Istanbul’s seven hills and sea views, ornate palaces and minimalist skyscrapers, historic mosques and modern malls, hipster boutiques and covered bazaars draw more than 13 million visitors annually.
Turkey’s culinary heritage is equally eclectic, with influences from around the Ottoman Empire, which included parts of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. While the Turkish diet is omnivorous, travelers to Istanbul still have quite a few vegan options. Many vegan dishes appear in conventional eateries, and a number of plant-based restaurants have cropped up in recent years. Here’s how to eat your way through a weekend in Istanbul.
Take the conventional route
A temperate climate means high-quality fruit and vegetables are available in Istanbul year round. Traditional recipes let regional, seasonal ingredients shine through straightforward preparation, so there are few “hidden” animal products.
Robyn Eckhardt, author of the acclaimed cookbook, Istanbul and Beyond: Exploring Turkey’s Diverse Cuisines, confirms that many favorites, including simit, essentially a Turkish bagel; yellow lentil and bulgur wheat patties, known as mercimek köfte and çiğ köfte, respectively; and mixed vegetables cooked in olive oil are all vegan-friendly. Many small plates that compose meze, Turkey’s answer to Spanish tapas, are also vegan. Be sure to try deniz borülcesi, an emerald tangle of salty samphire dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. Tomato, cucumber, and peppery arugula salads, pureed roasted eggplant, and bean dishes are also standard meze fare.
Things get dicey when it comes to desserts. “So many desserts will be off limits, but candied pumpkin with tahini, quince in syrup (without the kaymak) would work,” wrote Eckhardt in a private social media message. “[A]ny sort of baklava and other layered pastries would be made with butter.”
When in doubt, just ask, says Oyku Buyukdere, a positive psychologist and life coach, who administers the Facebook group, The Vegan Habit. She notes…