Menemen is a traditional dish very popular in Turkey and is a staple of Anatolian cuisine. It is prepared from simple ingredients: eggs, tomatoes, green peppers and spices. It is eaten at breakfast with fresh bread.
What is menemen?
Menemen is the essential breakfast dish in Turkey. It is very similar to shakshuka, a typical dish from the Maghreb cuisine, also popular in Israel, made from tomatoes and eggs.
Menemen is a ratatouille with onions, tomatoes and green peppers which are browned over low heat to which eggs are added towards the end of cooking.
Some variations may introduce mushrooms or minced lamb. Also, some add spices such as cumin, mint, thyme or paprika.
Take care not to overcook the eggs. These are added just before the end of cooking as they continue to cook in the pan off the heat. Eggs should be cooked but not be dry or pale yellow. The egg yolk should be bright yellow, soft or slightly runny. It is also possible to add scrambled eggs over the preparation of vegetables.
What are traditional menemen toppings?
Menemen is a canvas for creativity. Therefore, most Turks love to add toppings. It is common to find certain recipes which introduce cottage cheese or cold meats, more precisely sucuk or even dried beef called pastirma.
Kaşar or cottage cheese can be added to the eggs just before the end of cooking. Others will prefer to consume the menemen with charcuterie.
Sucuk (or sujuk) is a very spicy and dried sausage that is easily found in the Balkans and the Middle East. Pastirma is a charcuterie made with air-dried, heavily pressed beef, which is very popular in Anatolian cuisine. It is an Armenian-Turkish specialty that dates back to the Byzantine era and has been consumed in Turkey for centuries.
What is the origin of menemen?
Menemen is primarily a district of the province of Izmir in Turkey but it is also the main city of this district. Also, if no one knows for sure the origin of the famous iconic Turkish breakfast dish, the origin of the term menemen could come from ancient Greek.
In Greek, mainómeno means “furious” and refers to the legend of Hercules who “went out of his mind”. Another term, meneménos (μενεμένος) means “flood” or “overflow”. In ancient times, the lack of modern dams and means of controlling the flow of water caused frequent flooding in the valley. Indeed, the Hermos River (now called the Gediz River) often overflowed and caused significant damage to the local population.
The difference between menemen and şakşuka
Menemen should not be confused with şakşuka in Turkey. Indeed, şakşuka is a side dish that is prepared from vegetables cooked in olive oil. It is eaten cold and contains no eggs. Also, the most common version of şakşuka is prepared with eggplant.
However, it is not uncommon to include potatoes and peppers. The dish is served with a yogurt-based garnish. In the Marmara region, it is traditional to use green tomatoes to prepare şakşuka.
Egg and pepper based variants around the world
In Mexico, in the Yucatan region and more specifically in the city of Motul, you can also enjoy an egg dish for breakfast. Huevos motuleños are made with eggs on tortillas, black beans and cheese. But it is not uncommon to also introduce other ingredients such as ham, plantains or salsa picante.
In the Basque Country and in Spain, there is a ratatouille with peppers called piperade (in Gascon and in French) or piperrada (in Basque and Spanish). The term derives from the word peppers and is prepared with onions, green peppers and tomatoes sautéed in oil and typical Espelette pepper. This dish symbolizes the Basque flag with its bright colors: green, red and white.
- 4 large eggs
- 2 onions , grated
- 1 tablespoon biber salçası (pepper paste)
- 2 cloves garlic , crushed
- 3 Turkish green peppers (or 3 green bell peppers), cut into thin strips
- 3 tomatoes , peeled, seeded and crushed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- White pepper (freshly ground)
- In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sweat the onions for 5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon.
- Add the pepper strips, tomatoes, biber salçası (pepper paste), garlic and Aleppo pepper, stir well, cover and cook for 10 minutes over low to medium heat.
- Season with salt, pepper and mix well.
- Form 4 small holes in the preparation and carefully break one egg into each hole.
- Cook again for a few minutes over medium heat or until the egg white is cooked.
- Just before serving, season with freshly ground black pepper and salt, as well as flat parsley.
The menemen can also be prepared with scrambled eggs, so instead of breaking them over the pan, beat them before pouring them over the vegetables.