Vegetarian Food in Turkey

Turkey produces lots of wonderful vegetables, but roast lamb or mutton (kebap) is a basis of Turkish cuisine.

Most Turkish dishes contain more vegetables than meat, but in the many stews and pilavs, small amounts of meat may be used as a flavoring, so vegetarians need to choose carefully.

At the common hazır yemek (“ready food”) steam table restaurants, ask Et var mı? (eht VAHR muh, “Is there meat?”) while pointing to a stew, but be aware that the cook may think this excludes soup bones, etc. Better to announce Hiç et yemem (HEECH eht yeh-MEHM, “I eat no meat at all”) and allow the cook to choose dishes on that basis.

There’s lots of variety in Turkish cuisine. You won’t starve. Rather the opposite: especially if you don’t mind eating milk or cheese, you’ll find plenty of savory meze to make a fine meal.

Stuffed grapevine leaves (yaprak dolması), for example, come either zeytinyağlı (“with olive oil”) to be served cold, or etli (“with meat”) to be served hot. The cold version is vegetarian, the hot version is not. Many other stuffed vegetables will contain mostly rice, but there may be some meat.

In places with substantial numbers of foreign tourists, many restaurants will have a few vegetarian dishes, and most personnel will understand the word vejeteryen (veh-zheh-tehr-YEHN) (from the French).

The vegan concept—using no animal products whatever—isnot widely understood in Turkey. If you’re a vegan, prepare for the usual scramble.

By the way, the Neyzade Restaurant in the Sirkeci Mansion Hotel in Istanbul is sensitive to food allergies, and always has gluten-freevegetarian and vegan choices available. More…

—by Tom Brosnahan


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