Why Istanbul Is a Should-Go to for Vegan Meals Lovers

For hundreds of years, Istanbul has been a crossroads between worlds, combining East and West in its personal distinctive and uniquely confident tradition. 

pexels-gökhan-yetimova-17944419Gökhan Yetimova

What to anticipate when touring by Istanbul

You possibly can really feel it strolling the Grand Bazaar, the most important coated market on this planet and as soon as the terminus of each the Silk Street throughout Asia and the Spice Route by the Indian Ocean. It’s a kaleidoscope of riches: piles of spices and herbs, handicrafts, clothes, and tempting sweets. 

You possibly can really feel it floating in a ferry in the course of the Bosphorus, the waterway working by this metropolis of 15.5 million individuals, separating Europe from Asia. Because the solar slips behind Byzantine-influenced domes and needlelike spires of town’s magnificent mosques, they flip into silhouettes minimize from the orange sky. Historic streets come alive with lights and the decision to prayer echoes from the shore.

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And you may really feel it within the metropolis’s scrappy and dedicated vegan scene. Drawing components and strategies from all through the erstwhile Ottoman empire, a lot of Turkish delicacies is vegan or may be simply veganized. And at the moment, with the arrival of latest strategies in fake meat and dairy, even the flesh-forward elements of the delicacies (and there are various) are being reimagined by a daring vanguard of restaurateurs.

The place to dine vegan within the land of spice and silk?

pexels-meruyert-gonullu-7317598Meruyert Gonullu

I used to be staying in Cihangir, an previous neighborhood not removed from town’s famed and scenic Golden Horn waterway, so on my first evening there I wandered over to Vegan Istanbul, a well-lit, pleasant place on two ranges that incorporates a case filled with vegan variations of conventional Turkish dishes. I indulged in an unctuous, braised seitan served with sautéed greens and succulently mushy zucchini and peppers stewed with tomatoes and onions, together with meaty balls of bulgur wheat in a zesty tomato sauce. It was all accompanied by a bulgur salad dotted with cooked carrots and alive with a candy and tangy vinegar dressing.

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For a extra elegant vegan expertise, I visited Vegan Dükkan Lokanta, a comfortable little restaurant off a facet alley only a few blocks away from Vegan Istanbul. The restaurant is a brand new enlargement of the small however well-loved store subsequent door: 18-year-old Vegan Dükkan, which prides itself on being “the primary and solely retailer in Turkey that sells utterly vegan merchandise.”

“We spent two months engaged on the recipes,” says proprietor Tartan Apari. “We determined to have a small menu specializing in particular meals created with high-quality components.”

The outcomes are scrumptious, fastidiously composed plates. I attempted manti, triangular ravioli-like dumplings full of floor soy combined with recent parsley. They have been topped with vegan yogurt and braised seitan in a tomatoey garlic sauce studded with chickpeas. The dish’s natural, savory, earthy flavors blended seamlessly with the tart, creamy yogurt, enhancing the tanginess of the sauce because the slippery pasta rolled languidly on the tongue.

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The plate of manti was paired with a chic glass of crimson Sava wine, adopted by a moist and wealthy carrot-buckwheat spice cake, redolent with nutmeg and cloves and drizzled with candy cashew cream. The meal was satisfying and memorable—a style of Turkish delicacies at its most interesting.

Animal Welfare in Istanbul 

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One of many oldest vegan eating places in Istanbul, Vegan Neighborhood Kitchen, within the less-touristy Balat neighborhood, grew out of the protests towards Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s anti-democratic energy seize that rocked town in 2013. “We served free vegan meals for everybody at a neighborhood desk,” says founder Oya Toriş, referring to the protest camp that grew in Istanbul’s Taksim Sq., the political coronary heart of the nation. 

“I used to be vegan however I didn’t know some other vegans,” she says. “I simply fed the cats and canine at dwelling; I needed to be vegan as a result of how else might I be involved for animals?” The desk led to the beginning of a community of politically energetic vegans, and grew into her restaurant.

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Vegan Neighborhood Kitchen is a tiny hole-in-the-wall (actually—it sits inside an previous Byzantine brick arch) serving a decent menu of conventional dishes like Ersoy’s seitan-based döner on her recent Turkish flatbread with rice-based yogurt and chili sauce. Every little thing is do-it-yourself: she makes the seitan from scratch in her home throughout the road, and the hassle is clear within the taste. It’s chewy and recent, deeply satisfying fare.

A beneficiant method towards animals dwelling on the streets is an Istanbul custom going again centuries. Devoted animal lovers like Ersoy feed and look after them, which ends up in a metropolis teeming with unbiased cats and canine with a pleasant angle towards people. 

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Nonetheless, it could possibly get out of hand. Within the backyard at Limonita, a vegan spot in Kadiköy, on the Asian facet of the Bosphorus, cats jumped up on my desk to try to eat my plate of spiced sausage and börek—flaky, fried pastry full of peppers. The younger, pink-haired server was type sufficient to banish them with a smile, and I loved lunch within the leafy backyard, a short respite from the joyful bustle of Kadiköy on a weekend afternoon. 

How inclusive is the vegan scene in Istanbul?

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Stuffed with bars and eating places, Kadiköy exudes a joie de vivre and a welcoming air. Limonita, in addition to different spots within the neighborhood, are self-declared LGBTQ+ secure areas.

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It’s additionally the place I discovered Veganarsist, a small spot full of smiling Turkish {couples}. There, I loved heat, savory kofte full of spiced soy and extra manti. They have been comforting and tender, drenched in tomato sauce and yogurt sprinkled with dried mint. The delicately al dente pasta was full of spiced lentils, for a hearty and mouthwatering chew. 

It struck me as similar to Vegan Meals Cartel, again on the European facet close to the ever-thronging buying boulevard of Istiklal Road. Its Iskenderun kebab—tender slices of vegan meat with mildly spicy tomato sauce on housemade flatbread—was a pleasant umami expertise. And their smoky shish kebab of properly carbonized and toothsome vegan meat in a tangy and spicy chili sauce over tender rice was an actual window into elements of Turkish delicacies which can be much less simply veganized.  

The place to search out vegan sweets in Istanbul?

pexels-meruyert-gonullu-6161509Meruyert Gonullu

Lokum, the mushy, cornstarch-based candy developed right here within the 18th century and identified to most English audio system as Turkish Delight, occurs to be vegan. 

You’ll see it in beautiful mounds and pyramids of many translucent colours within the Grand Bazaar. Ask for a style; it’s custom to attempt earlier than shopping for. The most effective I had was at Haci Bekir, a candy store with a number of areas that claims to be descended from the inventor of lokum (reportedly the Sultan broke his tooth on a tough sweet and demanded another; one Haci Bekir recipe made the minimize). Theirs is made with cornstarch and beet sugar and is cooked in big vats earlier than being poured out and sliced into mushy, yielding cubes.

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Strive the standard flavors like pistachio (the mushy lokum concealing crunchy, roasted nuts), rose (which is nice and solely delicately floral), or mastic (the sap of a Greektree with a posh, virtually piney taste evoking the rugged Mediterranean coast).

I used to be additionally delighted to search out veganized variations of different conventional sweets. Güllüoğlu, an enormous candy store and café in Karaköy that makes a speciality of baklava and its cousins, now has two totally different vegan baklavas on their menu: one with walnut, one other with pistachio.


A pastry made out of layers of crisp, flaky phyllo sandwiching minced nuts and soaked in sharbat (a standard candy syrup), well-made baklava like those at Güllüoğlu transcend the person components. Aficionados eat them the other way up, permitting the syrup to soak down into the nuts and flaky pastry for the sweetest chew.

I sat at a bit of out of doors desk shaded from the late morning solar, sipping Turkish espresso and nibbling baklava. The horns of boats plying the Bosphorus, the road cats lounging by the doorway, the candy and nutty baklava got here collectively within the feeling of Istanbul’s important eternity.

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