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The traditional meze

Meze or mezze (/ˈmɛzeɪ/) is a selection of small dishes served to accompany alcoholic drinks as a course or as appetizers before the main dish in the Near East and the Balkans. In Levantine, Caucasian and Balkan cuisines meze is served at the beginning of all large-scale meals. The word is found in all the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire and comes from the Turkish meze “taste, flavour, snack, relish”, borrowed from Persian.

Turkish meze often consist of beyaz peynir (literally “white cheese”), kavun (sliced ripe melon), acılı ezme (hot pepper paste often with walnuts), haydari (thick strained yogurt with herbs), patlıcan salatası (cold eggplant salad), beyin salatası (brain salad), kalamar tava (fried calamari or squid), midye dolma and midye tava (stuffed or fried mussels), enginar (artichokes), cacık (yogurt with cucumber and garlic), pilaki (foods cooked in a special sauce), dolma or sarma (rice-stuffed vine leaves or other stuffed vegetables, such as bell peppers), arnavut ciğeri (a liver dish, served cold) and çiğ köfte (raw meatballs with bulgur).

In Greece, Cyprus and the Balkans, mezé, mezés, or mezédhes (plural) are small dishes, hot or cold, spicy or savory. Seafood dishes such as grilled octopus may be included, along with salads, sliced hard-boiled eggs, garlic bread, kalamata, fava beans, fried vegetables, melitzanosalata (eggplant salad), taramosalata, fried or grilled cheeses called saganaki, and fresh Greek sheep, goat, or cow cheeses (feta, kasseri, kefalotyri, graviera, anthotyros, manouri, metsovone and mizithra). Other offerings are fried sausages, usually pork and often flavored with orange peel, bekrí-mezé (the “drunkard’s mezé”, a diced pork stew), and meatballs like keftédes and soutzoukákia smyrnéika.

Establishments will offer their own specialities, but the pattern remains the same. Naturally the dishes served will reflect the seasons. For example, in late autumn, snails will be prominent. As so much food is offered, it is not expected that every dish be finished, but rather shared at will and served at ease. Eating a Cypriot meze is a social event.

In Lebanon and Cyprus, meze is often a meal in its own right. There are vegetarian, meat or fish mezes. Groups of dishes arrive at the table about 4 or 5 at a time (usually between five and ten groups). There is a set pattern to the dishes: typically olives, tahini, salad and yogurt will be followed by dishes with vegetables and eggs, then small meat or fish dishes alongside special accompaniments, and finally more substantial dishes such as whole fish or meat stews and grills.

In Serbia, meze can include cheese, kajmak (clotted cream), salami, suvo meso (dried salted, smoked pork or beef), kulen (flavoured sausage), cured bacon, ajvar, breads; in Bosnia and Herzegovina, meze normally includes hard and creamy cheeses, smetana sour cream, (locally known as kajmak or pavlaka), suho meso (dried salted, smoked beef), pickles and sudžuk (dry, spicy sausage).

Albanian-style meze platters typically include prosciutto ham, salami and brined cheese, accompanied with roasted bell peppers (capsicum) and/or green olives marinated in olive oil with garlic.

In Bulgaria, popular mezes are lukanka (a spicy sausage), soujouk (a dry and spicy sausage), sirene (a white brine cheese), and Shopska salad made with tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, roasted peppers and sirene.

In Romania, mezelic means quick appetizer and includes Zacuscă, cheeses and salamis, often accompanied by Țuică.

1 comment

  1. A

    Did you know that meze is generally accompanied by the distilled drinks rakı, arak, ouzo, rakia, mastika, or tsipouro?

    It may also be consumed with beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks. Cyprus Brandy (served neat) is a favourite drink to accompany meze in Cyprus, although lager or wine are popular with some.

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