Best Vegetarian Food in Istanbul

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Explore a mouthwatering assortment of vegetarian food in Istanbul. Discover the best vegetarian options this beautiful city has to offer!

Hands holding tea cups in Istanbul Turkey.
Tea in Istanbul. Photo courtesy of Depositphotos.
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Istanbul is one of the world’s most vibrant cities, with a fascinating mix of cultures that have influenced its cuisine over the years. If you’re a vegetarian and planning a trip to Istanbul, you may wonder if there are many options for you to savor the city’s delicious food.

Fortunately, there are plenty of vegetarian food in Istanbul that are just as tasty and mouth-watering as their famous meat-based counterparts. Read on and find out 15 of our favorite vegetarian food in Istanbul you must try!

What Is Turkish Food Like?

Because of the history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, the cuisine of Istanbul and the rest of Turkey is diverse. Visitors can find anything ranging from Middle Eastern-influenced dishes to classic European recipes.

With that said, most of the dishes in Turkey are meat-based. Beef, lamb, and chicken are all popular in Turkish recipes. Common spices used in preparation include mint, paprika, oregano, cumin, sumac, and coriander.

However, there are a number of delicious vegetarian dishes in Istanbul that are just as flavorful and satisfying. Though they might not be as popular as a kebab (which you can literally find on almost every corner of Istanbul), your taste buds will thank you when you find them!

Seafood is also a huge part of the country’s gastronomy, especially if you are in Istanbul. The city is surrounded by different bodies of water, and fresh seafood is always available in the markets. Grilled fish and mussels are a few favorites in Istanbul, although you can also find dishes prepared with squid, octopus, and other seafood.

And of course, there is also an abundance of international food available in Istanbul. Fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC have quite a presence in the city. You will also find a number of Italian and Chinese restaurants, as well as Middle Eastern eateries.

The city of Istanbul.
Istanbul. photo courtesy of Depositphotos.

15 Delicious Vegetarian Foods In Istanbul You Can’t Miss

In no particular order, here are 15 of the best vegetarian dishes in Istanbul. We’ve included a variety of foods – from entrees to desserts and appetizers to snacks.

1. Mercimek Çorbası

Mercimek Çorbası, or lentil soup, is a staple in Turkish cuisine. This hearty and nutritious soup is made from red lentils, vegetables such as onions, carrots, and tomatoes, and seasoned with spices like cumin and paprika.

It’s often served with a squeeze of lemon and a side of crusty bread, making it the perfect comfort food for any time of day.

2. Lahmacun

Lahmacun, often referred to as “Turkish pizza,” is a thin and crispy flatbread topped with a flavorful mixture of finely chopped vegetables, herbs, and spices.

The traditional version includes minced meat, but vegetarian lahmacun substitutes the meat with a mix of tomatoes, onions, peppers, and parsley. Sometimes, you’ll even find meat substitutes that can really enhance the flavor of the Lahmacun for vegetarians.

It’s usually rolled up and eaten with a squeeze of lemon and a side of fresh greens.

A classic turkish eggs dish.
Menemen. Photo courtesy of Depositphotos.

3. Menemen

Menemen is a simple and popular Turkish breakfast dish made with eggs, tomatoes, green peppers, and onions. It’s cooked in a shallow pan and garnished with spices like black pepper and red pepper flakes.

You can enjoy Menemen with a side of crusty bread or simit, a sesame-covered circular bread that’s a common sight on Istanbul’s streets.

4. Gözleme

Gözleme is a traditional Turkish flatbread that’s hand-rolled and filled with various ingredients before being cooked on a griddle. There are many fillings to choose from, and the best part is that many of them are vegetarian. Our favorite is the spinach, cheese, potatoes, and mushrooms combo!

This delicious and versatile snack is perfect for any time of day and can be found at street food stalls and restaurants throughout Istanbul.

5. Pide

Pide, another Turkish flatbread reminiscent of pizza, is boat-shaped and topped with a variety of ingredients. Though Lahmacun is often referred to as Turkish pizza, the texture of the Pide is a lot more similar to pizza than Lahmacuns.

Typically topped with cheese, spinach, mixed vegetables, and your choice of protein, the pide can definitely be enjoyed by vegetarians. The dough is soft and chewy, and the toppings are generously seasoned with herbs and spices.

Pide can be found in most bakeries and pideci, specialized pide restaurants.

6. Sarma

Sarma, a popular Turkish appetizer, consists of grape leaves stuffed with a mixture of rice, pine nuts, currants, and spices. These delicious parcels are slow-cooked and served cold, making them a refreshing and flavorful vegetarian option. They’re often accompanied by a dollop of yogurt.

It is one of the few vegan dishes in Turkey, and typically you’ll only find them in vegan restaurants in Istanbul or places that specialize in Sarma and Dolma.

A hand holding a turkish simit.
Tuskish simit. Photo courtesy of Depositphotos.

7. Simit

As mentioned earlier, simit is a sesame-covered circular bread that’s a staple in Istanbul. You’ll find street vendors selling these delightful snacks throughout the city, especially in the historic center of Istanbul – Sultanahmet.

Simit is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, making it the perfect accompaniment to your morning tea or coffee.

8. Baklava

Baklava, perhaps the most famous Turkish dessert, is made of layers of thin, flaky pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in syrup. It’s sweet, rich, and incredibly satisfying. There are many variations of baklava, but the most popular types in Istanbul include pistachio and walnut.

When trying Baklava, make sure you go to a reputable place to ensure you get authentic Turkish flavors. We recommend Hafız Mustafa 1864, a high-end dessert shop that not only serves baklava, but a variety of traditional Turkish desserts.

9. Künefe

Künefe is another irresistible Turkish dessert made from shredded phyllo dough, cheese, and sugar syrup. It’s served hot, with the cheese melted inside the crispy dough, and topped with crushed pistachios.

The combination of sweet and savory flavors makes künefe a unique and unforgettable treat. It is one of the must-try foods in Istanbul!

10. Sütlaç

Sütlaç is a creamy Turkish rice pudding that’s flavored with vanilla and cinnamon. It’s a comforting and delicious dessert, often garnished with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon or nuts.

Sütlaç can be enjoyed either warm or cold, making it a versatile option for satisfying your sweet tooth.

11. Roasted Chestnuts And Corn

Roasted chestnuts and corn are popular street food snacks in Istanbul, especially during the colder months.

The aroma of roasting chestnuts fills the air, and the warm, tender chestnuts make for a delightful and nutritious snack. Similarly, freshly grilled corn on the cob, called mısır, is a simple yet satisfying treat. You can typically find both snacks on a single street vendor, perfect for those looking for something filling, sweet, and vegetarian!

Close shot of stuffed eggplants.
İmam Bayıldı. Photo courtesy of Depositphotos.

12. İmam Bayıldı

İmam Bayıldı, which translates to “the imam fainted,” is a flavorful stuffed eggplant dish that originates from the Ottoman Empire. The eggplants are filled with a mixture of onions, tomatoes, garlic, and spices before being slow-cooked in olive oil, giving them a superb taste.

It is usually enjoyed with a side of rice or bread to soak in and counterbalance the strong flavors of the İmam Bayıldı. This tasty vegetarian dish is best enjoyed with a side of rice or bread. You can also find this dish in Greece!

13. Mücver

Mücver is a Turkish zucchini fritter that’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. These delicious fritters are made from grated zucchini, herbs, and spices, and are usually served with a side of garlicky yogurt for dipping.

Mücver is the perfect appetizer, especially if you are out with a group and you need something that can be shared!

14. Piyaz

Piyaz is a refreshing Turkish bean salad made with white beans, onions, tomatoes, parsley, and olives. It’s dressed with olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice, making it the perfect accompaniment to any meal.

If you are looking for a little bit more protein in your vegetarian food, then make sure you consider Pyaz. Because it has white beans, it is full of protein and fiber, not to mention the flavor of it is just appetizing!

15. Çiğ Köfte

The name “çiğ köfte” translates to “raw meatball” in English, as it was originally made with raw, minced meat (usually lamb or beef), combined with bulgur wheat, tomato paste, onions, garlic, and various spices such as red pepper flakes, cumin, and black pepper.

However, due to food safety concerns, the raw meat version of çiğ köfte is less common today, especially in urban areas and restaurants. Instead, a vegetarian version has become more popular, which omits the raw meat and focuses on the bulgur wheat, tomato paste, and spices.

The texture and flavor of vegetarian çiğ köfte still resemble the original dish, and it is typically served as an appetizer or snack, often accompanied by lettuce and lemon wedges.

In Conclusion

On the surface, the meat-loving city of Istanbul might not have many options for vegetarians. But with a little research, you can find plenty of delicious and unique vegetarian dishes to try. Whether you’re looking for something savory or sweet, hopefully, you’ll find something you like in our best vegetarian foods in Istanbul article!

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