Let me start by saying that despite having visited but a handful of times, Istanbul is one of my favourite cities in the world.
There’s just something about it that I can’t quite put in words. More than just the crisp air, or sweeping views and rich hues of the Bosphorous that my eyes seem to crave, it’s a mysterious energy of sorts. One that just makes me feel invigorated in a way that not many other places can.Call me crazy, but I discussed this with a close friend and she agreed wholeheartedly. After much rumination, we came to the conclusion that its charm had a lot to do with Turkey being a country where East quite literally meets West. In that sense, it offers a dessert-dweller like myself a kind of pseudo-familiarity while still being diverse, exciting and stunning enough to qualify for a top tier travel-destination.
Did that make any sense? Probably not. In any case, it had been a whole two years since I had last set foot in Istanbul (check out my recaps from 2014 here and here), but I’m happy to report that aside from one too many government propaganda posters, it was just as breathtaking I remembered.
And if it were even possible, the food was even better than my last trip. Granted I did put in a lot more effort in seeking out vegan restaurants this time around, but as confirmed by discussions with locals and much to my delight, the vegan scene has also really taken off in recent years.
One such local was Tarkan, the proprietor of Istanbul’s first all-vegan store, Vegan Dükkan. Located just a stone’s throw away from where we stayed in Cihangir, an obligatory visit was in order on our first day to stock up on snacks for the rest of the trip.
The store is small but incredibly well-stocked with everything from toiletries, make-up, essential oils, cleaning products, books and of course food. Favourites from the above haul were surprisingly homegrown brands; the Mom’s Granola line and Natura by Anne chia bars.
Vegan Dükkan is located on Sıraselviler Cad.Soğancı Sok. No:8/C Cihangir Beyoğlu, 34433. Open on Monday – Saturday from 09:30 – 20:00.
If you’re looking for authentic vegan Turkish food in a relaxed atmosphere (and quite possibly the world’s sweetest owner, Oya), look no further than Community Kitchen.
Our first meal in Istanbul set the bar high: seitan vegan iskender kebab layered over fresh pide bread and doused in a flavourful tomato sauce.
Not forgetting the tall glass of vegan Ayran. This take on the traditional yoghurt drink was made from fermented brown rice; tangy and choc full of probiotics (of which I always welcome an extra dose when travelling).
The restaurant serves a wide variety of daily dishes and desserts, all inspired by traditional Turkish cooking, all 100% vegan. We made it back a second time for dinner later in the trip and had the lasagne which was equally delectable. Pro tip: if you’re planning on heading there, try to walk from Istiklal street, unless you fancy a very steep and long hike.
Community Kitchen is located on Kumbaracı Yokuşu No: 57/ A Beyoğlu, 34425. Open every day except Friday from 12:00 – 22:00. Open on Fridays from 19:00 – 22:00.
For the inaugural dinner, in keeping with the vegan Turkish theme, we decided to frequent one of Istanbul’s oldest vegetarian restaurants, Zencefil. Located centrally near the infamous Taksim square, Zencefil’s menu is clearly marked for vegan options and serves up dishes lokanta style as a selection of various mezes.
Mercimek koftesi, of course.
Accompanied by a rice dish, baked zucchini and zeytinyagli fasulyesi (AKA green beans in olive oil), pictured below.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the dessert, but the savoury dishes were extremely tasty and hearty in a home-cooked kind of way. Two thumbs up. Pro tip: make sure you ask for a vegan bread basket as their regular selection contains egg.
Zencefil is located on
The next morning we stopped off at Kronotrop, an independent specialty coffee shop in Cihangir. While coffee isn’t usually my cup of tea (pardon the pun), I couldn’t help but notice that they now offered soy milk as a non-dairy option, which they hadn’t done two years earlier.
Cue a single origin iced soy latte.
While it was just as refreshing as it looks, I learned quickly that coffee on an empty stomach is a very bad idea.
Add in a ferry ride to the Asian side of Istanbul and you have a very nauseous vegan (have I mentioned I suffer from pretty bad motion sickness?).
Luckily, help in the form of brunch was nearby.
We took a seat at the decidedly funky vegan cafe, art gallery and studio, Tight Aggressive. Our server recommended the vegan menemen (think Turkey’s answer to scrambled eggs) and seitan sucuk (a spicy breakfast sausage). And really, who were we to say no?
The menemen was phenomenal and eerily reminiscent of the “real” thing in both texture and flavour. Some poking and prodding later I found out that the base was actually chickpea flour (!) sauteed with tomato sauce onions, bell peppers and a hefty dose of spices. Needless to say, this is definitely on my list of upcoming kitchen experiments.
Tight Aggressive is located on Karakolhane Caddesi 83, 34716 Istanbul, Turkey, 34716 Kadikoy. Open Monday – Sunday 10:00 – 21:00.
Just up the street is yet another vegan cafe – I know, what are the odds?
Peculiarly named Mahatma Cafe, the fare here is also completely vegan and once again, inspired by local flavours. Having already filled up not moments ago, we opted for a mixed plate of meze and some borek.
Safe to say we walked out of there completely satisfied and stuffed.
Mahatma Cafe is located on Rasimpaşa mah. Prof. Dr. Macit Erbudak Sok. No: 50/A -Kadıköy, 34600. Open from Monday – Sunday from 9:00 – 1:00.
A good 10-kilometer walk later, it was time for dessert at Ali Usta, a particularly famous and accidentally vegan-friendly dondurmaci or ice cream shop. All of the fruit flavours were dairy-free, so I opted for a personal favourite of dark cherry sorbet.
Tart, sweet, sticky yet unbelievably creamy, this was no ordinary sorbet. I quickly understood why the shop had a perpetual line of customers waiting to be served.
Ali Usta is located on Caferağa, Moda Cd., 34710 Kadıköy/İstanbul. Open every day from 11:00 – 2:00 AM.
If there was any restaurant I was most looking forward to dining at, however, it was undeniably Bi Nevi Deli.
Having followed this start-up vegan cafe on its journey from the very beginning, I was super excited to finally try it for myself. The restaurant follows a whole-foods plant based ethos and they change their menu daily, taking advantage of fresh seasonal ingredients. This means that their fare is mouthwateringly delicious while also packing a nutritional punch.
We opted for the “bowl of the day”, a mix of green lentils, green beans, avocado and roasted pumpkin and a creamy cashew dressing.
But my personal favourite was the zucchini noodles with pesto sauce and almond feta.
We went pretty late in the day, so they were all out of dessert but fret I did not, as I will definitely be returning here on my next trip.
Bi Nevi Deli is located on Dilhayat Sokak No: 10/1, Etiler. Open Monday – Saturday from 9:30 – 20:30, closed Sundays.
And that wraps up my vegan Istanbul travel guide! Stay tuned for more vegan travel highlights from the rest of my summer trip in Berlin and Prague. I’m also currently working on a few new features and projects for the blog, so in the interim, I’ll be posting just once a week instead of twice.
Until next time, friends.