So, it’s mid-summer in North Cyprus, the temperature outside is close to 30 degrees and you fancy a light, nourishing meal. How about a bowl of hot soup?
It may not be the first thing that stirs your taste buds, but our Turkish friends just love it – at any hour of the day. Special “Çorbacı” restaurants exist purely to satisfy the taste for soup, summer and winter, morning, noon and night.
Turkish cuisine has a wide range of soup varieties, from cold yogurt-based soups in the summer to tarhana (wheat and fried cheese) lentils, chicken soup and a variety of stewed offal soups. But there is one ubiquitous flavour that you are guaranteed to be offered wherever – and whenever – you go, and that is “Mercimek” or red lentil soup. It’s a simple concoction and every Turkish grandma knows how to make it, but now it has been voted one of the finest soups in world cuisine.
Mercimek Çorbasıscored 4.7 out of a possible 5 on TasteAtlas’s list of 100 Best Rated Soups in the World. The Turkish soup was only bettered by Japan’s Tonkotsu Ramen (rated first) and Poland’s Żurek soup in the top 100 rankings.
TasteAtlas describes Mercimek Çorbası as “a beloved Turkish soup” that is made from “red lentils, chicken stock, onions, and carrots” and usually seasoned with “salt, pepper, cumin, or paprika.”
The entry says it is “easy to prepare, filling, and warming” and is, “consumed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner in rural parts of Turkey.” This is equally true in North Cyprus where Çorbacı restaurants are simple but comfortable, with wide tables adorned with the obligatory spices of red pepper flakes and usually a bowl of pickled green peppers and little black olives.
Service is fast and slick as most Turkish Cypriots don’t need a menu, everyone has their own favourite. (BTW, much as I like the lentil type, my favourite is Hummus Çorba, a hot, creamy, liquid version of the well-known chickpea spread). A variation on Mercimek is “Ezogelin,” lentil soup prepared with tomatoes, onions, rice and Turkish spices. Both soups are entirely vegetarian and, in most cases, even vegan; however, sometimes butter is included in both the base and as a topping.
TasteAtlas is “an encyclopedia of flavours, a world atlas of traditional dishes, local ingredients, and authentic restaurants.” The site says it has catalogued over 10,000 foods and drinks from around the world, and it is continually adding more, mapping authentic traditional dishes from different regions, both popular and those largely forgotten recipes from our childhood.