The word “meze” is derived from the Persian word “maza” and means “taste”. Meze in Türkiye is a way of life at the table, she spends long hours in the company of relatives. Meze are not there to fill you up, but to change the taste in your mouth while enjoying your rakı. Indeed, many could argue that conversation is by far the best means of accompanying your rakı!
Rakı, the anise-flavored drink of the Turks, is sometimes referred to as “lion’s milk”.
Nowadays, meze can be enjoyed with any type of drink. The younger generation in particular often enjoys meze while drinking wine. In fact, Turkish wines are also a great accompaniment to the Meze Sofrası (Meze Table).
A meze can be anything that is served in small plates: herbs with yogurt (cold or warm), turşu (cucumber), ezin cheese and melon, olive oil-based vegetable dishes, zeytinyağlı sarma (stuffed vine leaves or cabbage leaves cooked olive oil), haydari (Yogurt with herbs, spices and garlic), lakerda (pickled bonito), rocket salad, tomato and onion salad, charred eggplant salad, marinated fish, squid salad, karides söğüş (boiled shrimp, served cold with olives oil), sautéed wild herbs , served with garlic, pilaki (tomato sauce and white beans braised with olive oil), fava (crushed fava beans, served with onions and olive oil), olives, şakşuka (fried eggplant 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, flatbread or corn bread can be served with the mezes.
10 TOP MEZES PICKS
You will find many delicious and nutritious meals on your journey through Türkiye. Mezes are some of the most common dishes found in Meyhanes (traditional Turkish taverns), restaurants and cafes. Mezes are usually a mix of small hot and cold dishes to be shared by those at your table. Here are 10 top tips for the next time you’re looking at a menu.
- Fava – mashed broad beans
Turkish cuisine is about taking simple ingredients and making the most of them. In this meze, broad beans are boiled, mashed and then shaped into squares. Served with freshly diced onions, lemon, dill and a dash of olive oil, this dish is a classic, hearty meze.
- Mercimek Köftesi – lentil meatballs
Lentil cakes are traditionally made from lentils, mashed and formed into patties with a red tomato sauce, freshly chopped parsley and spring onions, which provide a fresh crunch with every bite. Mercimek köftesi are not only vegetarian but also vegan and are widely available across the country.
- Deniz Börülcesi – Samphire
Samphire (Crithmum) is a sea vegetable. Because of Türkiye’s lush coastline, samphire is available most of the year. This is an excellent dish any time of the year, but is especially popular in summer when the heat is most pressing on the coast. The samphire is lightly cooked in garlic and then preserved in lemon juice and olive oil to let the natural flavors come through.
- Ezme – Spicy Tomato Salad
Tomatoes and turkiye go hand in hand, and nowhere is that more evident than in humble times. It is made by dicing tomatoes, peppers, chillies, onions, garlic and herbs and drizzling them with lemon juice, pomegranate molasses and olive oil. This dish is often offered as a gift while you wait for your food to be cooked, but the humble ezme shouldn’t be overlooked – it’s a hit when it comes to taste!
- Çerkes Tavuk – Circassian Chicken
This is a hearty meze. This dish is made from shredded chicken and diced walnuts. It’s creamy, meaty, and has just the right amount of crunch. Circassian chicken is traditionally dressed with fresh herbs and is an interesting structural change from most other mezes.
- Paçanga Börek – beef and cheese pastries
Of the many types of Börek in Türkiye, Paçanga is the star. It’s thin pastry wrapped around delicious cheese and pastırma (flavored, dry beef) and lightly fried. The outside is crispy and flaky, while the inside is a successful blend of flavorful beef and creamy, melted cheese.
- İçli Köfte – Stuffed, fried meatballs
İçli köfte is a handy snack for on the go or a more extensive meze option. Minced meat is sautéed 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 until golden brown. İçli köftes are deeply satisfying, with a crispy outer shell and a juicy, aromatic meat filling.
- Pastırmalı Humus – Hot Hummus with Pastırma
For most, hummus is a meal that is served cold. In Türkiye, hummus with pastırma is a popular hot meze. The hummus is served in a pot that comes out of the oven hot with a thin layer of pastırma on top. The pastırma gives the garlicky hummus an extra meaty kick. Dive in with crusty bread – you won’t be disappointed!
- Karides Güveç – Shrimp Casserole
Karides güveç is a deeply satisfying and delicious dish. Fresh prawns are cooked in a simple sauce made from butter and garlic. The dish is presented on the table, which is still bubbling – will you wait to dip in or try it? The seafood, while the star of the show, faces stiff competition from the garlic butter sauce. More bread to dunk?
- Balık Kokoreç – spicy fish cut into cubes
Not to be confused with traditional kokoreç. Fish Kokoreç is finely diced fish that has been richly seasoned with spices, tomatoes, onions and peppers. This is a fresh, tasty dish that you will keep coming back for.