In 2018, Turkish food critic and TV personality Vedat Milor sparked a Twitter frenzy by launching a simple poll: Should menemen—the hearty breakfast of eggs, peppers, and tomato—contain onion? Nearly half a million impassioned Turks weighed in. Yes, they decided, but the victory was narrow, with just 50.6 percent of the vote.
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It’s only natural that the topic should be so hotly debated, as menemen is central to Turkish foodways. When I spoke to Filiz Zorlu, author of Contemporary Turkish Cooking (2007), she commented on the ubiquity of the simple, satisfying egg dish. During childhood road trips to Ankara or Istanbul when her family would stop to eat, “always it was menemen,” she recalled.
Named after a district in the country’s Izmir Province, the vegetable-forward eggs are embellished with fresh herbs, spicy‑smoky pul biber chile flakes, tulum cheese (a salty sheep or goat’s milk variety) or beyaz peynir (a semisoft brined type), and scooped straight from the skillet with the crusty, torpedo-shaped bread called günlük ekmek.
Setting out to develop my own recipe, I cast my ballot on the onion question. I was all in. When onions are included, it’s customary to cook them to translucent softness. “No color at all,” Robyn Eckhardt, acclaimed journalist and author of Istanbul & Beyond (2017), specified when we chatted about the dish. To my taste, the savory alliums were an essential counterpoint to the sweet tomatoes and lightly spicy sivri biber, the slender green peppers used in Turkey. (Anaheims, with mild heat and thin flesh, are a delicious substitute.) The vegetables can be cooked just-tender or mashed to a pulp. I opted for an in-between state: fully softened, but still retaining their fresh colors and tastes.
TECHNIQUE: Creamy, Softly Set Egg
1. COOL OFF HEAT After cooking vegetables, cool skillet for 2 minutes to ensure that eggs don’t set too quickly
2. GO LOW AND SLOW Add eggs and stir until they thicken and just set. Spatula drawn across skillet should leave clean trail.
Opinions differ on the treatment of the eggs too. Eckhardt said that some Turks poach them whole in the vegetables, shakshuka style, but most prefer a “loose” scramble, so that’s what I pursued. Two strategies produced the lush creaminess that is a hallmark of this style. First, I cooled the skillet a bit before adding the eggs, lest the eggs set too quickly and firmly. Second, I cooked the eggs low and slow, gently stirring to control the coagulation of the proteins, so some formed delicate curds while the rest thickened into a luscious sauce.
Zorlu opined that “everyone is proud of their menemen.” After I finished it with olive oil, parsley, tulum, and a kiss of deep-red pul biber, I sure was proud of mine.