If you are visiting Istanbul and you think that this is a direct ticket to a kebab world, you may be missing some fundamentals. Turkish kitchen is not all about spicy meat based foods. On the contrary, it is very rich in terms of vegan choices, thanks to Anatolia’s very diverse vegetation. You may be surprised by how vibrant the vegan friendly Istanbul is, once you discover that some of the most common dishes cooked in homes and local restaurants are actually based on numerous beans, fresh herbs, vegetables, olive oil and spices.
In our guide to vegan friendly Istanbul, we would like to share three types of information with you: The most popular vegan restaurants, the most common vegan dishes in Turkish cuisine and where to buy vegan ingredients in Istanbul – the local way. Let’s go!
Vegan Restaurants in Istanbul
Istanbul is a big metropolis, where you can find numerous vegan restaurants. We choose 4 of them for our readers, all in different neighborhoods.
Zencefil - Beyoğlu
Zencefil is one of the oldest vegan and vegetarian restaurants of Istanbul. It has fame not only because of its delicious menu with various choices, but also because of its refined style. The place has a large garden, where you can enjoy calm hide-outs from the busy İstiklal Street.
Muhtelif - Kadıköy
Kadıköy, the new hip spot of Istanbul, is also a center for vegan friendly restaurants and shops. Muhtelif is famous with its ability to squeeze huge portions, creative recipes and so much good vibes in a cute and little place. Don’t forget to try vegan Turkish breakfast and to pet the cats around.
Kafe Nâ - Beşiktaş
This is an overall mindful place, not just to eat delicious vegan food, but also to be a part of the community that says “Na” to consumerism, violence against women and animals, and many more. The place is mostly built by recycled materials and it also hosts music, arts and language lessons.
Vegan Community Kitchen Cafe - Tophane
Vegan Community Kitchen Café is another heaven for vegan food seekers in Istanbul. Vegan meatballs and vegan döner is definitely worth to try! This is a cute place that represents vegan friendly Istanbul properly, right in the middle of the busy neighborhood.
Vegan dishes in Turkish cuisine
You may find yourself in a non-vegan place to eat with a crowd, and orientating yourself through the endless choices can be confusing. Unintentional vegan dishes of Turkish cuisine will help you out and they will surprise you with their variety and taste!
Bulgur based choices : Bulgur is a fundamental ingredient in Turkey and it is used in numerous recipes. For example, çiğ köfte and mercimek köfte are real vegan love affairs. Köfte means “balls” and just like their meaty versions, vegan köfte recipes are pretty common, too. Just keep in mind that çiğ köfte, is originally prepared with raw meat; but due to health concerns, it is now forbidden for most of the shops to use meat in it. But there are still some restaurants that prepare it in the traditional way. So, just ask them to be sure. Another great bulgur choice is kısır, a cold dish not in köfte form but mixed with fresh vegetables and spices.
Bean and peas based “mezes” and salads: Meze in Turkish kitchen means “appetizers” but you can be shocked by how full you get already in the “appetizing” phase of the meal because there are just so many of them. Two most popular bean based mezes are perhaps humus from chickpeas and fava from fava beans. It is also very common to prepare bean based salads, especially with chickpeas, black eyes peas and white beans. They are usually mixed with fresh tomatoes, onions and peppers, and dressed with olive oil and lemon, and seasoned with spices.
Olive oil based “mezes” and dishes: These are called “zeytinyağlı”, literally meaning “with olive oil”. You can cook nearly any vegetable with olive oil in Turkish cuisine: Artichokes, leeks, kidney beans, celery, okra, spinach and many more… A star dish you will see very often is şakşuka, fried aubergines and potatoes with tomato sauce. Another popular one is zeytinyağlı fasulye – green beans with olive oil. Another “must taste” are stuffed veggies. They are usually prepared with rice and sometimes with bulgur. Especially stuffed vine and stuffed peppers are just perfect for any time of the day.
Pastry: A big section of Turkish cuisine is pastry recipes. Börek, prepared with thin layers of pastry, is just a mind blowing sub-section. Among countless types of böreks, some are prepared with eggs, milk and cheese; but most of those sold in the market are not prepared with these ingredients. You can try börek with spinach, leak, aubergine and potato, and you won’t have regrets.
Soups: Most of the soups are vegan, too. Tarhana, lentil, tomato and mixed vegetable soups can be your choices. Just keep in mind that sometimes people can add broth or bouillon cubes into soups.
Fresh herbs and plants: You can come across with them in meyhanes especially in summer or buy them from open air street markets. Some are sautéed in olive oil, some are eaten fresh. In both ways, they are very healthy and delicious.
Desserts: Most desserts are vegan, too. Perhaps not baklava (because baklava is cooked with milk butter) and milk puddings… But you can definitely taste akide, pişmaniye and Turkish delight. Also aşure, helva, dried nuts and fruits, chestnut candy, pumpkin, quince and pear desserts are delicious options. One very original vegan dessert recipe is a water based pudding called zerde, looking gorgeously yellow thanks to the saffron added into it.
Street choices: Boiled or grilled corns, grilled chestnuts, pickles and pickle juice are casual vegan snacks you can enjoy while strolling around Istanbul. Other street delicacies such as simit and gözleme are also good vegan choices. Don’t forget that simit and çay (tea) is an ultimate breakfast choice for many Istanbulites.
Vegan shopping in Istanbul
For shopping, there are of course many vegan shops in Istanbul just like in any big city around the world. But if you want to shop vegan ingredients in a local way, you may want to learn about the valuable spots where traditional shopping and modern gastronomy necessities intersect. Two main addresses that you need to note are weekly open air markets and the famous Spice Bazaar. Open air street markets are perfect for fresh ingredients and for exploring real vegan friendly Istanbul.
In Spice Bazaar, you can find many ingredients for Turkish style vegan foods, such as spices, different plant based oils and dried herbs, also dried fruits and nuts, and Turkish delights. Natural supplements like spirulina, linseed, chia, kinoa, matcha or ginseng are other possibilities to buy from Spice Bazaar. Some ingredients for vegan personal care products such as essence oils, coconut and cacao butter can be found in here, too. You can visit Hayfene at No:51 and check out our website to see what’s awaiting you even before visiting.