As it happens with most countries, when you tell the locals you are vegan they say: “you won’t be able to find anything here” (usually after explaining what vegan is). But that doesn’t stop me from finding places and dishes so common that everybody knows and eats that don’t contain any animal product.
I’m amazed that people are so drastic about vegans, when Turkish themselves have so many vegan starters, soups, main courses and desserts. So with a little patience and asking hundreds of times, I managed to find quite a lot of interesting things.
Before I start talking about the dishes I would like to point out a few words that will be useful to any vegans travelling to Turkey.
Et – meat
Yumurta – Egg
Tereyag – butter
Süt – milk
Honey – bal
It’s funny how these not vegan things are usually the first ones I learn from the languages of the countries I cross. Anyway, -siz at the end of the world means without. So etsiz means without meat, yumurtasiz without egg etc.
If you are not sure of something you can always ask: is there … inside? That in Turkish is:
– Içinde … var mi? (so, is there meat inside would: Içinde et var mi?)
So with this small lesson anyone can venture to the Turkish cuisine by themselves, but I have a few recommendations, that I think every vegan, and also not vegans, should try once in Turkey.
First of all Çig Köfte, the best fast food ever created by mankind. Just potato, bulgur, tomato, onion and chilly mixed in a heavenly way!
I’m serious, I’m not the only one saying this, and after I showed this to some people I got them hooked, some of them blame me of working for a çig köfte producing company. There are lots anywhere in the country, so if you can’t find a stand just ask.
Gözleme, some kind of Turkish crepe made on a round stone. It’s really tasty and fun to see prepared. Usually is either with potato or spinach, but sometimes they put some cheese, so be alert, peymirsiz!
If you get hungry while visiting, for sure you can find a Simit, in every corner. This round breads make a perfect snack for less than 50 euro cents. In Istanbul you can find also some other snack options like chesnuts and corn (some called süt misir: milk corn? I didn’t try it so if somebody knows if it has milk or not please write me!).
And if you get thirsty you can get fresh orange or pomegranate juice almost everywhere, they press the fruit right when you order! Avoid the sellers next to the main touristic attractions, sometimes is 5 times more expensive.
Apart from the obvious vegetarian restaurants where for sure there are lots of tasty things you can also go to the typical Turkish restaurants, called Balkan. This is some kind of really cheap self service where locals eat. Lots of vegans options, most with eggplant, beans … remember to use the words I explained before. And be alert for the always amusing “no chicken, no meat!” .
In even smaller places the Lokanta is always an option, for sure they’ll have the traditional lentil soup, Turkish eat it all the time.
And finally time for dessert. You will probably see Turkish Delight (Lokum), in many places, and its vegan! Made of starch and, usually pomegranate, be ready to finish the day with some sweet nutty treat!
Warning! For those who would like to smoke a Nargile, be careful, some special flavors, instead of water the use milk!
Of course there are many more vegan dishes, but I think this can be a start for anyone coming here. Remember that Turkish people love to talk, and they will love you even more if you know a few words in their language, so by asking you’ll make friends and you’ll try tasty food!