Meze: a savoury food eaten while drinking (esp. alcohol), appetiser, hors d’oeuvre. (1)
Meze is an integral part of the Turkish dining experience, it’s our favourite part of the Turkish dining experience, and it’s also difficult to describe. There’s no equivalent in British cuisine and therefore no literal translation in the English language.
As a result, on English menus throughout Turkey, the wonders that are meze dishes are grouped under the simple titles; ‘Cold Starters’ and ‘Hot Starters.’
The English language does the Turkish meze an injustice in relegating meze dishes to such a title because the meze is so much more than that.
In Turkey, eating meze is a social activity; it’s chatting with friends around the table for hours on end, helping yourself to the occasional spoonful of antep ezmesi, aubergine salad or spicy pickled beetroot, tearing off chunks of fresh Turkish bread and dipping it into the pickled or olive oil dressings.
It’s drinking rakı together, sharing hot, as well as cold, meze to complement the aniseed flavours of the rakı. It’s going out to listen to live saz music, nibbling, dipping, savouring. It’s an experience.
We find it impossible to go to a Turkish restaurant without gazing at the variety of meze dishes in the long glass fridges. If a restaurant has food on show, don’t bother with the menu. Go to the fridges. Sometimes, we’re tempted by too many choices and we skip the main meal altogether (just like we did at this restaurant in Dalyan), preferring instead to have a feast of meze plates laid on our table.
It’s too easy to just keep pointing, ‘We’ll have some of that, some of that, oh and some of that…oh go on then, some of that, too. What’s this one? Lovely! A bit of that too, then. Right, how many have we got? Shall we get one more?’
The top photo is our choice of meze dishes for various Cin Bal barbecues in Kayaköy. From the top, going clockwise, you can see spicy pickled beetroot, haydari (minted garlic Turkish yoghurt, great with lamb), aubergine salad, super-spicy pickled aubergine (we love this but it’s not to everyone’s taste) and of course, the old favourite of çoban salatası (shepherd salad).
Somehow, over the evening, we get through the meze, two baskets of bread, lamb tandır and a barbecue of köfte and lamb pirzola (cutlets). We’re always very grateful for Cin Bal’s Ottoman seating where we could recline and digest!
In the bottom photo, you can see geren (samphire in spicy, garlic yoghurt and a meze we’d never seen before – we’ve since, however, done our own geren recipe), yes the middle meze dish is Antep Ezmesi. No table is complete without it for us.
The final photo is baby sardines in a garlic, lemon and olive oil preserve. These were our choices when we spent a day in the town of Dalyan one time, while taking friends back to the airport. We had to be disciplined and limit our choices as we were having a main meal, too!
(1) Translation taken from Redhouse Yeni Elsözlüğü: İngilizce – Türkçe / Türkçe – İngilizce Dictionary