By the time we got to our hotel outside the old city walls, Istanbul had already faded from overcast to rainy darkness. The signage on the twisty streets was erratic enough that I took a snapshot of every corner we turned so we could find our way back from dinner. If Istanbul was going to be this dark and wet the whole time of our stay, it would be an oppressive week.
But the next morning opened without a cloud in the sky, and as soon as we reached the Hippodrome, the main plaza of the tourist's Istanbul, and saw a hotel offering a lavish Turkish breakfast in its rooftop restaurant, we were beguiled and agreed to have it, no matter what the tourist-gouging price might be. The 1920s-era dining room and the formally-attired waiters made it look like Hercule Poirot must be somewhere in the house solving a murder. But the dazzling lapis lazuli light (I am required by the rules of travel writing clichés to call it that) of the Bosphorus flooded the room, and as we gazed over the simple, impeccably fresh options for Turkish breakfast, we knew we would be having our least typical, yet one of our most memorable, Christmas mornings ever.
Turkish breakfast is perhaps my favorite foreign breakfast anywhere, with plenty to make you comfy (I am exotic at lunch and dinner but a traditionalist before coffee kicks in), like puffy French-style bread with jam or fried eggs that would be at home in an Iowa diner. Beyond those, it eases you into the idea that you're in an alternate culture gently, offering thick, creamy yogurt with fruit and dates to stir into it, sugar-stewed figs, or slices of ruddy red beef salami (sucuk) and mild white cheese. It's just familiar enough and just strange enough, and all of it is freshly made, direct, and tastes like it looks.
Turquoise Restaurant in Roscoe Village puts on the most lavish Turkish spread I know of for Sunday brunch, for $15.95 laying out not only the breads, eggs, and sucuk, but more questionably authentic items such as "Turkish hash browns," crepes, and meatloaf "with gravy sauce." It's a steal at that price, if you're looking for a meal to lay you out on the couch for the afternoon.
My favorite Turkish breakfast, because it feels much more like the simple meal you might grab in any cafe before a day of sightseeing, is at Pide ve Lahmacun, one of two storefronts of the same business on Irving Park. (Pide is the nicer side, specializing in the Turkish version of pizza; the other, I-Cafe, is a cabbie hangout and internet cafe with its own out-of-Chicago feel. You can get the same food at either.) This is a lighter, stripped-down version ($9.15, or less if you skip this or that item), consisting of bread baked in house with strawberry jam (which tastes like the Polish and Eastern European jams you see around town), some scrambled eggs, several pieces of fried sucuk, some olives and tomatoes, and some little triangles of two different kinds of white cheese, plus a cup of tea.
I miss the yogurt, but otherwise Pide ve Lahmacun's hits the perfect note for Turkish breakfast—hearty yet not heavy, a straightforward, unfussy start to the day as crisp as Christmas morning overlooking the Blue Mosque and the lapis lazuli sea.
Pide ve Lahmacun
1812 W Irving Park Rd
Chicago, IL 60613 (map)