Meze, mezze, or mazza (//) is a selection of small dishes served as appetizers in much of West Asia, the Balkans and North Africa. In predominantly Muslim regions where alcohol is less common, meze is often served as a part of multi-course meals, while in Lebanon, Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans, they function more as snacks while drinking or talking.
The word is found in all the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire, and originated from the Turkish word meaning a snack or appetiser. This, in turn, originated from the Persian word "maza", which means to taste or relish.
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In Turkey, 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), octopus salad, and çiğ köfte (raw meatballs with bulgur).
In Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and the rest of 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 sheep, goat, or cow cheeses.
Popular meze dishes include the following.
|Arayes||Lahmacun||Lahmajo||Barbecued flatbread filled with lamb meat, onions, tomatoes and spices|
|Asbe sawda||Arnavut ciğeri||A liver dish|
|Mashed eggplant (aubergine)|
|Ful (Mdammas)||Fava||Bakla ezmesi
|Fava beans mashed and mixed with seasonings|
|Burek||Boureki||Börek||Boureg||Phyllo/yufka-based filled pastries|
|Sarma||Leaves (mostly grape leaves) rolled around rice-based filling|
|Falafel||Revithokeftedes||Falafel/Felafel||A deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both|
|Fattoush||Fettuş||Salad of vegetables and toasted or fried pieces of pita bread|
|Hummus||Houmous||Humus||Homus||A dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas|
|Kalamarάkia thganhtά||Kalamar tava||Fried squid (calamari)|
|Khyar Bi Laban||Tzatziki||Cacık (read:jah-juck; soupy or dry variations), Haydari(dry; no cucumber and strained yoghurt)||Jajik||Cucumber, yogurt, herbs (mostly mint), seasonings(garlic optional), served thick as a dip in Greece and thin like a cold soup in Turkey and Arabic countries|
|Kibbeh||Koupes||İçli köfte||Ishli Kyufta||Meatballs made of bulghur, chopped meat, filled with meat, pine nuts and spices|
|Kafta(Kofta)||Köfte||Şiş köfte||Kufteh||Meatballs made of chopped meat, onion, parsley, and spices|
|Kibbeh nayyeh||Çiğ köfte||Chi Kufte||Raw meat dish|
|Kısır||Eech||Bulgur salad with finely ground parsley, and tomato paste|
|Kolokythάkia gemistά||Kabak çiçeği dolması||Stuffed squash blossom|
|Lebni||Yoghurt that has been strained to remove most of its whey, resulting in a thicker consistency than unstrained yoghurt
(Seasoning such as garlic and herbs are sometimes added)
|Ljit kousa||Kolokythokeftédes||Mücver||Zucchini fritters|
|Muhammara||Cevizli Acılı Ezme
|A hot pepper dip with ground walnuts, breadcrumbs, garlic, salt, lemon juice, and olive oil|
|Piyaz||Salad made from any kind of dry beans with onion, parsley and sumac|
|Salatit Roka||Róka Saláta||Roka||Rocket salad|
|Şakşuka||Vegetables cooked in olive oil|
|Sikh lahme (for lamb or beef), Shish taouk (for chicken)||Souvlaki||Şiş tavuk
|Bite sized meat cubes (lamb is very common), grilled on a skewer over charcoal|
|Sujuk||Soutzoúki||Sucuk||Sojoukh||Dry, spicy sausage|
|Tabbouleh||Maintanosalata||Tabbule or Arap salatası||Tabuleh||Bulgur, finely chopped parsley, mint, tomato, spring onion, with lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings|
|Taramosalata||Tarama||Dip made from tarama, the salted and cured roe of the cod, carp, or grey mullet (bottarga) mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, and a starchy base of bread or potatoes, or sometimes almonds|
|Tajin||Dip made of fish and Tarator (Tahini and lemon)|
|Gemistά||Dolma||Dolma||Peppers, eggplants, or courgettes stuffed with rice and meat|
Other meze dishes include cheeses (like Halloumi, Labneh, Tulum cheese or Shanklish) or meat dishes (like Stifado, Afelia, Lountza, or Pastrami), fish (like Whitebait, Calamari or Dag Meoushan), often served with Flatbread.
In Syria, 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 specialties, 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 the Balkans, meze is very similar to Mediterranean antipasti in the sense that cured cold-cuts, cheese and salads are dominant ingredients and that it typically doesn't include cooked meals. In Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro it includes hard or creamy cheeses, kajmak (clotted cream) or smetana cream, salami, ham and other forms of "suho/suvo meso" (cured pork or beef), kulen (paprika flavoured, cured sausage), cured bacon, ajvar, and various pastry. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, depending on religious food restrictions one obeys, meze excludes pork products and replaces them with sudžuk (dry, spicy sausage) and pastirma-like cured beef Suho meso. In southern Croatia, Herzegovina and Montenegro more Mediterranean forms of cured meat such as pršut and panceta and regional products like olives are common. Albanian-style meze platters typically include prosciutto ham, salami and brined cheese, accompanied with roasted bell peppers (capsicum) or green olives marinated in olive oil with garlic. In Bulgaria, popular mezes are lukanka (a spicy sausage), soujouk (a dry and spicy sausage) and sirene (a white brine cheese). The Bulgarian-made Shopska salad is also a very popular meze. It is made with tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, peppers and feta cheese. Also ajvar and pindjur are the most popular mezes made in North Macedonia for over 100 years. In Romania, mezelic means a quick appetizer and includes Zacuscă, cheeses and salamis, often accompanied by Țuică.
Meze is generally accompanied by the distilled drinks rakı, arak, ouzo, Aragh Sagi, 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.
The same dishes, served without alcoholic drinks, are termed "muqabbilat" (starters) in Arabic.
In Bulgaria, meze is served primarily at the consumption of wine, rakia and mastika, but also accompanying other alcoholic drinks that are not local to the region. In addition to traditional local foods, meze can include nuts, sweets or pre-packaged snacks. The term meze is generally applied to any foods and snacks consumed alongside an alcoholic beverage. 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 mezédhes that can be served immediately to customers looking for a quick 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.
- Davidson, Alan (21 August 2014). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. pp. 517–518. ISBN 9780191040726 – via Google Books.
- Arditi, Talya (29 December 2015). "How to drink raki: A crash course in Turkey's signature drink". CNN Travel. CNN. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
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- Wright, Clifford A. (2001). Mediterranean vegetables: a cook's ABC of vegetables and their preparation in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, and north Africa with more than 200 authentic recipes for the home cook (Illustrated ed.). Harvard Common Press. ISBN 9781558321960.
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