That’s Turkish meze (MEH-zeh), mostly served cold.
Waiters may bring a huge tray piled high with plates and ask you to indicate the one’s you want. Everyone at the dinner table indicates favorites. Each little plate holds enough for two or three people to have a portion or four or five people to have a taste.
Fresh Turkish bread scoops up the pureés, supports the cheeses, and counters the tang of pickles and salads laced with fresh lemon juice or nar ekşisi (concentrated pomegranate juice).
Next come the ara yemekleri, the “in-between course,” more mezes, but served hot.
Soon the table is covered in plates. People order more. The plates stack up two and three deep. Hours have passed.
It’s just a typical Turkish evening.
For foreign visitors dining as couples, many touristic restaurants now feature meze variety plates (çeşitli meze tabağı), with a sampling of a half dozen mezes. But really, meze is best when shared in a big group. A couple or foursome can have an excellent dinner ordering four to six plates of meze, but the dozens typical on big Turkish dining tables would be overwhelming.
If you really want to experience Turkish meze, get a big, congenial group together and plan to spend the entire evening eating and drinking.
—by Tom Brosnahan