Istanbul is certainly a place to remember forever for its gorgeous flavors, colors, and aromas. Although the traditional Turkish menu is mostly meat-based, it is possible to find plenty of vegan options on the menu.
Vegan meals in a traditional Turkish restaurant
We had a very diverse and delicious lunch in the authentic ambiance of The Han, a traditional Turkish restaurant near Topkapi. We found that there were ten vegan dishes on the menu: (1) Gozleme – a Turkish flatbread filled with spinach/mushrooms/potatoes, (2) mushroom casserole, (3) vegetarian casserole, (4) Bulgar – red wheat rice, (5) couscous salad, (6) hummus, (7) spicy salad, (8) stuffed aubergine, (9) village-style eggplant, (10) Dolma -stuffed vine leaves.
While waiting for lunch, children can watch hardworking women make a traditional pastry called ‘Yufka’. Making this thin, flaky dough is a skill that is passed down from generation to generation and can hardly be learned in some cooking courses.
After a good lunch, these soft, colorful pillows make you nap for a little while until someone warns you that you’re not in a hotel.
Vegan restaurants in Istanbul
This was definitely our favorite vegan restaurant in Istanbul. They offer 100 percent vegan Asian food which included various colorful and tasty sushi rolls with vegetables, tofu, and tempeh, miso soup, pad thai, noodles, coconut curry, and seaweed salads. The kids also loved their sushi rolls simply filled with avocado and red bell peppers. It was a fun opportunity to practice their motor skills and patience with chopsticks.
The second place on our list of vegan/vegetarian restaurants was Naftalin. It had the most authentic ambiance of the places we had visited with its stylish furniture, antiques on the shelves and Turkish music playing in the background. They bake their own sweet bread with raisins and have the most delicious pastries filled with rice and vegetables. They told us that they are cat-friendly which we saw for ourselves as there was a cat sleeping next to the woodstove. What a lucky lady!
3. Bi Nevli Deli
4. Vegan Istanbul
This is a small family-owned vegan restaurant with generous portions of homemade food at very affordable prices. We had the opportunity to try vegan versions of some traditional Turkish dishes such as sarma (stuffed cabbage leaves). It is possible to combine 3 or 4 dishes on one plate for 20-25 lira (about $4-5). They have a vegan version of the popular Turkish sweet called baklava. In most pastry shops, baklava is traditionally made with butter, so we were quite fortunate to be able to try a dairy-free version here.
Looking at the very large menu at Vegansartist, you would never imagine that this is actually a very small restaurant. There are a large variety of vegan sandwiches, wraps, burgers, salads, desserts, and fresh juices. You can choose between small baby burgers for kids or king-sized ones for hungry monsters. Some burgers contain at least 13 different ingredients and these are listed in detail in the menu. It is a real explosion of vegan tastes.
6. Hacı Kerimoğulları
Börek is very common in the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire, especially in Turkey. Among the wide variety of this popular traditional food is just one vegan option, the potato börek. It is a baked pastry made of a thin, flaky dough called Yufka and is filled with potatoes. They serve it warm and cut it into small bite-sized pieces so all you need to do is to try to control your appetite. There are many börek shops in Istanbul but we found this old but popular store to be the best.
7. Grand Bazaar and Spice Market (Misir Carsisi)
The Grand Bazaar in Fatih Square is a unique blast of smells, colors, and flavors. It is one of the largest and oldest closed markets in the world with over 4,000 outlets, stands, and shops. As you walk through, you realize that almost everyone sells the same stuff but in different packaging. It is a great place for practicing negotiation skills because in most cases, it is possible to lower the price by as much as 50 percent. The Spice Bazaar is much smaller than the Grand Bazaar but more charming and nicer. Here you will find less jewelry and clothing, but more local food, spices, teas, sweets, nuts, and food in general.
8. Unique Popcorns
At the entrance to the Topkapi Palace where the powerful Turkish sultans once lived, we found a man selling popcorn. It is not just ordinary popcorn you can buy on the street or in the cinema, but popcorn made in a very old-fashioned way. You can taste and feel the difference.
9. Roasted chestnuts
The fastest way to get rid of hunger while touring the city is by eating roasting chestnuts.
10. Fresh Juices
11. Turkish Delights
The Turkish delight shops offer a million types of baklava, but these are not vegan because most are made with butter. Among the vegan delicacies available though are halva made with sesame paste and some varieties of Lokum (Turkish delight) with pistachio, nuts or fruit flavors. We liked the halva from one of the oldest pastry shops in Istanbul, established in 1864, called Hacı İsmail Zade Hafız Mustafa.