From vegan dumplings to grated courgette pie, tofu wraps and lentil patties, there are plenty of exciting dishes to be found at these plant-based spots around Istanbul.
Turkish cuisine may seem meat-heavy at first sight, bringing to mind the country’s kebabs and köfte (meatballs) that seem to be available around every corner. However, vegan restaurants, shops and non-animal products are blossoming throughout Istanbul. This new focus on plant-based food, along with the many traditional Turkish dishes cooked without meat, makes the city a great place for vegans and vegetarians to try an exciting variety of dishes. From restaurants to street food spots, Culture Trip lists the best places in the city for green cuisine.
Tucked away on a side street off İstiklal Caddesi, Community Kitchen acts as a living room for both residents and tourists, where the owner welcomes each guest and offers recommendations. The kitchen is famous for creating vegan versions of Turkish classics, such as köfte (meatballs), iskender kebab (thinly sliced meat in tomato sauce) and baklava (a dessert made of layered pastry). It also bakes pastries on Saturdays; the vegan brownies are always a hit. The atmosphere inside is relaxed with exposed-brick walls, racks of magazines on vegan living, wooden furniture and even a cuddly cat. Stop by during the day or enjoy a special evening menu prepared daily at 7.30pm, for which a reservation is needed.
On the same street as Community Kitchen, Falafel Köy serves up some of the best falafel in town. Everything on this menu is vegan, except for the ayran (a yoghurt-based drink). Try platters with hummus, baba ganoush, fattoush and tabbouleh salad, and also the falafel dürüm and burger. Limited seating is available. However, do take a table outside if one is free, and enjoy the sounds of footsteps on the surrounding cobbled street. Keep in mind that it only accepts cash and that the opening hours can differ from day to day.
Zencefil (“ginger” in Turkish) lies near Taksim Square, and it was one of the first vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants in Istanbul, opening in 1993. Today, it is a local favourite for its many comforting dishes, which are written on a chalkboard in colourful letters. Try a grated zucchini pie, lentil patties, smoked bulgur with vegetables or a vegetable lasagna – and pair the meal with ginger lemonade and a vegan brownie. Find the green-coloured entrance, and take a seat among the many plants. Also, don’t miss out on the restaurant’s courtyard, which is designed like a garden greenhouse.
No:19 Dining is a homely restaurant located in the side streets of Cihangir. There is no set menu; customers are able to choose from a selection of appetisers and main dishes that are laid out on the counter. Share them with friends at dining room tables lit with candles and surrounded by beautiful artwork – which is also for sale. Although its vegetarian and vegan selection is vast, it does serve up a few meat dishes, too. Enjoy your meal with a glass of local wine.
A friendly atmosphere is at the core of this vegan restaurant and market. Located just a few steps from the lively main square in Cihangir, this family-run restaurant offers affordable dishes that customers can choose at the counter, including lahmacun (Turkish pizza), börek (pastry) filled with vegan feta cheese, eggplant stuffed with soy meat and vegetarian schnitzel. Desserts include brownies, apple pie, cocoa cookies and orange cake. Remember to take a look upstairs where vegan goods such as cheese, yoghurt, non-dairy milk and marinades are sold.
VegaNarsist is a tiny restaurant located in the upscale neighbourhood of Nişantaşı. Although it is more popular for takeaway, there is limited seating available for those wishing to dine in. Here, the owner transforms Turkish recipes into vegan dishes. Highly recommended are the spinach mushroom pide (stuffed flatbread), tofu wraps and the no-meat version of Istanbul’s iconic islak hamburger (also known as a wet burger as it’s moistened with a tomato-garlic sauce). The cosy restaurant is easy to miss, so look for the graphic drawings of fruits and vegetables at the entrance and its black-and-white tiled floor.
For a change, try out the Asian menu at YUZU, which is attached to a local yoga studio, LiT. While its main focus is vegan sushi, the menu also offers a choice of coconut curry, pad thai (stir-fried rice noodles) and vegan gyoza (dumplings), as well as fresh salads and healthy mixed bowls. Close to Galata Tower, this small space is perfect for a casual lunch and has a calming atmosphere.
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Unwind at this eclectic restaurant, where local street cats love to hang out and be petted by customers. In 2017, Muhtelif Mekân turned vegan, and its relaxed atmosphere has made it a top choice today for those seeking plant-based cuisine. Located in Kadıköy, on Istanbul’s Asian side, its diverse menu of healthy dishes and comfort food is well worth sampling. Try the tofu dürüm, seitan wraps and vegan cakes, or choose a mixed plate to taste a selection of what the restaurant has to offer.
Head back to Istanbul’s European side and try çiğ köfte – a type of vegan street food and one of the cheapest dishes in Turkey. It’s perfect for a light lunch and is made of spices and bulgur wheat, formed into balls and served in a wrap with lettuce, parsley, pomegranate sauce and lemon juice. Usually, çiğ köfte can be found around every corner, but Meşhur Çiğköfteci Ali Usta attracts special attention. The long queue moves fast, and customers usually get a sample while the owner prepares the dishes. Located on a side street near Sirkeci tram station and a short walk from the Spice Bazaar, it’s an ideal place to grab a bite while taking a break from sightseeing.