Turkish Breakfasts of Bishkek

If we were to hold an international competition of delicious breakfast spreads it’s hard to say which would win – Cantonese dim sum or Turkish breakfasts.

Most American cities have at least one dim sum dive; few offer anything close to authentic Turkish breakfast – which is a shame, because Turkish breakfast done well is a wonderful creation.

Turkish breakfasts will vary in composition by season and region.  Most have an assortment of the following: fresh white cheese, yellow cheese, eggs or omelet (with or without sucuk – the Turkish garlic sausage) or menemen (scrambled eggs with peppers and tomatoes), bread, green and black olives, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and fresh bread.  Honey and kaymak (fresh clotted cream) are also common, as is gözleme, homemade jams, and börek or other types of small pastries.  Breakfast is always served with small cups of black tea.

The best Turkish breakfast I’ve ever tasted was at Ak Koy – a tiny whitewashed farming hamlet some 20 kilometers inland from Didim on the Aegean coast.  In early September the low tables and cushioned seats are spread outside under a billowing white canopy as chickens run around the perimeter, smells from the late harvest mingle with the salt in the air and fresh frying garlic sausage from the open kitchen at the back.  All we eat comes from the village – or the restaurant’s farm itself – and the feast usually comes to a grand total of 15 TL (~$5) per person.  Alas, Bishkek has no Ak Koy Turkish breakfast…

 

Above: essentials of a good Turkish breakfast: omelets, plenty of vibrant vegetables, various types of fresh cheese, and gözleme.

Bishkek also doesn’t have any rendition of dim sum (sob!), but there are a few places offering different variations of Turkish breakfast – not all of equal quality.  The four joints currently serving Turkish breakfast are: Beta Stores – Beta Gourmet, Park Cafe (Erkindik/Kievskaya), Sofra 2 (Kievskaya), and Relax Cafe.

We’ve eaten at all, but to look at their clientele during peak hour is also quite telling:
Park Cafe is full of businessmen, friends and family who come for full meals or leisurely breakfasts that stretch into the early afternoon – because the food is good. As a bonus, the kitchen is clean and the wait staff will actually remember you – because the same staff stay year after year. The restaurant offer two types of Turkish breakfast: the standard “plate” with a minimal assortment of cheese, olives, vegetables and a hardboiled egg for 250 som, and the a-la-carte country Turkish breakfast with baskets of steaming bread, tea, fresh kaymak and honey, several types of cheese, olives, eggs and sucuk, and small pastries for about 500 som a person depending on number of people and what you order.  Go for the a-la-carte – it’s the most complete spread and closest thing to real Turkish breakfast in Bishkek.
I don’t have a photo of their Turkish breakfasts, but this capture of a chicken shish kebab and simit kebab should be evidence enough.
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On weekend mornings Sofra 2 is full of male Turkish students who pile their plates high at the breakfast buffet – because the food is cheap and plentiful (but not especially good).  You can order off the menu or go for the ‘breakfast buffet’, which is a mere 250 som for unlimited plate fillings from a banquet table ladden with meats, eggs, breads, cheeses, olives, pastries, and some odd Russian salads. In the past year we’ve gone there once each for dinner with a friend (who several months later died of a heart attack only hours after finishing another late dinner at Sofra 2….), a company-sponsored Ramadan fast-breaking dinner, a post-wedding dinner given by a young Kyrgyz worker for all his colleagues, and the breakfast buffet.  The food has never been wonderful – i’d give it a 2 out of 10 and recommend you steer clear, unless you have the indifferent appetite of an adolescent male.
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Cafe Relax is full of expats and pairs of friends or expats meeting over coffee or tea or taking a break for lunch – because the presentation and service is good and the menu ranges from giant platters American classics (generously sized sandwiches) to breakfasts and sweets. Few people come for the Turkish breakfast, which is a bit pricey (at 450 or 500 som for a plate), but delicately made and nicely presented if not quite sumptuous.
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And Beta Gourmet is…just terrible. While two years ago it was hard to find a seat on Sunday mornings, it’s now almost empty.  Prices are the same as Park Cafe at 250 som/plate.  Forgetting how terrible it had become this morning we headed over for breakfast before bazaar wandering and grocery shopping.  Considering that the owners also have a grocery store on the ground floor one might expect fresh produce.  But no – the cheese tasted like it had sat in the back of the fridge for a week, the butter was cheap, the meat cuts looked suspiciously like spam, the ‘fresh-baked’ lavash (bread) had a hint of mold and a texture like leather, and all the vegetables were basically dead.  Not to mention that the waitstaff was too busy eating at the service bar to pay their only customers any attention and…. (eugh) after making and serving E’s fresh-pressed orange juice one of the waitresses actually took the container that she had poured the orange juice left and drank the rest of the orange juice…in full sight of us, and straight out of the container.  Will. not. go. back. again.  If you want to fortify yourself before checking out the soviet second-hand bazaar along Karl Marx (a wonderful Sunday morning stroll), then the nearby Adriano Coffee is probably a better choice for breakfast. IMG_3413
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