World-renowned Turkish cuisine offers a wide variety of tastes for vegetarians and there are many restaurants in Istanbul where one can enjoy the tastiest choices of what Anatolia can offer
TraditionalTurkish restaurants offer a display case, or better yet a platter full of delightful meze options, most of which are vegetarian.
Breakfast pastries always have cheese, spinach and potato varieties. There are çiğ köfte (bulgur patties) stands on nearly every corner and baked potato buffets stay open well into the night. The abundance of new burger joints also offer veggie variations, as do the boom of Chinese restaurants, while contemporary fare cafes inevitably offer creative salads and vegetarian pasta and pizza options.
Although a welcome change, this wide variety on offer for vegetarians was not always on offer in Turkey. I became a vegetarian the first time I visited Turkey nearly 30 years ago at the age of nine. A miscalculation of the dates led to my arriving just as the Feast of Sacrifice holiday was to take place. Needless to say, I was thrilled to discover a sheep tied to a tree in the garden and we quickly became allies. For me it meant having someone to talk to who I felt understood me. However, the next morning I awoke to run down to the garden only to see a crowd of people gathered around my sheep as I witnessed the unthinkable. Why this animal was being slaughtered was unfathomable to me until my father explained that the meat would be distributed to the poor.
This was all good and fine except for the fact that I had no idea up until that moment that "meat" was made from animals. I know this may sound strange, but growing up in Los Angeles, I had never put two and two together to make the connection that the hamburgers and hot dogs I loved were made from animal flesh. It was with this newfound knowledge at the age of nine that I decided to become a vegetarian. Just as the reality of meat was a foreign concept to me, the notion of vegetarianism was definitely a foreign concept in Turkey at that time.
Not only was the term "vegetarian" unknown to many in Turkey 30 years ago, but also explaining that I did not want to eat meat did not necessarily guarantee that I wouldn't be served dishes containing chicken or meat broth.
Decades later, as I made the plunge into expat life in Turkey, I am pleased to see that the concept of vegetarianism is now widespread and Turks have jumped on the bandwagon of acknowledging it at the very least, as a healthy alternative.
More and more restaurants are popping up with a focus on offering regional classics as the ultimate vegetarian comfort food. The following is a list of the best restaurants in Istanbul to experience a satisfying veggie meal with a Turkish twist. Zencefil, located at the top of Beyoğlu on a side street paralleling İstiklal, is Istanbul's most well-established vegetarian restaurant.
While seasonal dishes are always on offer, their chard quiche, zucchini pie and green lasagna are popular favorites. They also make their own bread, served with a tasty herbed butter. Moderately priced, this spacious locale has a calming atmosphere with bright colors, brick walls and a glass ceiling as well as a leafy courtyard. Right across the street is Parsifal, a 100% vegetarian restaurant that has a more down-home feel and friendly service.
They offer up a wide selection of reasonably priced vegetarian fare, including veggie shish kebabs. Although Klemuri is known more for its Black Sea cuisine, the diverse range of Laz veggie favorites makes it a must-try for any vegetarian. With English-speaking owners, this laid-back and inviting restaurant located in a historical building off İstiklal, is a popular locale for expats. An absolute must-have is their muhlama, which is a fondue made with cheese, cornmeal and butter and their vegetarian Black Sea plate. Tavanarası is a cozy tavern situated on the sixth floor of a han in Beyoğlu's popular Asmalımescit neighborhood.
The warm wood décor and buzzing atmosphere of packed tables coupled by an extensive menu with dozens of vegetarian options, such as their signature cheesy casserole dishes, satisfying salads and a long list of mezes, makes this one of the best finds in the city for vegetarians. Galata Kitchen offers simple, good quality and tasty food in a quaint restaurant located just a stone's throw from the historical Galata Tower. The mainly vegetarian menu changes daily and offers a wide variety of home-cooked soups, beans and greens. This inexpensive and popular locale also offers delicious breakfast options and sweet treats and has a friendly multilingual staff.
Located in the heart of Cihangir, Datlı Maya is an excellent option to try truly unique vegetarian variations of Turkish cuisine favorites such as vegetarian lahmacun, pide and dürüm all cooked in their large wood-fired oven in a hip yet intimate haunt that was once a local bakery.