Meze or mezze // is a selection of small dishes served to accompany drinks in the Middle 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 مزه (mazze "taste, snack" < mazīdan "to taste").
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 like the Levantine labne), patlıcan salatası (cold aubergine salad), beyin salatası (brain salad), kalamar (calamari or squid), 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), and köfte (meatballs).
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 olives, 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.
- Mutabbal/Babaghanoush – eggplant (aubergine) mashed and mixed with seasonings.
- Hummus – a dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas
- Hummus with meat (hummus bil-lahm)
- Falafel - a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both.
- Tashi - Dip made from tahini, garlic, salt and lemon juice with chopped parsley garnish.
- Köfte - cigar shaped meat balls consisting of ground lamb, mashed onions, spices and a small amount of ground veal and bread softened in rakı.
- Kibbeh (İçli Köfte in Turkey) – dishes made of burghul, chopped meat, and spices
- Kibbe Nayye – burghul, chopped lamb meat, and spices
- Spicy lamb and beef sausages (naqaniq/maqaniq/laqaniq and sujuk)
- Halloumi cheese, usually sliced and grilled or fried.
- Souvlaki - Bite sized meat cubes (lamb is very common), grilled on a skewer over charcoal.
- Stifado - Slow cooked beef stew with lots of onions, garlic, tomatoes, cinamon, pepper and vinegar.
- Afelia - Diced pork marinated in wine with coriander seed, then stewed.
- Lountza - Smoked pork loin slice, usually grilled.
- Dolma Vegetables like peppers or squash stuffed with rice, chopped mint, lemon juice, pepper, minced lamb. (Turkish)
- Sarma (also known as Koubebkia or Mashi Warqenab) - Grape vine leaves, stuffed with rice, chopped mint, lemon juice, pepper, minced lamb. (Turkish)
- Yogurt (Mast-o-Khiar in Iran)
- Cacık - Dip made from plain yogurt, chopped cucumber with finely chopped garlic and mint leaf.
- Tarama - a fish roe dip based on cured carp fish roe, mashed potatoes and olive oil. In the traditional Istanbul variety of this dish, a substantial part of the roe must remain intact.
- Labneh – strained youghurt which tastes similar to cream or sour cream only more tart.
- Shanklish – cow's milk or sheep's milk cheeses
- Muhammara – a hot pepper dip with ground walnuts, breadcrumbs, garlic, salt, lemon juice, and olive oil
- Pastirma – seasoned, air-dried cured beef meat
- Tabbouleh – bulgur, finely chopped parsley, mint, tomato, spring onion, with lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings
- Fattoush (Fatuş in southern Turkey) – salad made from several garden vegetables and toasted or fried pieces of pita bread
- Rocket salad (salatat jarjir)
- Artichoke salad
- Shepherd salad - Tomato, cucumber, pepper, parsley and depending on the season onion or scallion (Turkish)
- Kısır - Bulgur rice, tomatoes, scallions, parsley, olive oil, red pepper paste (Turkish)
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. 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 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).
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 Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, meze is classically accompanied by rakı or arak, an aniseed-flavoured spirit. Beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks will also generally be accompanied by meze. Cyprus Brandy (served neat) is a favourite drink to accompany meze in Cyprus, although lager or wine are popular with some.
The same dishes, served without alcoholic drinks, are termed "muqabbilat" (starters) in Arabic.
In Bulgaria, meze is served primarily at consumption of wine but also as an appetizer for rakia and mastika. In Greece, meze is served in restaurants called mezedopoleíon and tsipourádiko or ouzerí, a type of café that serves ouzo or tsipouro. A tavérna (tavern) or estiatório (restaurant) offer a mezé as an orektikó (appetiser). Many restaurants offer their house poikilía ("variety") — a platter with a smorgasbord of mezedhes that can be served immediately to customers looking for a quick and/or light meal. Hosts commonly serve mezédhes to their guests at informal or impromptu get-togethers, as they are easy to prepare on short notice. Krasomezédhes (literally "wine-meze") is a meze that goes well with wine; ouzomezédhes are meze that goes with ouzo.
- Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 500-501
- Oxford English Dictionary, online version, June 2011
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