Turkey is a country that follows the old saying, “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.” Van is the city that has put this Turkish tradition on the map. Van-style breakfasts are served in Istanbul and Ankara too. The tradition is spreading, and this city about an hour from Iran has put itself on the culinary map.
The Turkish breakfast tradition can be enjoyed all over the country, but Van is the place to go to truly sample the best Turkey has to offer. Picture distant mountains, wildflowers blooming in spring and a town of half a million people with a street called Breakfast Makers Street.
In fact, this is the place where 50,000 people came together to break the Guinness World Record for the most attended breakfast — and we can see why. Nutritionists have long been telling us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and in Van, you will celebrate the full potential of this meal.
In the West, it is still far too common to skip breakfast, grab a sugary cereal or gobble something on the run. In Turkey, every family sits down to a multiple-plate, various-course breakfast tradition that will have you rethinking your own. It is a strong part of Turkish culture and has its origins in Van.
In many Turkish cities, you can visit restaurants and order breakfast throughout the day. You could go to Sutu Selim (Milkman Selim) in Van and enjoy the famous local flavors. Van cacigi is similar to tzatziki but also has more vegetables (onion, garlic, green peppers, parsley and cucumber).
An assortment of sumptuous and mouthwatering dishes will have you debating which delicious morsel to try next. The idea behind these traditions is that there are many plates on a table or a large buffet to choose from. In Van, all the produce is locally sourced except for the olives. Where to begin? Well, there is a strong Mediterranean influence with hints of the Middle East.
Otlu peynir is the region’s most famous cheese, something similar to feta but with the addition of wild garlic called sirmo. Then there are olives, platters of fresh vegetables, smoked sausages and eggs served with lamb or beef (Kavurma). There is Murtuga, a crumble-like dish made with flour, eggs and butter. There are also freshly baked flatbreads enjoyed with butter, jams and black tea. Turkish coffee is world-famous and traditionally enjoyed after breakfast.
Bak Hele Bak is also a popular restaurant that has been open since 1975. The owner, Yusuf Konak, will welcome you warmly and tell you all about the breakfasts they serve and his wonderful views on life and food.
Konak believes that culture has no party or religion and all people are equal within culture. For that reason, he is proud to call his restaurant a “house of breakfast culture.”
Should you like to try breakfast street style, you can also sample the wares of the street vendors on your way to the market. The air will be filled with the delicious aromas of chicken kebabs, livers and corn. Van will treat you to culinary wonders around every corner. Perhaps coffee and sweet cake after a stroll through the city or a detour to the local lake, Lake Van, will be in order to walk off that sumptuous feast.
You could probably visit this town at any time of year. Spring is warm in the day and cooler in the evenings. You will be having breakfast after sunset, though, if you do not check the dates for Ramadan. During this holy month, devout Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset. In Van, many of the local restaurants will understandably not be open for breakfast. However, you can still enjoy a later supper of breakfast if you wish.
You can find Van-style breakfasts in other cities, but it is a bit like comparing a French pastry eaten in Paris to a croissant from your local bakery. Van is surrounded by mountains, and locals swear the local produce is what makes everything particularly delicious — the butter is creamier, the cheeses are more luscious and everything just tastes so amazing. A pilgrimage to this culinary town may just be in order to enjoy its bountiful breakfasts.