meze culture

in Turkey

The word “meze” derives from the Persian word “maza,” meaning“taste.” Meze in Turkey is a way of life around the table, itis spending long hours in the company of loved ones. Meze are not there to fullyou 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 toaccompany your rakı!

Rakı, the anise-flavored drink of Turks, is sometimesreferred to as "lion´s milk."

Nowadays, meze can be enjoyed with any kind ofbeverages. Especially the younger generation often likes to enjoy meze while drinkingwine. In fact, Turkish wines are also a great accompaniment to the mezesofrası (meze table).

A meze can be anything served in small plates: herbswith yogurt (can be served cold or warm), turşu (pickles), ezinecheese and melon, olive oil-based vegetable dishes, zeytinyağlısarma (stuffed grape leaves or cabbage leaves cooked in oliveoil), haydari (strained yogurt with herbs, spices, andgarlic), lakerda (pickled bonito), arugula salad, tomato andonion salad, charred eggplant salad, marinated fish, octopus salad, karidessöğüş (boiled shrimps served cold with olive oil), sautéed wild herbsserved with garlic, pilaki (tomato sauce and olive oil-braisednavy beans), fava (mashed fava beans served with onions andolive oil), olives, şakşuka (fried eggplants with tomatosauce), celery salad, artichokes in olive oil…

We should say that the meze table should be balancedin acid, fat, and salt. Toasted bread, pita bread, or cornbread may be servedwith the mezes. 


On your journey through Turkey, you’ll find manydelicious and nutritious meals. Mezes are some of the most commonly availabledishes, found in meyhanes (traditional Turkish taverns),restaurants, and cafés. Mezes are typically a mixture of small hot and colddishes, intended to be shared by those at your table. Here are 10 top picks forthe next time you’re looking at a menu.

Cold Meze

1. Fava - Mashed Broad Beans

Turkish cuisine is all about taking simple ingredientsand making the most of them. In this meze, broad beans are cooked, mashed, andthen formed into squares. Served with fresh diced onion, lemon, dill and a dashof 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 choppedparsley, and spring onion providing a fresh crunch with each bite. Mercimekköftesi are not only vegetarian but also vegan, and are widely availablethroughout the country.

3. Deniz Börülcesi - Samphire

Samphire (Crithmum) is a sea vegetable. Turkey’sabundant coastline means samphire is available almost year-round. This is anexcellent dish at any time of year but is particularly popular in the summerwhen the heat pushes most to the coast. The samphire is lightly cooked ingarlic and then preserved in lemon juice and olive oil, allowing the naturalflavors to come through.

4. Ezme - Spicy Tomato Salad

Tomatoes and Turkey go hand in hand, and nowhere isthat more apparent than in the humble ezme. It is made by dicingtomatoes, peppers, chilies, onions, garlic, and herbs, and drizzling with lemonjuice, pomegranate molasses, and olive oil. This dish is often offered as agift while you’re waiting for your food to be prepared, but the humble ezmeshouldn’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 anddiced walnuts, this dish is creamy, meaty, and has just the right amount ofcrunch. Traditionally dressed in fresh herbs, Circassian chicken is aninteresting textural change from most of the other meze.

Hot Meze

1. Paçanga Börek - Beef and Cheese Pastry

Of the many types of börek foundthroughout Turkey, paçanga is the star. It is thin pastrywrapped around tasty cheese and pastırma (seasoned dry-curedbeef) and lightly fried. The outside is crunchy and flaky, while the inside isa happy melding of the flavorful beef and the creamy, melted cheese.

2. İçli Köfte - Stuffed, Fried Meatballs

İçli köfte is ahandy snack on the go or a more substantial meze option. Ground meat is searedwith onions, walnuts, and sometimes currants, and then shaped into balls beforebeing encased in a mixture of bulgur, potato, and spices. It is then fried agolden brown. İçli köftes are deeply satisfying, with a crisp outer shell andjuicy, flavorful meat filling.

3. Pastırmalı Humus - Hot Hummuswith 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, hotout of the oven, with a thin layer of pastırma laying atop. The pastırma givesan 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 delectabledish. Fresh shrimp is cooked in a simple sauce of butter and garlic. The dishis presented to the table still bubbling - will you wait to dive in or go forit? The seafood, while the star of the show, does have stiff competition fromthe garlic butter sauce. More bread for dipping anyone?

5. Balık Kokoreç - Diced Spiced Fish

Not to be confused with traditional kokoreç, fish kokoreç isfinely diced fish that has been liberally seasoned with spices, tomatoes,onions, and peppers. This is a fresh, flavorful dish that will have you comingback for more.