Tea, Sugar and a Dream: A Vegan-Friendly Guide to Istanbul

5th December 2015

Spice Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Teşekkür Ederim, he says to me.
… Techek ….huh? I reply with a foggy mind, having not slept for the greater part of the last two days as I commuted between Bangkok and Istanbul via Oslo.
Just remember this: tea, sugar and a dream. Teşekkür Ederim. That’s “thank you” in Turkish.

And indeed that’s pretty much what I will remember of Istanbul. Cup after cup of “çay”, Turkish delight by the bucketful and a dreamy city filled with wonders (and people, lots and lots of them!) – a transcontinental city that is the confluence of East and West and a place I wished I’d had more than a week to visit. I kept busy exploring and admiring everything I could lay my eyes on during my short stay and wanted to share with you what I discovered.

Pomegranates, Istanbul, Turkey

Felt dervishes, spice bazaar, istanbul, turkey

Baklava, Spice Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

SEE

I am usually not one for organized tours, but giving the short time constraints, having someone show me around the main things to do in istanbul seemed like the most productive thing to do. I spent a few days with my private guide Hasan from Travel Shop Turkey and absolutely loved it. It was like having a local friend showing me around.

BLUE MOSQUE

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Sultanahmet Cami is known to tourists as the Blue Mosque and is a grandiose piece of architecture with six minarets, a beautiful courtyard and impressive interiors. To snap the best shot, go to the Four Seasons Istanbul Sultanahmet Restaurant (I learned this tip from Memo at Second Home Hostel afterwards!)

HAGIA SOFIA

Hagia Sofia, Istabul, Turkey

The best known tourist attraction in Istanbul – and with reason – Hagia Sofia was once a church, then a mosque and is now a museum. It is a grandiose Byzantine masterpiece that is nearly 1500 years old. It’s worth spending a few hours inside exploring the small details as well as the greater ones, such as the magnificent dome.

DO

BOSPHORUS CRUISE

Bosphorus Cruise, Istanbul, Turkey

Bosphorus Cruise, Istanbul, Turkey

Bosphorus Cruise, Istanbul, Turkey

Don’t miss navigating the blue waterway separating East and West. The shores of the river are lined with old wooden villas, marble palaces, fortresses, and small fishing villages as well as the Dolmabahce and Yildiz Palaces and the Bosphorus Bridge. A fantastic day out.

SHOP

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Spice Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Spice Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Spice Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

For a taste of bustling streets filled with yelling locals and to find absolutely everything that exists on the planet, visit the Grand Bazaar, but be ready to haggle. For mouth-watering Turkish delight, dried fruits, nuts, baklava, soaps and spices, visit the Spice Bazaar.

HAMMAM

Whatever you do and however long you stay, absolutely plan a couple of hours to visit a traditional Turkish hammam. You’ll strip naked, lay down on a hot slab of marble for a while then get scrubbed, washed and massaged under a mountain of suds. It is truly heavenly and such a unique experience. I visited Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamami and it is a gorgeous place with amazing service that I can’t recommend them enough. You can read my full review here.

VEGAN EATS

KAHVE 6

Kahve 6, Istanbul, Turkey
Kahve 6 quickly became my favourite breakfast hangout spot both for the food, the friendliness of the staff and the coziness of the environment. The hidden garden is a lovely place to hang out and there are a lot of vegan-friendly and local/organic options to choose from. A gem.

Direc­tions // Face­book

ECOIST HAN

They do only one dish here, called falafel poppers but, boy, do they do it right! The poppers are filled with various things such as mushrooms, eggplants, spicy tomato, hummus, cabbage and spinach and are served either in a wrap or in a plate with salad and hummus. Everything is vegan and yummy. C’mon, pop a popper in your mouth!

Direc­tions // Face­book

FOOD NOT BOMBS ISTANBUL

Volunteers offer free vegan food on Wednesday to address issues like hunger, consumerism, violence against animals and state oppression. Cooking starts at 4 pm. Everyone is welcome. Food is served at 7 pm. Donations are welcome.

Direc­tions // Face­book

MAHATMA CAFE

Nice animal-friendly and colorful café located five minutes from the ferry harbor in Kadiköy, serving vegan version of traditional Turkish food, borek, hummus and cakes. Lovely.

Direc­tions // Face­book

BI NEVI

Located on a quiet street in the hip district of Karaköy, Bi Nevi offers a whole-foods plant-based menu that is influenced by both seasonal ingredients as well as unique fruits, vegetables and superfoods that are not typically offered in restaurants in Turkey.

Direc­tions // Face­book

VEGAN STREET FOOD

There is a lot of vegan food to be found at every corner of Istanbul. Here are a few cheap bites you can find all around.

SIMIT

Simit

This very ubiquitous bagel-like pastry is sold in every bakery and in little carts all over the city. Buy them fresh in the morning because they get a little tough as the day progresses and always make sure they don’t contain cheese as some of them do.

CHORBA

chorba, lentil soup, vegan Istanbul

The Turkish lentil soup, or chorba is nothing like dhal and quickly became a daily staple during my time in Istanbul as it is cheap, filling and delicious with a squirt of lemon juice.

ÇIĞ KÖFTE

It literally means “raw meatballs” and admittedly looks like it a little, but since the use of raw meat was banned from Istanbul a few years ago, those little nuggets are now made with bulgur and ground walnuts and are the bomb diggity! They are generally served with lettuce, lemon juice, parsley, pomegranate molasses and durum (flat bread) that you can make into wraps or eat however the hell you like. Absolutely do not leave without trying those!

KUMPIR

Kumpir, vegan Istanbul

Literally just a baked potato loaded with a bunch of toppings of your choosing – it’s a great, cheap, filling snack. Beware that they usually start by mixing the potato flesh with copious amount of butter and cheese, so make it clear with them that you don’t want that part.

You can also find a great selection of local sweets and breakfast food such as Turkish delight (make sure you are buying the one without honey), baklavas (again, make sure no honey or butter were used), halva (try the walnut halva caramel! It has nothing to do with halva really and it is delicious), dried fruits and nuts, tahini and grape molasses mix (yummy with simit!), pişmaniye (halva candy floss) and chestnuts everywhere.

SLEEP

BUDGET: SECOND HOME HOSTEL

Secondhome hostel, Istanbul, Turkey

Secondhome hostel, Istanbul, Turkey

Secondhome hostel, Istanbul, Turkey

This homey hostel is centrally located to explore all the sights and a great little place to call home at the end of the day. It’s is in a perfect location, within walking distance to all the sights and is super clean. The restaurant is a great place to chill out with a cup of tea around the great breakfast and meet other travelers as well as Memo and Can, the resident managers who are just awesome. I stayed in a private double room with shared bathroom and they even had storage for my bike. The rooftop terrace affords great views and is a great place for yoga and meditation in the morning and meeting with other travelers in the evening. A perfect base from which to explore the city! Beware that they have two websites going, the old one is here and you can also book easily through the new website right here.

Direc­tions // Face­book // Booking

MIDRANGE: BANKER HAN BY THE SOFA

A newcomer in a very up and coming area of Karaköy, this midrange boutique hotel is located in an old refurbished building that was once abandoned and used as an underground street-art exhibition center with plenty of exposed bricks, concrete columns and urban touches. There is a resident artist on the first floor giving a cool vibe to the restaurant and incredible views of the Bosphorus and the old town from the rooms.

Direc­tions // Face­book // Booking

SPLURGE: SUMAHAN ON THE WATER

If you are up for something really special, Sumahan on the Water is a 5-star boutique hotel located in an Ottoman-era alcohol distillery repurposed into a stylish, warm and intimate boutique hotel right on the waterfront – as you’d expect from the name! — in the Çengelköy neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul. Expect plush beddings, magical views and an extremely delicious breakfast.
Direc­tions // Face­book // Booking

Istanbul, Turkey, Mostly Amelie

Istanbul, Turkey, Mostly Amelie

Istanbul, Turkey, Mostly Amelie

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey


A huge thanks to Travelshop Turkey, Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamami, The Banker Han Hotel and Sumahan on the Water for making this trip possible. As always, all opinions remain my own.

17 thoughts on “Tea, Sugar and a Dream: A Vegan-Friendly Guide to Istanbul

  1. Vilia

    Amelie! Thank u for sharing your experiences. Istanbul was one of my favourit cities to visit. I loved the atmosphere and food there. I had the feeling that they will improve their awareness for vegan diet in the future. Do you spent chrismas time in turkey? Send you love from Malaysia

    Reply
  2. Swanni

    Thanks for this nice article about Istanbul! Kahve 6 was also one of my favorite breakfast places, they also have great vegan options for lunch 🙂 I hope you enjoyed your time there! But with the bike it must have been difficult!
    All the best
    Swanni

    Reply
    1. Amélie Post author

      I stored my bike while in the city, it’s quite hilly, plus the drivers are a little bit crazy 😉 But I loved Istanbul so much, I wanna go back!!!! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Hitch-Hikers Handbook

    Great post, Amelie! I simply LOVE Turkey and Turkish cuisine! I love the fact that the food culture there is so diverse and in different regions the food can be so different! We have been to Turkey thee times but during our last trip we had the chance to discover the Black Sea food and loved it too!

    Reply
  4. Lesley

    “Just remember this: tea, sugar and a dream. Teşekkür Ederim. That’s “thank you” in Turkish.” I love it. I often try to come up with songs or rhymes to remember little sayings. This is perfect.

    Reply
  5. Laura

    This is a really great guide to Istanbul, and not just for vegans. We really loved the food in Istanbul and I can see how it would be pretty easy to find food that would suit any dietary restriction. They have a lot of vegetable-based dishes that are incredibly flavorful.

    Reply
  6. melody pittman

    I was in Istanbul a few months ago and did all the things you suggested but I missed some of the food you wrote about. It all looked delicious. I’m not vegan but all the foods I had in Turkey were tasty and prepared perfectly. The vegetables were the freshest and of all the street vendors and markets, I will have to say I was a sucker for the Turkish Delight. (and apple tea!)

    Reply
  7. Alli

    Your food photos are fantastic! I especially love the photo of the spices 🙂 That as my favourite part of exploring the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul! It sure sounds like you’ve done an amazing job tracking down some delicious vegan foods in this amazing city!

    Reply
  8. Brenda Tolentino

    A good guide for all travelers to Istanbul. The food looks quite delicious. The lentil soup looks like a fantastic and nutritious lunch for all. I also like the looks of the Simit, looks like a big NYC bagel, must be delicious too.

    Reply
  9. Vanessa

    Ryan tried (and made!) the traditional Cig Kofte when he was in Mardin and we had no idea that, by default, it was vegan in Istanbul. Who knew a dish could go from raw meat to vegan thanks to geography! The pomegranate molasses in that recipe is also fantastic with simit bread- like a heartier version of balsamic vinegar.

    Reply

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