Eating Vegetarian or Vegan In Istanbul : Hipmunk City Love

Traveling to Istanbul is a delight for the senses. The earthy and aromatic alley of the Spice Bazaar lure you in, the trickle of freshly squeezed oranges on street corners propels you forward, and the scent of freshly baked bread wafting through the city is enough to make any traveler yearn for their next meal. Istanbul is a food haven for omnivores, but what about a vegetarian traveler?

Realize The Meaty Culture You’re Stepping Into

Though many dishes are meat-based, it’s important to recognize that a lot of this stems from the cultural traditions of the country. Turkey is known for the iconic sight of a man carving up shawarma to heap into a kebab.  Fear not, though, there are also plentiful for vegetarians with alternatives to most traditional dishes if you know where to look and what to look for.

Image courtesy of Arian Zweger from Flickr

Image courtesy of Arian Zweger from Flickr

Good ol’ Falafel

Falafel is the standby and safe haven of vegetarians the world over, and no one does it better than Istanbul! These deep-fried (or baked) balls of garbanzo bean flour are mixed with fresh herbs and spices and wrapped in a thick bread shell. Served with your choice of vegetable toppings and protein-packed spreads like hummus, you can’t go wrong with falafel.

Soups are a Super Choice in Istanbul

Soups are a great alternative for vegetarian or vegan travelers to Istanbul since many are bean-based and will provide a filling meal with just one bowl. Try local specialties like the thick and luscious lentil soup at Mahatma Cafe on the Asian side of the city.
Tip for eating out in omnivore restaurants: make sure you specify that you don’t want meat as sometimes they are topped with shaved meats as garnish.

Cigkoftem is the Perfect Vegan Street Food

This one takes a little faith, but it’s well worth it – look out for the piles of reddish filling on street carts and in restaurant windows – this is “kofte” which originated as a raw meat dish mixed with bulgur, spices, tomato, onions and garlic. Now it’s more common that’s it’s served without the meat, but double-check by asking “etsiz?” (without meat). If so, order one and watch them pull out a lettuce leaf, fill it with this mixture, squeeze some lemon on top and serve it with a smile. Enjoy!

There’s a restaurant dedicated to Cigkoftem who serve 100% vegan food based around this bulgur blend, and meals can be had for under 4 Lira. Their website is only in Turkish, but provides the address for those comfortable with using GPS to navigate a city, or translated using a plug-in.

Image courtesy of crystalmartel from Flickr

Image courtesy of crystalmartel from Flickr

Make a Main Meal out of Sides

Meze is the appetizer course in many restaurants in Istanbul and has plentiful vegetarian options even though they aren’t labeled as such. Olives, picked vegetables, hummus, dolmas, and fresh bread can all be had to make a delicious, cruelty free dinner.

No matter what you choose to eat on your Istanbul holiday, make sure you’re saving a lot of money by getting a cheap flight to Istanbul so you have more money to eat your way through the city!

Please note : This is part of a series for #HipmunkCityLove. Hipmunk.com is low-cost and budget travel service that I use while planning budget travel, and am thrilled to write for. I know you will find the articles as well as their services useful.

Remember, you are my first priority and I only work with or support companies whose products and services I believe in. For all the nitty gritty on this check out my disclaimer. It’s even got pictures of monkeys.


Brandy Bell loves adventuring around the world. She’s been a solo female traveler since 2006 and has visited over 25 countries, made countless international friends, and now writes to inspire you to travel in a sustainable and responsible way.


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