Okay, I found nearly everything we ate in Istanbul with the help of other bloggers, most notably A Girl and Her Thumb and Vegan Backpacker, and with the help of our new friends Nalan and Genc. (Most recently, Vegan Soul Power blogged Istanbul too).
As did everyone else, I found there was plenty to eat in Istanbul, although it could be a little on the proteinless side.
I can second their recommendations for lokum and cig kofte, and only have a few things to add that these wonderful women didn’t already cover. First, simit. We ate simit every day, but it wasn’t until our second last day in Istanbul that we discovered that the simit available at street vendors totally sucked in comparison to the simit available in the many Simit Saray outlets around the place. SO much better. Crusty on the outside, fluffy on the inside, you buy jam to go with it, and it’s the same prices as the street vendor version, due to government control of bread prices.
While I went head over heels for cig kofte, simit, tea and lokum (Turkish Delight), we still needed to eat serious meals every now and then, which brings me to my second addition, the vegan passport.
Use the vegan passport. We forgot we had it for the first few days, and it was a revelation when we remembered. Only one person was reluctant to use it to help us, and she may not have been able to read Turkish well (my fault for not being able to pick the differences between regional peoples). It really helped us to get good food with no concerns.
I have one or two reviews to add for places around Istanbul that aren’t all veg, but helped us out.
Gurme Ev Yemekleri, near Taksim
We found this place by accident, but it worked out really well, and we went back a few times during our stay.
It is just one of many Ev Yemekleri places (home cooking restaurants) around, but the guy there speaks fairly good English, and understood what we wanted. It took a little working out, but eventually we managed to work out what had “meat water” (stock) in it and what did not. Over a few meals we had a leek stew, bean stew, bean soup, vegetable soup, pilaf, salad, bread, and plenty of cig kofte.
To get to it from Taksim Square, you need to find the Goldas shop, bordering the Square, but across the road, toward the Bosphorus. Go down the hill where the Goldas place is, and turn right at the fork, then the first left. Go down about a block, and it will be on your left. Tell them you are vegetarian, don’t take yoghurt, butter, cheese or eggs, and ask abut the stock.
We found this place after a long overnight bus trip, when we were about ready to drop. It has some good reviews on HappyCow and elsewhere on the internets, but we weren’t super impressed by the food.
In the same vein as Parsifal, Zencifil had helpful staff with god English skills, a number of vegetarian and vegan items on the menu, and higher prices than the home cooking places. Unfortunately, like Parsifal, you pay for ease and atmosphere, but the food itself was pretty bland.
We got a dish of leek and chickpea, which was basically a large bowl of stringy boiled leek, with some chickpeas thrown on top. We also ordered a smoked bulgur dish, which was pretty good, but was still too bland to make up for a whole plate of leek. This said, it could just be our tastes not meeting those of Turkish tradition – I don’t know. On the upside, they made the best cup of tea I had in Turkey. I would go here again if I was hungry and tired, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.
Probably the best meal we had in Turkey was got at Ciya Spfrasi, when we went out for dinner with our new friends. This place is on the Asian side of Istanbul, but worth the trip.
Is a mixture of buffet and a la carte styles, where you check out the selection, and order the mains as if off the menu, but self serve salads, which get weighed. The staff knew what had stock, butter, eggs, etc, but we were certainly helped by having Turkish speaking friends with us.
We had a fabulous soup, some bean stew, and a plate of assorted salads and mezze, such as stuffed eggplant, stuffed vine leaves, hummus, radish salad, and other salads. All this was fab, but the real standout (for me, anyway) was the dessert bar.
I have never seen anything quite like it. There was an array of chunks of brightly colours but unidentifiable stuff, covered in sugar syrup. A waiter explained to me that they were sweets made from tomato, pumpkin, eggplant, olive, a citrus fruit (untranslatable for the staff and friends, so I don’t know which one), and walnuts. I couldn’t choose, so elected to get a little of each to share.
My favourite was definitely the pumpkin, which tasted nothing at all like pumpkin, but more like honeycomb. It cam with sweet tahini sauce and a sprinkle of walnuts, and was one of the most perfect things I have ever tasted. I am actually considering writing to them to beg for the recipe.
The tomato sweet and the eggplant sweets were really nice too, with little of the vegetable flavour left, and plenty of sugar, but the olive sweet and the walnut sweet were a little harder to adjust to. Of course, the sweets were the only things I got a photo of :)
Ciya Sofrasi was again a little on the pricey side, with a large plate of salads costing 18 Lira, but it was so good and filling, we weren’t complaining.