James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Brunch Politics in the Eastern Mediterranean

Brunch Politics in the Eastern Mediterranean

Salad for Breakfast in Turkey

The best meal in Turkey is breakfast. In fact, breakfast is the best meal in the region. While this might be a contentious statement, given the varied and delicious spectrum of the Middle Eastern culinary cannon, I stand by my conviction.

The Turkish breakfast, or Kahvalti, which literally translates to “before coffee”, is an event typified by many small plates of cheese, olives, breads and egg specialties punctuated by rounds of tea served in tulip-shaped glasses. What makes this meal stand out is the salad course. That’s right, salad for breakfast.

Having lived in the Middle East for eight years, breakfast time salad is now commonplace for me. When I first moved to the region, however, eating a bit of salad at 9 in the morning with a plate of eggs was nothing short of a culinary epiphany. In the United States, much of our cultural understanding of the Middle East comes through a heavy Israeli lens. Therefore, I always assumed that Israel was, in fact, creator of this salad idea. It took some time for me to realise my naivete regarding the delicate politics of brunch in the region.

The reality is that many countries in the Eastern Mediterranean feature a hearty dose of vegetables as part of the morning meal. And it makes sense, given the high quality of cucumbers and tomatoes, as well as the rich variety of olive oil on offer throughout the region.

Early in the Israeli state project, European immigrants to Palestine began adopting the culinary patterns of the region. From falafel to hummus, the first generations of Israelis, bolstered by Jewish immigrants from the Arab World, began a swift cultural appropriation of local traditions. Walk around the streets of Lower Manhattan these days and you will see the fruits of this project. You can find Israeli falafel establishments, and even something called the Israeli breakfast, which is essentially a rip off of the ‘salad for breakfast’ concept native to the region.

In fact, many culinary staples that Israel claims as its own are merely copies of dishes that locals have been making for hundreds of years. It is time to stop claiming ownership of the rich culinary traditions of the region and start simply enjoying them. Salad for breakfast should be a unifying concept among humankind.

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