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What is meze?

Meze photo by David Lansing.

Meze is an event rather than a type of dish. It’s an evening gathering of family and friends for drinking, chatting, and leisurely grazing on nibbles and tidbits. The defining feature of meze is that people are there to partake; there’s no prescription for what must appear on the table. A spread could be as simple as bread, white cheese, and melon. It could be as bar-snacky as nuts and olives. A more substantial meze will often constitute the whole meal and last for hours. This is the one course that Turks don’t mind lingering over; as long as there’s still a smattering of food and something in the raki bottle, the meze will continue.

Most Turks find meze unthinkable without raki. Indeed, much meze lore relates to what tastes best with a tipple and what guards the body against the ill effects of alcohol. Purists insist that fruit, especially melon, is the only authentic and healthy meze. Others put olives and white cheese on the essentials list. In summer, many invite erik (plum), often dipped in salt, to their table.

–Excerpted from World Food Turkey

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Istanbul: Kosebasi meze

Toros salata, bottom, and the classic gavurdagi salata at Kosebasi in Istanbul.

I said yesterday that when you order a raki, the anise-flavored Turkish spirit made from either fresh grapes or, more likely, well-preserved dried grapes, that you should order a meze or two. Or three or five.

At Kosebasi, the kebab place Sidar took me to, we didn’t even have a chance to look at the menu before plate after plate of this-and-that starting arriving: raw meatballs with scallions and fine bulghur (cig kofte); thin Turkish pizza covered with highly seasoned meat and veggies (lahmacun); classic Turkish pita (balon) to wrap around broiled eggplant with yoghurt and olive oil or rich hummus.

And then came the salads: toros, a snappy Turkish salad made with arugula, water cress, green onion, mint and flavored with a sour pomegranate syrup and Kosebasi’s famous gavurdagi salata—diced tomatoes (“Only when in season,” our waiter told us), onion, parsley, and Turkish herbs (such as sumac, which I had always thought was poisonous), the whole mixture drizzled with fresh lemon juice.

“So, what do you think?” Sidar asked me as I looked over the many plates on our table.

“I think perhaps we should have another raki,” I said.

And we did.

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