The Fourth K in Kars: Kahvalti

Local Turkish Market

The Fourth K in Kars: Kahvalti

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Common sense, science and tasty food don’t often overlap.

But in the Venn Diagram of Kahvalti, they do. Kahvalti means simply ‘under coffee’, telling us that the solid breakfast is eaten before caffeine is ingested. It varies from the simple family and middle-level office worker variety to the tourist spread and to the lavish version in many restaurants and three and four-star hotels. Its basic components are: salad vegetable (raw), protein (cheese, meats, eggs) and carbs (bread, potatoes, pastries). All washed down with black tea. Turkish people, in general, don’t slam into the day with a megaton of ‘chain coffee’ first thing. Biology suggests that the body  has quite enough chemical fuel from cortisol to wake us up relatively slowly in the morning and that the optimal time for coffee is one to two hours after waking. That is to say, igniting a booster rocket with the space module still on the stand is not the most productive use of either fuel or rocket.

As for the content of lots of veg, protein and a little carbs, this seems fairly sound too. For many Turkish people, real Kahvalti – roughly once a week – is the main meal of that day. Because of the veg and protein and the absence of coffee, there is no great sugar drop after eating. Try pancakes, syrup and bottomless coffee (wonderful too, every now and then) by way of comparison. And the limited coffee intake means that Turkish people aren’t buzzed out of their brains on bottomless caffeine, as is the case in some other parts of the world. Fruits, nuts, yoghurt, and preserves also have a toehold in traditional Kahvalti too.

I Kahvaltied in hotels mostly, when in Kars and Van with an occasional restaurant Kahvalti. All good. Kahvalti has been gentrified for travellers and tourists now and many restaurants have Kahvalti on their morning menu. The detailed components – too numerous to list – of Kahvalti are a testament to the variety of Turkish agriculture, reflecting its varied climate zones and terroir. Turkey has pretty much everything, from cotton and a huge variety of vegetables, fruits and nuts to tea, up near Trabzon, on the Black Sea. And sunflower oil is one major export. By and large, Turkey can feed itself. It is a reasonably lucky land, from this point of view, even if in certain parts – like the southern reaches of Anatolia – the land is often patchy and poor. Local markets are a wonder palace of fresh fruits, veg and much more.

Kahvalti was king of the table for me, in Eastern Anatolia.