Meze – A way of life

As the waiter approaches with the biggest tray full of small plates filled with delicious meze possible, a sheer excitement starts at the table. It almost requires a doctrine to be able to choose a balanced selection of mezze to accompany your preferred drink, in this case, rakı...

Derived from Persian word maza, meaning; taste, relish, meze in Turkish, is a way of life around the table. Once described the food of traveler, whether on a picnic, pilgrimage or long journey, now we enjoy mezze at meyhane, long hours at a table cherished with our loved ones.

meze display at Asmalı Cavit

Adabıyla içmek, roughly, to hold one’s liquor, can also be used for the approach to meze, adabıyla yemek, eat in a humanly manner, let’s say. You shouldn’t be fooled around with that charming tray of meze, a selection to be made and as a result, the table should not be topped with plates piling on top of each other. You choose your meze, then you should serve your friends and yourself a spoonful of each, not vulgarly but tardily. Meze is there accompany your rakı, to change the tastes in your mouth, not fill you up. While eating, again, you should have a bit of each with the tip of your fork. Have a sip of rakı and a sip of water followed, again, a sip of rakı, not a gulp, a sip! A proper meze only requires you to use a fork, a knife is not needed.

Although I must add, sohbet rakının en iyi mezesidir, the conversation is the best meze. The food should always be the second important thing, after the good conversation.

A meze can be anything, from leblebi -roasted salty chickpeas-, turşu -pickles-, beyaz peynir – white fatty cheese- zeytinyağlı sarma or yalancı dolma, -wrapped grape leaves or cabbage leaves braised in olive oil-, haydari -drained yogurt and mint spread-, tarama -fish roe whipped with olive oil and lemon-, lakerda -salt marinated bonito-, a crispy green salad, köz patlıcan salatası -charred aubergine salad-, marinated fish, octopus salad, karides söğüş – boiled shrimp in olive oil, served cold -, sauteed wild greens, pilaki –  tomato and olive oil braised navy beans-, fava – fava beans braised in olive oil- all kind of green salads…

These are some of the main ones you can find in any meyhane in Istanbul, cities have different meze, regional tastes, produce. Saying that a meze table should be balanced in acid, fat, salt. A little acid is always good with the oily meze and that oil helps your stomach to stay put with all the rakı intake. A little crunch, a little spread, a sip of rakı and long conversations… The elder ones once said you do not talk about business when at meyhane, but chat, gossip and talk about good old days and memories…

Keep your loved ones closer and your glass full…

p.s. books, books…  Barbara Abdeni Massaad’s Mezze book has lovely mezze recipes, her Lebanese heritage and her passionate way of writing her culture makes you want to cook all the book! Middle Eastern Cookery by Arto der Haroutunian is another wonderful book in my library focusing all kinds of dishes of different countries as well as meze. You may stary with meze and follow your way to Turkish, Lebanese, Armenian, Israeli, Syrian kitchen. A great read and very well searched and written, I proudly hold the first print (1982, Century Publishing Company) and the Grub Street 2010 edition.

 

 

 

 

 

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