A Turkish Food Primer: Bread

So now you have all these meze on your table – what do you eat it with? Bread, of course! To say that Turks “like” bread is the understatement of the year. We had bread with literally every meal of the day, every day. Early one morning on the farm we were on our way to the fields in a cart attached to the back of a tractor. Suddenly the farmer pulled over and ran into the corner store. We realized, oh, he’s grabbing a huge loaf of bread to go with breakfast! (What do the girls we’re working with buy? Lollipops.)  We observed a few types of bread (ekmek) that  seemed to be most common: giant loaves of white bread similar to scali bread, pide, which is similar to pita but without the pocket, and lavash, which is a thin type of flatbread that’s slightly thicker than pide.

Bread and Water

It’s quite common to eat multiple types of bread in one meal. For instance, we always received a basket of white bread at the beginning of the meal to eat with mezeler we ordered. Then the meat dish, such as a shish kebab, arrived  on a bed of lavash. And to up the starch even higher the meat dish was almost always accompanied by rice AND potatoes. While we volunteered on the farm we shared breakfast and lunch with the field workers, and I always thought there was no way that these teenage girls could eat that much bread. They almost always finished it, and when they didn’t they were very careful to save any leftovers. One girl even kissed the lavash and put it back reverently into her lunch bag. Turks take their bread very seriously.

I also have to mention the delicious variant on pide, lahmacun. Lahmacun is pide dough rolled out very thinly with minced meat, parsley and spices on top, and can be ordered mild, spicy or very spicy. Ideally it’s then put into a very hot brick oven and comes out with an airy and crispy crust. Lots of people like to refer to it as Turkish pizza, but I think it’s something else entirely. Also, be wary of places that don’t roll out the dough thinly enough or have a weak oven. The lahmacun just ends up being chewy rather than crispy and can be a letdown. We experienced the best lahmacun in a random outlet mall in the suburbs of Eskesehir so you never know where you might find quality places.

photo credit: Robert Thomson

As far as I can tell pide and lavash are quite similar and made in a similar manner. I’ve done some research and haven’t been able to come up with a definitive answer. Lavash comes in large sheets, while pide is smaller and perhaps a bit thicker. The method of cooking them may also differ, as lavash may be made in a tandır oven or on a saç, a convex shaped griddle, while pita seems to be made only in a tandır.

Simit is another type of bread that is available everywhere but seems to fall into its own category. Visually it looks like a cross between a pretzel and a bagel, as it’s a ropy twisted ring, with a more matte finish and usually covered with sesame seeds.

photo credit: umami88

It has a subtly sweet flavor, probably from the dip in molasses water it gets so that the sesame seeds stick. It has a light chewy texture that lends itself to being eaten with honey or jam. Simit is eaten with or for breakfast, or can be eaten as a snack at any time or with çay (tea). We ate a lot of these because they were cheap, tasty and filling, and whenever I started to even get a craving for one I inevitably found a simit vendor on the corner. In Istanbul you’ll see simit vendors up at the crack of dawn with piles of simit on a giant tray, or wheeling glass-sided carts filled to the brim with simit. There’s even a chain bakery called “Simit Palace”!


One thought on “A Turkish Food Primer: Bread

  1. Julie Lee says:

    Remember how Ted K.K. thought that a meal without bread is not a meal. He even wished that Chinese meal came with bread. Each culture has their own pride and joy. Like Chinese they cannot live without their rice. I probably would enjoy all the breads that you mentioned. When I worked with Savin and Samara they didn’t eat too much bread. Matter of fact they never bought in the type of bread you mentioned. I guess that gotten Americanize and they think eating too much bread will make them fat. Samara is a better cook and I did enjoyed her cooking. I missed eating her home cooking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s