How To Make The Best Menemen, According To Turkish Chefs
How to make the best menemen, according to Turkish chefs.
This past winter, I had the most memorable breakfast of my life. I was at the Çırağan Palace Kempinski hotel in Istanbul with a group of writers and chefs. Everyone says that breakfast is a big deal in Turkey, but this meal made other hotel breakfasts look like a cold Pop-Tart. We were seated around a large circular table in a grand dining room decked out in Ottoman-era luxury; we're talking an enormous glass chandelier, a balcony overlooking the Bosphorus, and high-back padded chairs fit for royalty.
What seemed like a hundred small plates arrived at the table. Some of the highlights were merguez sausages, borek with cheese and pastrami, and grilled eggplant. I’d pop marinated olives in between bites as a palate cleanser. The tart quince compote hit like no other compote ever could.
But among all the Turkish breakfast mainstays, one dish, for me, was the star: the menemen. I’d had menemen before, but never like this. Maybe it was the opulence of the room, but this menemen (which is scrambled eggs with tomatoes, peppers, sometimes onions, and herbs) was extra special. I couldn’t get enough of it. I decided I needed to replicate it when I returned home. But if I were to just wing it, my menemen would probably end up like a garden-variety scramble. I needed to know how the pros do it, so I consulted three Turkish chefs for their menemen advice.
Chef Mustafa Can Aydogdu, an on-board Flying Chef for Turkish Airlines, was with us at the breakfast. He clued me into the raging discourse in Turkey about whether menemen should have onions. Some recipes call for it, others don’t. Aydogdu is on Team No Onion.
“Turkish peoples’ opinion is divided half and half over this debate,” he told me. “Some, including me, argue that since menemen is a dish mainly enjoyed at breakfast, onions should be omitted in order to have a lighter dish. Also, I think that if you have good quality tomatoes and green peppers, you don’t need to use onions.”
Oğuzhan Purdeloğlu, the Executive Chef at the Argos Hotel in Cappadocia, Turkey, agreed. He even went as far to say, “If onions are used, then it would be a different dish, and you can't call it menemen.”
Fair enough, I wouldn’t use onions. But what about other additions? While Aydogdu prefers an unadorned menemen, he said you can mix in “thinly sliced sucuk (dry, spicy, and fermented Turkish sausage), white Ezine cheese, or yellow Kasar cheese.”
Sezai Erdoğan, Executive Chef of Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul, likes to sprinkle feta on his menemen. “This simple addition transforms the dish to a new level. I think the notes of the feta perfectly complement the rich and savory menemen,” he said.
Erdoğan also stressed ingredient selection. “Choosing the highest quality tomatoes, preferably plump and perfectly ripened ones, will give it a rich taste, a depth of flavor, and natural sweetness that is simply unparalleled,” he said. I couldn't agree more: nothing ruins a dish like a mealy tomato. “Additionally," he said, "it is crucial not to overcook, since overcooking can easily diminish the dish’s texture and the flavor that we want to give.”
Purdeloğlu was also adamant about not overcooking the eggs. “Before adding scrambled eggs, we must take our pan from the heat and rest for a minute, then add the eggs and put them on low heat,” he told me.
I loved how all three chefs I consulted mentioned their mothers when reminiscing about the dish’s importance in their lives. The dish clearly has a strong connection with many people's childhood memories. “When I was a kid, I used to help my mother while she was cooking menemen on weekend mornings for the family. Those were the earliest times I can remember of myself cooking anything in the kitchen,” Aydogdu said.
Erdoğan shared that “My mother’s menemen, with its rich blend of flavors, always made me feel nourished and satisfied. It remains a cherished memory from my childhood.” And Purdeloğlu added, “Of course, I still remember the days my mother used to make with onions, green peppers, tomatoes, parsley, and ezine cheese. The taste was amazing.”
Seems like Purdeloğlu's mom was on Team Onion, then.
Once I was back in New York, I tried my best to make menemen that could stand up to the one at Çırağan Palace Kempinski. And, honestly, it was good! Good for a menemen novice, at least. Not quite the same as the one I had at the hotel, but it would have to hold me over until the next time I could visit Istanbul.Get the recipe: Turkish Scrambled Eggs (Menemen)
Ryan Grim is the Features Director at Delish, where he manages food news and culture coverage. He was previously at Food & Wine, Extra Crispy, and Vice. He likes to cook breakfast and bike around New York looking for new treats.
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