Meyhane is one of the main components in Turkish culture. It is a type of restaurant where the menu heavily relies on alcohol (rakı or wine) and accompanying hot and cold appetizers, known as meze. Nobody eats big dinners at meyhane, everything comes to the table in small platters to be shared by everyone. This style is also the basic of a “Rakı table or dinner” which is a home-made version of meyhane. Some meyhanes have nice music groups that perform “Fasıl“, which is a collection of old Turkish classical songs played with traditional instruments.
During my college years in Istanbul, I was lucky enough to be surrounded with friends who enjoyed going to a different meyhane every month. We did not have to worry about driving afterwards, thanks to the public transport and cabs. Difficult mid-term exams, nerve-wrecking finals, heartbreaks, new excitements or just pure boredom were all good enough reasons for one of us to say “Meyhane tonight?”.
I am not a big drinker but I really enjoy the smoky atmosphere with some drama, laughter and the conversations loaded with the wisdom that only comes with some alcohol intake! Thanks to my brother, I get my craving satisfied every time I visit. He makes sure he has something planned for me for one night: A night out in Istanbul with rakı, meze, music and friends… It is him in the picture below to the right, the guy with a big smile :)
Food never takes the center stage in meyhane but there are several cold and hot appetizers that are the main staples. Eggplant salad is one of them.
Roasted eggplants can be prepared in many ways, but these two are the common ones in my family: Either with some olive oil, vinegar, finely chopped tomato,spices and finely chopped parsley… or with olive oil, black pepper, salt, crushed red pepper, garlic and yogurt. If you can find some sweet Cubanella peppers, you can roast them as well and mix with the eggplants. I always prepare it with yogurt since it takes the sharp smoky taste and bitterness away.
Once you roast it, you can prepare both ways and see which one suits your taste. One thing to remember: Make sure you pierce the eggplants with a fork before you put them in the oven. Otherwise, the steam will build up and finally they will explode in your oven, scaring the heck out of you. The worse part: scrubbing the whole oven to get eggplant skins out of the walls.
When we go to meyhane, we do not go for the food. It is the company, conversation, music and alcohol that keep the night going. Food is just the necessary component to provide a landing base for the alcohol..you would not pay attention when it is there. But you would surely notice when it is missing!
Şerefe! (“Cheers” in Turkish)
- 8 eggplants (depending on the size of the eggplants, it will be enough to fill approximately 1.5 quart dish)
- 4 to 6 tablespoons yogurt (gradually add yogurt and taste after each addition to find your stopping point)
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (if you can find, use Turkish red pepper “pul biber”)
- 2 cloves of crushed garlic
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 450-degrees. Roast the eggplants as whole until they are done ( this will vary based on the size, check after 1 hour).
2. Let them cool and scrape the inside into a bowl.
3. Combine everything except yogurt with the eggplant. Use a fork and knife to break the strands and create a puree. Start adding yogurt gradually, tasting after each addition. Adjust salt and pepper if necessary.