Being vegetarian in Turkey. Mission impossible?
photo by Duru...

As many European students I had been a vegetarian since the time I started to get some interests for the social and environmental issues that are shaking our century. It has been now four years that I engaged myself into the direction of not seeing animals just as food storages. A year after that shift in my life I stepped in Turkey for a very unexpected journey. I quickly realized that however meat was rarely missing in my hosts’ daily meals, they were not familiar at all with the idea of refusing to eat meat. In fact, as in many non-western countries, in Turkey meat may be considered as a luxury aliment. I also noticed that all my friends knew about the vegetarian concept even if they did not clearly understood it, but barely none of them knew someone who was fallowing it. As I was only staying with people I was meeting along my way and not fallowing at all the regular touristic path, I resigned to continue on my new ethic food regime. My main concern was to share the daily life of the people I was meeting in order to understand them as much as I could. I have simply been careful on selecting white meat instead the red one when I could and to eat it the less as I could.

At the end of this amazing six months long journey I went to back to vegetarian regime as before.

Two years later, after meeting a wonderful Turkish girl and decided to share our lives in Istanbul, I told myself that time I won’t make a cross on my convictions, which also got stronger with time. Well in this case they are two things to do : cook at home and learn what you can eat outside. Cooking at home is not a big deal since you easily find the basic ingredients in every local stores. About eating outside here is my favorite list of what you can get :

  • Kumpir : a smash potato in which you select ingredients to add in it. Just ask for no sausage (sucuk). Cost 5 to 9 TL.
  • Pide and Börek. They are kind of fried or baked pastry that you may get with cheese or potatoes inside. Their price depends on how many kilograms you get.
  • Dolma without meat (etsiz). The most commons ones are stuffed peppers filled with rice and spices.
  • Mantarli dürüm : dürüm is a roll usually filled up with meat, but in this version they have been replace by mushrooms. Around 4 TL.
  • Pilav (rice). You can buy a plate of rice for 1 or 1.5 TL at street-cart sellers or at small local fast-food places.
  • Çorba. They are four main kind of soups which are usually without meat, but it is better to ask before to get it : “Etsiz mi ?” , if the answer is “Evet” take it :)
  • Simit, Açma and Çatal. The three usual kinds of Simits that you can find at every corners on the cities at street-cart sellers. 0.75 TL in Istanbul and 0.50 TL anywhere else.

You can go further by having a look at the Turkish Vegetarian Cooking page published by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism here :
http://www.kultur.gov.tr/EN/Genel/BelgeGoster.aspx?17A16AE30572D313AAF6AA849816B2EF5EE9FC1962A0296C

Finally all desserts will be yours. But as every rules have their exceptions, be aware of the Tavuk Gögsü which is a sweet dessert made from chicken breast (!), usually served with ice-cream. But if it is presented as a “Yalanci Tavuk Gögsü” (yalanci means literally liar), you can eat safely it is a vegetarian version of it !

Be careful sometimes when you ask for a non-meat meal some people may offer you chicken or fish since they may understand meat as red meat only !

If you want to practice your Turkish you may say this :
“Kirmizi et, tavuk ya da balik yemem.” = I don’t eat red meat, chicken or fish.

In conclusion, if you are not staying with local people to eat vegetarian is not an impossible mission, especially if you cook by yourself. Indeed, if you only eat outside you may quickly taste every vegetarian options and get bored of it as the majority of the dishes include meat.

Turkey is also one of the countries with the largest fruit kinds on earth. Enjoy them !

Meet the author


From Lyon where I was born to Istanbul where I am now living, I have been travelling in 3 years in more than 25 countries.

I also founded in 2009 the alternative University : Lyon Zero (http://lyonzero.blogspot.com)