stray cats are everywhere in Istanbul), and its outdoor patios are packed with people buzzing in conversation, their faces thinly masked by the fumes of cigarettes.
The foundation of a classic Turkish breakfast is its tea, usually a Rize tea, which is a variant of black tea. There are sliced loaves of soft white bread placed in woven baskets and simit, rings of bread encrusted with sesame seeds. There are cheese platters of beyaz peynir, a white cheese similar to feta, örgü peyniri, a delicious braided string cheese, and many others. In tiny sauce bowls come an excitingly overwhelming number of spreads: rich honey, nutty tahini, apricot jam, tangy plum marmalade, butter that is neither too sweet nor salty, and a deep-red pepper paste called biber salçasi—just to name a few.
The waiter makes multiple trips as he continues to bring out a plate of green and black olives, a salad of cucumber and tomatoes resting in olive oil and ground pepper, sliced cold cut meat, and saman platalesi, essentially Turkish French fries. For me, the star of the meal is the menemen, soft scrambled eggs cooked with tomatoes, onions, and pepper, served in a small skillet. The most delicious way to eat it is to take a huge spoonful of it and place it onto your bread.
My friend and I share this massive spread for just 35 liras, which she claims is a little on the steep side for breakfast here. That’s the equivalent of about 12 USD in total for the two us, which was absolutely fine with me.
On a visit to Istanbul, I can’t imagine a better (and affordable) way to dive into the culture than indulging in a delectable Turkish breakfast in Beşiktaş.