For breakfast lovers, the experience of arriving in the eastern Turkish city of Van is akin to what a gambler might feel upon showing up in Las Vegas – overwhelmed by the options and the promise of a serious payout.
Van, of course, is the home and birthplace of the monstrous morning repast known as, well, the “Van Breakfast.” It’s a city that runs on the meal, with numerous “breakfast salons” (as they are called in Turkish) serving up breakfast and nothing but all day long. Like Vegas, Van even has its own “strip,” a pedestrian-only alley filled with restaurants that’s known as “Breakfast Makers Street” (Kahvalticilar Sokak, in Turkish)
As we’ve written here before , this boffo breakfast has been working its way west, with several Van breakfast places opening up in Istanbul in the last few years. But, as much as we love going out for a Van breakfast in Istanbul, we were happy that after an absence of several years, we recently had a chance to go back to Van and get our breakfast right at the source.
Like in Vegas, a visitor to Van is forced to choose between the glamour of one of the big, glitzy places on the “strip,” or to take their chances at a smaller, out-of-the-way spot where they might have an easier time getting a place at the table and perhaps more personal attention from the dealer, in this case the “usta” at the front who is in charge of putting together the numerous small plates that make up the Van breakfast.
In the name of thoroughness, we decided to split the pot and try two different breakfast spots. Following the recommendation of the deskman at our hotel, we first headed over to Kahvalticilar Sokak to try the offerings at Sütçü Fevzi, one of the strip’s veteran strongholds. We sat down at one of the outdoor tables and no quicker than you can say “deal ‘em,” our table was covered with food – a plate with cucumber and impossibly red tomatoes sprinkled with red pepper flakes, another plate holding some of the freshest-tasting butter we’ve ever had, very tasty cacik (chopped cucumber and parsley mixed with strained yogurt), and of course, a block of the superb local cheese, a white cheese mixed with brined wild herbs. Next to these plates was another, this one holding a generous amount of glorious kaymak covered in Van’s excellent local honey and a chopped walnuts. We knew we weren’t in Istanbul when a young fellow wearing rubber boots showed up carrying a steaming pile of freshly baked flatbreads, some of which soon made it to our table.
Already stuffed, we headed away from the breakfast strip and towards the heart of town to try the offerings at Imsak Kahvalti Salonu, an unassuming hole-in-the-wall breakfast spot we ate in a few years back. Run by the self-effacing Omer (pictured above), Imsak does a brisk trade serving hungry locals, many of whom swing by to get a breakfast package to go.
We sat down in the small fluorescent-lit dining room, its walls painted a disturbing shade of neon lime, and ordered a small breakfast (if such a thing even exists in Van). Where Sütçü Fevzi’s dairy products had a kind of refined polish to them, Imsak’s seemed tuned to a tangier frequency, the cacik, butter and brined herb cheese having a more pronounced – in a pleasant way – flavor to them. Our beloved kaymak, meanwhile, came covered in a thick layer of lovely honey and a generous amount of chopped walnuts and, as a bonus, chopped pistachios. It was really more like dessert than breakfast and, as we saw it, we had just hit the jackpot.
Address: Kahvalticilar Sok. No: 9, Van
Web: www.sutcufevzi.com 
Imsak Kahvalti Salonu
Mareşal Fevzi Çakmak Cad. Bayram Oteli Alti, Van
(photo by Yigal Schleifer)