Most Turkish meals begin with meze, which literally translates as ‘a pleasant taste’ and is probably derived from the Arabic word mezaq, which means ‘the taste, the savour of a thing’. Designed to tickle the palate and soak up wine and spirits, meze became a custom indulged in, and perpetuated by, early travellers and traders. The conversion of the Turks to Islam in the eleventh century may have curbed the drinking of spirits amongst devout Muslims, but the meze tradition survived. It was later refined and taken to new heights by the Palace chefs of Istanbul, who were reputed to have produced at least two hundred different types. In Istanbul some of the best meze and salads can be found in the traditional meyhane restaurants (from the Persian mey, wine, and hane, house), which have recently been transformed from male drinking dens into atmospheric taverns specializing in Anatolian cooking.