During a blistering Balkan summer, mornings greeted me with a vast breakfast spread. Coffee, sizzling beef sausage, fried eggs and buttery peppers perfumed the air and awoke me from my heat induced slumber before I could even open my eyes. Empty water drums clanged excitedly waiting in turn to be filled by a temperamental tap. Strays barked from dusty dirt roads in the near distance and the family Cockerell ended his doolde-doo on a bizarre flat note as if the heat had exhausted him too. As a guest I didn’t want to out stay my welcome as I was used to pulling my weight but my offer of a helping hand was politely refused. Eating in the open air beneath the shade of grape vines, we picked from a spread which took up the entire length of the table. Red and white checks poked out from small gaps between sun dappled plates. The elderly bumbled to and from the table as they pleased and kids unable to sit for long were soon distracted by the rural landscape’s hidey holes.
In Crete, the ritual of breakfast continued. Even bigger, more elaborate spreads became us complete with a backdrop of sparkling sea. Then in Istanbul as we sat at the table bleary eyed from perhaps a touch too much Raki the night before, the early afternoon call to prayer floated on the air reminding us we’d risen later than intended. After the food was cleared away Murat’s sister prepared syrupy coffee, serving not only as a digestif but as a talking point as she read our fortunes from the empty cups.
The mighty breakfast is a way of life in the Eastern Mediterranean. Served mid morning, the breakfast ritual supports the relaxed way of eating Mediterraneans are renowned for and are preceded by early dinners and bowls full of dried fruits and nuts.
In a land where hospitality is everything, inviting people for breakfast is an important social event for extended family and friends. The ritual of breakfast is one I’ll keep as long as I have good company. Fruit picked straight from the garden or sea views optional! For everything else try Green Lanes, Harringay where you’ll find Mediterranean supermarkets a plenty.
From the top of the Balkan peninsula right down to the south coast of Turkey and further beyond, a traditional breakfast spread would include:
Fried slices of Beef Sausage – Sucuk / Suxhuk (remove skins then dry fry)
Or Bugatsa – Greek sweet cream filled pastry.
Fried / roasted Charleston peppers – skins and seeds discarded. Green Charleston peppers are sweet and buttery but can be hot when mature and tinged slightly with red.
or Speca me Gjize – Peppers in curd cheese
Feta style Cheese and slices of other semi hard cheese such as Kasar Peynir
Kaymak – thick heavy cream similar to clotted cream.
Honey – to drizzle on top of kaymak.
Cucumber – skinned and sliced.
Flat leaf parsley sprigs / Rokka.
Tomatoes – skinned, sliced & drizzled in olive oil, sometimes with a smattering of oregano.
Village style sesame bread – lots of it!
Other breads: Simit – Traditionally Round sesame breads, Pogaca – brioche buns.
Jams / Marmalade
Fruit – Melon / figs / peaches / grapes especially.
Turkish Tea – Small slices of lemon are added in some Balkan countries. Keep kettle warm for refills.
Turkish style coffee – perfect digestif and talking point as fortunes revealed!