The word “meze” derives from the Persian word “maza,” meaning “taste.” Meze in Turkey is a way of life around the table, it is spending long hours in the company of loved ones. Meze are not there to full you up, but rather to change the tastes in your mouth while enjoying your rakı. In fact, many might argue that the conversation is by far the best meze to accompany your rakı!
Rakı, the anise-flavored drink of Turks, is sometimes referred to as "lion's milk."
Nowadays, meze can be enjoyed with any kind of beverages. Especially the younger generation often likes to enjoy meze while drinking wine. In fact, Turkish wines are also a great accompaniment to the meze sofrası (meze table).
A meze can be anything served in small plates: herbs with yogurt (can be served cold or warm), turşu (pickles), ezine cheese and melon, olive oil-based vegetable dishes, zeytinyağlı sarma (stuffed grape leaves or cabbage leaves cooked in olive oil), haydari (strained yogurt with herbs, spices, and garlic), lakerda (pickled bonito), arugula salad, tomato and onion salad, charred eggplant salad, marinated fish, octopus salad, karides söğüş (boiled shrimps served cold with olive oil), sautéed wild herbs served with garlic, pilaki (tomato sauce and olive oil-braised navy beans), fava (mashed fava beans served with onions and olive oil), olives, şakşuka (fried eggplants with tomato sauce), celery salad, artichokes in olive oil…
We should say that the meze table should be balanced in acid, fat, and salt. Toasted bread, pita bread, or cornbread may be served with the mezes.
10 TOP MEZES PICKS
On your journey through Turkey, you’ll find many delicious and nutritious meals. Mezes are some of the most commonly available dishes, found in meyhanes (traditional Turkish taverns), restaurants, and cafés. Mezes are typically a mixture of small hot and cold dishes, intended to be shared by those at your table. Here are 10 top picks for the next time you’re looking at a menu.
1. Fava - Mashed Broad Beans
Turkish cuisine is all about taking simple ingredients and making the most of them. In this meze, broad beans are cooked, mashed, and then formed into squares. Served with fresh diced onion, lemon, dill and a dash of olive oil, this dish is a classic, hearty meze.
2. Mercimek Köftesi - Lentil Patties
Lentil patties are traditionally made out of lentils, mashed and shaped into patties with a red tomato sauce, freshly chopped parsley, and spring onion providing a fresh crunch with each bite. Mercimek köftesi are not only vegetarian but also vegan, and are widely available throughout the country.
3. Deniz Börülcesi - Samphire
Samphire (Crithmum) is a sea vegetable. Turkey’s abundant coastline means samphire is available almost year-round. This is an excellent dish at any time of year but is particularly popular in the summer when the heat pushes most to the coast. The samphire is lightly cooked in garlic and then preserved in lemon juice and olive oil, allowing the natural flavors to come through.
4. Ezme - Spicy Tomato Salad
Tomatoes and Turkey go hand in hand, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the humble ezme. It is made by dicing tomatoes, peppers, chilies, onions, garlic, and herbs, and drizzling with lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, and olive oil. This dish is often offered as a gift while you’re waiting for your food to be prepared, but the humble ezme shouldn’t be overlooked - it packs a punch when it comes to taste!
5. Çerkes Tavuk - Circassian Chicken
This is a hearty meze. Made of shredded chicken and diced walnuts, this dish is creamy, meaty, and has just the right amount of crunch. Traditionally dressed in fresh herbs, Circassian chicken is an interesting textural change from most of the other meze.
1. Paçanga Börek - Beef and Cheese Pastry
Of the many types of börek found throughout Turkey, paçanga is the star. It is thin pastry wrapped around tasty cheese and pastırma (seasoned dry-cured beef) and lightly fried. The outside is crunchy and flaky, while the inside is a happy melding of the flavorful beef and the creamy, melted cheese.
2. İçli Köfte - Stuffed, Fried Meatballs
İçli köfte is a handy snack on the go or a more substantial meze option. Ground meat is seared with onions, walnuts, and sometimes currants, and then shaped into balls before being encased in a mixture of bulgur, potato, and spices. It is then fried a golden brown. İçli köftes are deeply satisfying, with a crisp outer shell and juicy, flavorful meat filling.
3. Pastırmalı Humus - Hot Hummus with Pastırma
For most, hummus is a meal served cold. In Turkey, hummus with pastırma is a common hot meze. The hummus is served in a pot, hot out of the oven, with a thin layer of pastırma laying atop. The pastırma gives an extra meaty kick to the garlicky hummus. Dive in with some crusty bread - you won’t be disappointed!
4. Karides Güveç - Shrimp Casserole
Karides güveç is a deeply satisfying and delectable dish. Fresh shrimp is cooked in a simple sauce of butter and garlic. The dish is presented to the table still bubbling - will you wait to dive in or go for it? The seafood, while the star of the show, does have stiff competition from the garlic butter sauce. More bread for dipping anyone?
5. Balık Kokoreç - Diced Spiced Fish
Not to be confused with traditional kokoreç, fish kokoreç is finely diced fish that has been liberally seasoned with spices, tomatoes, onions, and peppers. This is a fresh, flavorful dish that will have you coming back for more.