With an egg or two slipped on top, menemen is a dish that sustains truckers and sailors across Turkey, somewhere between breakfast and a snack lunch. It concentrates all that’s simple, delicious and colourful about the eastern Mediterranean. Without eggs, the peppery dish makes a good hot accompaniment to rice and meat, or can be eaten cold as a meze.
onion1, halved and sliced
garlic cloves2, crushed
peppers2, red, yellow or green, sliced lengthways
fresh red chilli1, sliced, or kırmızı biber1tsp
tomatoes2, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper½tsp.each
On a medium heat, set the onion to melt in the olive oil. When it becomes translucent, add the garlic. Stir it around for a few moments and then add the peppers, with the chilli or kırmızıbiber. Let the peppers soften before adding the tomatoes and sugar.
Cook for another ten minutes or so to reduce the liquid, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and make four hollows in the sauce with the back of a spoon.
Crack an egg over each hollow – it doesn’t matter if the whites run, as they will. Cover the pan and cook for a couple of minutes, until the whites are set.
Menemen is served with yoghurt garlic sauce, a sprinkling of chopped parsley, and fresh toast at breakfast time. Try it with coriander seeds, too, scattered in the pan as it heats up and crushed with the back of a wooden spoon before the oil goes in.
The soup master inducts a new member into the guild.
Impatience led to coriander and hell fire
“Mustafa the Albanian sniffed suspiciously at the bowl of tripe. Lifting the horn spoon that hung around his neck as a symbol of his office, he dipped it into the bowl and turned the contents over. Tripe. Onions. Regularly shaped, faintly caramelised. He dug down to the bottom of the bowl and examined the spoon carefully in the light for any specks or impurities. Satisfied, he lifted the spoon to his lips and sucked noisily. Tripe soup. He smacked his lips, his immediate fears allayed. Whatever secrets this young apprentice held in the recesses of his heart he could definitely make the proper article on demand.
Two anxious pairs of eyes followed the spoon to the Guild Master’s lips. They saw the soup go in. They heard the soup flow about Mustafa’s palate. They watched anxiously as he held his hand close to his ear. And then they watched, delighted, as he nodded curtly. An apprenticeship redeemed. A new master soupier born.
‘It is good. Keep an eye on the onions: never use them too large. The size of your fist is good, or smaller.’ He brought up his own massive paw and curled the fingers. ‘Too big!’ He shook the fist and laughed. The apprentice tittered.
They discussed arrangements for the apprentice’s formal induction into the guild, his prospects, the extent of his savings and the likelihood of his finding an opening within the next few years. Mustafa knew that this was the most dangerous moment. Newly fledged soupiers always wanted to start right away, whatever the circumstances. It took patience and humility to carry on working for an old master while you waited for a shop to come free.
Patience, yes. Impatience led to coriander and hell fire. Mustafa tugged at his moustache and squinted at the young man. Did he have patience? As for himself, he thought, patience was his second skin. How could he have lived his life, and not acquired patience in positively redemptive quantities?