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Meze or mezze (//) is a selection of small dishes served to accompany alcoholic drinks as a course or as appetizers before the main dish in the Near 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 eggplant 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.
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.
Meze is generally accompanied by the distilled drinks rakı, arak, ouzo, 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 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.
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