"The Turkish word for breakfast [kahvaltı] literally translates as 'before coffee'," explains Fisun Ercan, the chef-owner of two of Montreal's standout restaurants. "In Turkey, we drink black tea with breakfast, not coffee. Breakfast leads to coffee. Coffee is almost the reason for breakfast," Ercan laughs.
Beyond some gentle encouragement, Ercan's staff at Verdun's Su and Mile End's Barbounya, where Turkish-style breakfasts are served weekends, don't exactly enforce the custom. "It's funny, but at Su the customers seem to take the advice of the servers more often, and wait to order coffee until after the meal is over. Barbounya's customers love their lattes. Which is fine, because we don't just make Turkish coffees at the restaurants."
"Breakfasts in Turkey are glorious."
Ercan doesn't just offer the standard Turkish breakfast at Su and Barbounya either. "We start with all the traditional components of Turkish breakfast, but the main courses are totally made up by me." Breakfasts in Turkey are glorious, swoons Ercan. "We Turks love breakfast. There's more variety on the table on weekends, but on weekdays it's normal, even if you're going to work early, to have a spread of breads, cheeses, kaymak [a clotted cream], butter, jam, honey, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, crepes, boreks or stuffed phyllo dough, baked eggs with sucuk [beef sausage] or pastırma [seasoned, air-dried cured beef]. You might not have all of these things on the table, but they're typical. Baked eggs are very popular, and not just for breakfast. When there's no time to cook after work, they make a wonderful meal, with spinach or potatoes."
"We don't get bored with one item, there's savoury, sweet, and you alternate."
Ercan serves up a spread of Turkish breakfast staples at both Su and BarBounya on Saturdays and Sundays as of 10 a.m. On the board: honey, homemade kaymak, olives, tomato and ricotta salad, nuts, dried fruits, homemade spreads and jams, and warm flatbread. From there customers choose heftier mains like roasted lamb shoulder with yogurt, pita, boiled egg, and greens, pulled pork cassoulet, foie gras sausage and braised cabbage, and brioche French toast with tahini, chocolate, and nuts.
"Sometimes customers react funny because we send out the boards first, and then we send the meals five minutes later. People will say 'We didn't finish this yet', but that's how it works in Turkey. You take your time, you share, you enjoy it all at once. When you're tired of one thing, have some tomato salad, have some olives, some nuts, then repeat. Breakfast is like any other meal in Turkish cuisine. It's meze. We don't get bored with one item, there's savoury, sweet, and you alternate. You nibble from small plates slowly, chat, and don't fill your belly with one boring dish."