You might think I am joking. You might once think of becoming vegetarian or vegan for tortured animals, healthier life or more sustainable environment and then give up like this: “But it is not possible in Turkey!” Hold on: Istanbul is not Turkey I mean, it competes with other European cities not with Turkish cities when it comes to diversity of restaurants and shops.
After the introduction of tofu, soy mince, plant milks and kelp in our shops years ago, finally the long awaited meat analogue products (called Veggy) are being introduced to Turkish markets. Their range have been popular all around the Europe for years. Vegan meatballs, saute, schnitzel and even vegan doner kebab are now on sale and it is rumored that there will soon be vegan salami and vegan sausage as well. Plus those meat analogues sold in Turkey contain vitamin B-12.
If you are one of those to be able to cook at home, Turkey is already a vegetable and fruit heaven. Those new vegan products simply enrich your cuisine and nutritional values. Let me whisper a secret for those who admits they are “in Istanbul but under the sovereignty of grandma”: There are hundreds of Turkish recipes that your grandma love to cook for you and does not even know they are intrinsically vegan. All those options would not fit in here but here are several examples: Mercimek corbasi (lentil soup), kisir (bulghur salad) and asure (Noah’s pudding)…
If you prefer to eat out or have to eat out, Istanbul has now two entirely vegan (Loving Hut and Saf), nine entirely vegetarian, and apart from those, 21 vegetarian-friendly restaurants-cafes. One of those (Ciya in Kadikoy) has even invented vegan version of lahmacun (Turkish pizza)! In case you are far from all of those, there are hundreds of fully vegetarian cigkofte shops (it is called ‘steak tartar a la turca’ in English, but street version is vegetiaran by law and made with bulghur and walnuts), patso (fries in rolls) shops, kumpir (jacket potato) buffets and gozleme (Turkish savory pancake) stalls. Those are like everywhere in Turkey and some of them are open late night. Simit (Turkish bagel), misir (boiled corn), kestane (chestnut) and kuruyemis (dried nuts and fruits) sellers in every street are the beauty of all Turkey as well. Let’s say, you are in kebab shop with friends, you can ask member of staff to put mushrooms or aubergines on shish for you and have them as durum (wrapped). Sebze guvec (vegetarian casserole) is an option too. Gavurdagi salad (the common salad of kebab shops) is on me!
In case you are in a traditional cheap restaurant of Turkey, soups, rices and of course varieties of olive-oil dishes are ready. In posh restaurants, your savers are pasta, salad, chef’s recommendation vegetable dishes and pizzas that can always be ordered cheese-free.
Let’s go back to Istanbul and how it can be the best city in the region. I can comfortably rely on statistics of Happycow.net. When vegan, vegetarian, veggy-friendly restaurants and health food shops sum up, Istanbul turns out to have 44 places. Let’s look around: Sofia has 10, Athens 20, Bucharest 12, Belgrade 13 and Budapest 36… End of weather forecast.
Istanbul’s sister from Roman Empire days, Rome, is well-matched with Istanbul in this topic like many other cultural and historic things: Rome has 46 veggy places.
Come to Istanbul or stay wherever you are in Istanbul, you veggy dreamers!
Written by Guray Tezcan*, 1 February 2013
*An activist from animal rights scene in Istanbul who work closely with Freedom to Earth and Vegan Collective.