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Food & Drink

How to truly experience Istanbul's culinary scene

Best vegetarian eats

A vegetarian seeks out the top spots in Istanbul to enjoy Turkish food, meat-free

A mixed plate of food at Kırık Tabak Ev Yemekleri

May, 2013

by: Hollie Longmore

photo by: Hollie Longmore

Istanbul is a meat-lovers’ paradise, with ocakbaşı (grill house) and kebapçı (kebab stand) options a-plenty, but the city’s eateries can be a bit of a culinary minefield for vegetarians. An innocuous-seeming soup might be made with meat stock and the answer to ‘Etsiz mi?’ (Is it meat-free?) could very well be ‘yes’ even if the dish in question contains chicken. And then there’s the raised eyebrows and quizzical looks when you try to explain for the zillionth time that no, you haven’t tried Adana kebab, or kelle paça (sheep’s head soup) or kokoreç (grilled lamb intestines).


Contrary to many visitors’ first impressions, though, being vegetarian doesn’t mean forgoing Turkish food. While most traditional Turkish eateries (lokantas) offer some veggie-friendly options, these affordable spots go further in exploring and experimenting with true vegetarian cuisine that will keep your stomach full, your taste buds happy and your meat-free diet intact.



Kırık Tabak Ev Yemekleri

This fantastic little lunchtime lokanta halfway between the Tophane and Fındıklı tram stops is Turkish home-cooking at its best... Read more

Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi 33/1A, Kabataş



Falafel House

Run by a friendly Palestinian father-and-son duo, this small restaurant serves up plenty of hummus, fresh-to-order falafel, tabbouleh salad and soups... Read more

Şehit Muhtar Bey Caddesi 19, Talimhane




A tiny storefront just behind the Balık Pazarı (Fish Market) in Beyoğlu, Dürümzade is famed for its cheap, tasty kebabs, but few are aware of the even better vegetarian wraps they serve up too... Read more

Kalyoncu Kulluk Caddesi 26/A, Beyoğlu




For a casual but intimate evening spot – with alcohol to accompany your food – Tavanarası in Beyoğlu’s Asmalımescit area is well worth the effort it takes to find... Read more

Asmalı Mescit Sokak 10, Asmalımescit




A small, comfortable spot with a laid-back vibe, Parsifal's menu is 100 percent vegetarian, the prices are very reasonable and you can enjoy a beer or glass of wine with your meal... Read more

Kurabiye Sokak 9, Taksim



Datlı Maya

A can’t-miss spot for those in search of an interesting, fresh, diverse vegetarian menu, Datlı Maya greets visitors with its large wood-fired fırın (oven) and a counter laden with what’s fresh and ready to go that day... Read more

Türkgücü Caddesi 59/A, Cihangir



The Loving Hut

This tiny, totally vegetarian café next to the main Beşiktaş market area serves up good-value meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What comes out of the small kitchen varies day to day, but generally includes a selection of soups, salads and falafel or quiche for main dishes... Read more

Şair Veysi Sokak 4B, Beşiktaş



Veggie-friendly dishes


Stuck at a decidedly vegetarian-unfriendly restaurant or scouring the streets for something, anything to eat besides yet another simit? Keep an eye out for these veggie staples:


Mercimek çorbası This thick, warming lentil soup is cheap, healthy and widely available; just about every Turkish restaurant offers it as a starter. Typically accompanied by half a lemon, heaps of bread and a pot of pul biber (red pepper flakes), mercimek çorbası makes for a perfect comforting lunch or snack on a chilly afternoon. Strict vegetarians should note, unfortunately, that this soup is generally made with meat stock.


Meze You’ll find the Turkish version of tapas when eating at a traditional meyhane, where a large tray of meze will always be offered to your table. Good vegetarian meze dishes include sigara boreğı (white cheese wrapped in rolls of thin pastry and lightly fried), soslu patlıcan (an aubergine sauce with tomato and herbs), çoban salatası (shepherd’s salad, a mix of cucumber and tomato with parsley and olive oil) and mercimek köfte (cooked lentils kneaded into fist-sized portions with garlic, parsley and seasoning).


Çiğköfte Distinctively displayed in huge red mounds in shop windows and street carts all over Istanbul, çiğköfte originated in eastern Turkey as dish of raw meat, but these days is practically always served etsiz (without meat). Cooked spicy bulgur wheat is pounded with onions, tomato paste and ısot biber (a dried Turkish pepper from the Urfa region) and served with lettuce, lemon and fresh mint leaves, either as a plate full of individual portions or spread into a wrap (typically no more than 5 TL). It goes excellently with a cold ayran, a slightly salted yogurt drink.


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