Vegetarian Food in Istanbul: 19 Food items I Ate & Loved!

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Do you get vegetarian food in Istanbul? Is it easy to find vegetarian food in Istanbul? Is Istanbul’s vegetarian food good? Where to find vegetarian food in Istanbul? This guide covers everything you need to know about being a vegetarian in Istanbul.

As a lifelong vegetarian, I often struggle to find good vegetarian options when traveling. But Istanbul – which is known by many to be the land of kebabs and fish sandwiches, surprised me with its wide variety of vegetarian food options.

What was even more impressive was knowing that many staple Turkish food items are vegetarian. So these dishes were delicious, prepared using wisdom and tradition passed on from one generation to another.

A picture of Baklava, Pide, Menemen and Kunefe to show vegetarian food in Istanbul

Unlike many other countries, the vegetarian food in Istanbul is actually delicious and not just a meat-free substitute for famous non-vegetarian dishes.

Vegetarian Food In Istanbul – Top 19 Vegetarian Dishes You Must Try

In the section below, I will introduce you to my favorite vegetarian dishes in Istanbul. I will also clarify whether they are vegan, and provide information on where to find these dishes.

While Istanbul and Turkey offer an abundance of vegetarian food options, the list below exclusively mentions vegetarian dishes I have personally tried and loved during my time in Istanbul.

I hope this list demonstrates that exploring Istanbul as a vegetarian is an entirely manageable and enjoyable experience.

1. Turkish Bagel (Simit)

Simit held in hand outside Hagia Sophia - A vegetarian dish in Istanbul
Holding a simit outside Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

The most commonly found street food in Istanbul is Simit. You will find a Simit cart almost in every block of Istanbul. They are located outside tram and metro stations, in all the touristy places in Sultanahmet and Taksim and beyond.

Plus they are one of the cheapest street foods in Istanbul and an excellent snacking option for those on a budget.

Simit is a traditional Turkish bread ring or a bagel, coated with sesame seeds, resulting in a deliciously crunchy exterior and a soft, chewy interior.

I found the plain bagel that only comes with sesame seeds a bit too dry for my liking. But the one stuffed with Nutella was soft and filling.

Is it vegan?
The bagel itself is mostly vegan. But the filling can contain cream or other dairy items. Plain variants without any filling are available everywhere.

Where to find it?
As stated earlier, Simit is found all across Istanbul as a common street food snack.

How to eat it?
Simit can be eaten on its own. It comes in a few varieties too like one that’s stuffed with Nutella or cheese.

It can be had as a quick snack or even as a grab-and-go breakfast.

2. Corn (Mısır)

Corn Misir Stall Istanbul
A classic Corn (Misir) Stall in Istanbul

Corn on the cob, known as “Mısır” in Turkey, is yet another commonly found street food item throughout Istanbul. Just like Simit, you can spot Mısır vendors almost all across Istanbul. Mısır was my favorite healthy snack on days when I used to walk around a lot in Istanbul.

I used to have it as a mid-morning meal or a late afternoon snack – especially as a way to prevent falling for one of the many delicious sweets found all across Istanbul.

Mısır is essentially grilled or boiled corn on the cob. The natural flavors of this simple snack make it a beloved choice among locals and tourists alike.

Is it vegan?
Of course, Mısır, in its basic form, is entirely vegan. It’s simply corn on the cob, seasoned with a sprinkle of salt, and occasionally, some vendors offer chili or spices for added flavor. It’s a vegan-friendly and healthy snack that aligns with various dietary preferences.

Where to find it?
Mısır is widely available throughout Istanbul, particularly from street vendors who set up their stalls in busy areas. Keep an eye out for the distinctive yellow or white corn cobs on display as you explore the city.

How to eat it?
Most vendors in Istanbul sell both the boiled and grilled variants. I prefer the grilled one lightly seasoned with salt.

3. Chestnuts (Kestane)

Kestane Chestnuts sold on a stall in Istanbul
Kestane or Chestnuts sold on a stall in Istanbul

Chestnuts, or “Kestane” in Turkish, are another delightful street food. Many street vendors selling Mısır also sell Kestane.

Kestane are roasted chestnuts with a smoky flavor and tender texture. The gentle warmth of roasted chestnuts makes them a beloved choice among locals and visitors alike, especially during the cooler months.

Kestane just like the corn was my go-to healthy vegetarian street food option in Istanbul.

Is it vegan?
Kestane is naturally vegan.

Where to find it?
Keep an eye out for Kestane vendors, as their stalls are scattered throughout Istanbul, particularly in bustling areas. They are often sold together with corn.

Alternatively, you will also find vendors with portable chestnut roasting machines roaming around the streets of Istanbul.

How to eat it?
Purchase a portion of these delectable morsels and enjoy them as you explore the city.

4. Lentil Soup (çorba)

Lentil Soup Corba served in a restaurant in Istanbul
Lentil Soup or çorba served in a restaurant in Istanbul

Çorba, also known as soup, is a hearty dish primarily crafted from red lentils, complemented by a delicate blend of tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes.

Savoring a bowl of lentil soup at an Istanbul open-air restaurant after a day of sightseeing is one of my cherished memories from Istanbul.

The classic çorba’s recipe itself is vegetarian. So it is not a meat-free soup variant. It is rich in flavour, oozes comfort and warmth and is served all across the restaurants in Istanbul and Turkey.

Is it vegan?
Most varieties of classic çorba are inherently vegan as they only use lentils, vegetables and spices.

Where to find it?
All Turkish restaurants in Istanbul serve çorba. What I also found interesting was that the taste of çorba remained fairly standard across budget to fine-dine restaurants.

How to eat it?
Çorba is always served with a side of fresh bread. If you have a limited appetite, having a bowl of çorba with bread often works out to be the perfect light dinner to end your day with.

But if you have a large appetite, you can start with çorba as your appetizer and then move to one of the many vegetarian main course options available in Istanbul restaurants.

5. Pide (stuffed Turkish Pizza)

Pide or stuffed turkish pizza at a restaurant table in Istanbul
Pide or stuffed turkish pizza at a restaurant table in Istanbul

Pide is a boat-shaped flatbread that is stuffed with various fillings. It comes in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian variants. But the vegetarian version usually stuffed with spinach and cheese is surprisingly light and healthy.

In Turkey, there are two main variants of pizza – Lahmacun and Pide. Lahmacun is the round one while Pide is more like a boat-shaped stuffed pizza. One of the main reasons I like pide is that a vegetarian variant of pide is more commonly found than Lahmacun (round Turkish pizza).

I did try a rare vegan Lahmacun during my time in Istanbul but it tasted more like a meat-free variant of a popular dish instead of a full-fledged authentic vegetarian dish.

Is Pide vegan?
Pide can be adapted to suit various dietary preferences. While traditional versions often include meat and dairy, vegetarian and vegan options are readily available all across restaurants in Istanbul. A vegan or a vegetarian pide is made using cheese, spinach, or potatoes.

Where to find it?
You can find pide at local pide shops, street food stalls, and traditional Turkish restaurants throughout Istanbul. It’s a versatile dish suitable for any meal of the day.

How to eat it?
Pide is typically sliced into smaller pieces and shared among friends or family.

6. Ayran (Buttermilk or Yogurt-Based Drink)

Ayran or buttermilk at a cafe in Istanbul
Ayran or buttermilk at a cafe in Istanbul

Ayran is a refreshing and popular drink in Istanbul. It is essentially the Turkish equivalent of the good old buttermilk found all across India.

Ayran is a simple yogurt-based drink made by mixing yogurt with water and a pinch of salt. The result is a creamy beverage that’s perfect for quenching your thirst and cooling down on a hot day.

Is it vegan?
Ayran contains yogurt and is not vegan.

Where to find it?
You can find ayran at virtually every restaurant, cafe, and food establishment in Istanbul. You can even buy it in bulk in supermarkets all across Istanbul.

How to drink it?
Ayran is best enjoyed chilled. Sip it alongside your meal or as a refreshing beverage to balance out the flavors of rich and savory Turkish cuisine.

7. Pilav

Pilav served in Istanbul as a vegetarian food
Vegetarian Pilav (rice with chickpeas) served in Istanbul

Since we have now made our way into Turkish main courses or staple foods, I have to mention Pilav.

Pilav is a rice dish cooked with various ingredients, such as vegetables, spices, and sometimes legumes.

I loved eating Pilav on days when I used to get bored of having bread variants and needed to reset my gut with a delicious dose of rice.

Is it vegan?
Pilav is usually made with meat. However, most vegetarian variants of pilav are also vegan as they do not use any dairy products in their preparation.

Where to find it?
I have to be honest, finding a vegetarian pilav is not as common as finding many other vegetarian dishes on this list. The most commonly found variant of pilav I found was the one with plain rice with chickpeas. Even though a humble dish, it is filling, authentically Turkish, and delicious. I also found a buglur pilav i.e. one with wheat balls,

It is easy to find a vegetarian pilav in most Lokantasis (local, budget restaurants found all across Istanbul.

How to eat it?
Enjoy pilaf as a dish alongside grilled vegetables, and salads (the majority of Turkish salads are vegetarian) or eat it just on its own. Either way its healthy and delicious.

8. Kumpir

Kumpir - stuffed potatoes - an excellent vegetarian food item of Turkey
Kumpir or stuffed potatoes

If there’s one vegetarian savory snack that I genuinely wanted to pack with me and get it back for my folks – it has to be Kumpir.

It is made using a large baked potato, which is split open and generously loaded with a variety of toppings.

These toppings can include cheese, olives, corn, pickles, vegetables, and more. The result is a loaded and satisfying potato dish.

Is it vegan?
Kumpir’s vegan status depends on the toppings chosen. While some traditional toppings may contain dairy, you can create a vegan version by selecting plant-based toppings like olives, vegetables, and sauces.

Where to find it?
Look for kumpir stalls in bustling areas of Istanbul, especially in tourist zones and popular street food districts. The one that I loved the most was at Patatos on Istiklal Street – a trendy spot located right in the middle of all the buzz.

How to eat it?
Simply dig in! Use a fork to mix and mash the toppings into the fluffy potato and eat. Don’t worry if you aren’t too neat with it!

9. Gozleme

Gozleme or stuffed pancake - vegetarian savoury dish of Istanbul
Gozleme or stuffed pastry – vegetarian savoury dish of Istanbul

Gozleme was the very first food item that I tasted during my time in Istanbul. It is typically served as a folded pastry (or a paratha) that’s easy to hold and eat with your hands.

To make a gozleme, dough is folded over and cooked on a griddle until it’s crisp and brown. When placing an order, you must specify what filling you want in your Gozleme. I loved the spinach gozleme the most, but you can even get it in potato, cheese and mixed fillings.

Is it vegan?
Just like the pide or the Kumpir, a Gozleme can be made vegan by choosing the right fillings. The bread dough itself doesn’t use any dairy products. So if you avoid cheese and don’t pair it with yogurt on the side, a Gozleme can be a perfect vegan meal.

Where to find it?
It is available in traditional restaurants, Lokantasis and Turkish street food joints and is mostly prepared in a traditional manner by local Turkish women.

How to eat it?
Gozleme is typically served as a folded pastry that’s easy to hold and eat with your hands. But if you are ordering a Gozleme at a restaurant, it will be served in a plate with the side of a yogurt or a pickled sauce.

10. Menemen (contains egg)

Menemen or Turkish scrambled egg
Menemen or Turkish scrambled egg -my most favourite Istanbul vegetarian breakfast had with tea and bread

I first had Menemem at the famous Lades Menemen on Istiklal Street and ever since – it was my standard breakfast order. Menemen is essentially scrambled egg cooked with tomatoes, bell peppers, onion and paprika.

It is packed with flavour and the texture is soft and moist. I bet that it is one of the best variants of scrambled eggs that you would find in the world.

Is it vegan?

Menemen is not vegan as it contains egg as its primary ingredient. It also doesn’t make sense to look for vegan variants of menemen – as the dish revolves around the use of egg.

Where to find it?
Every cafe and restaurant in Istanbul serves menemen. While it is mainly eaten for breakfast, many eateries serve it round the clock.

How to eat it?
Menemen is always served with bread making it a complete meal. For a truly authentic experience, have piping hot menemen with an equally piping hot cup of Turkish tea. The combination makes for one of the most heavenly food experiences in Istanbul!

11. Turkish Breakfast (kahvaltı) or Mezze

Istanbul Breakfast served in a plate
Vegetarian Istanbul breakfast plate served at a café in Kadikoy

The famous Turkish breakfast or kahvaltı consists of various ingredients served in multiple small bowls. Many of the items on a classic Turkish breakfast spread are vegetarian like black and green olives, fruit jams, pickles and cheese varieties.

Mezze, on the other hand, adopts a similar approach and consists of a variety of small, flavorful dishes, including hummus, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, and various vegetable-based salads and dips. Mezze is often served as a prelude to a larger meal or as a collection of snacks to share.

Is it vegan?
Except cheese and a few types of dips, egg varieties, most Turkish breakfast items are also vegan.

Many mezze options like hummus, baba ganoush, and many salads are typically vegan.

Where to find it?

Turkish breakfasts are typically served at local, traditional cafés, cafés in tourist hubs like the Galata tower, at breakfast joints in local areas like Kadikoy as well as at Besiktas’ famous breakfast street.

You’ll find mezze served at traditional Turkish restaurants, meyhane (taverns – that I highly recommend you visit to better understand the local culture around drinking and sharing food).

How to eat it?

Turkish breakfast and mezze is designed for sharing and grazing. Dip fresh bread or pita into the various dishes, combine flavors to your liking, and enjoy the diverse array of tastes and textures.

12. Croissants / Poncik

Cigdem Croissants of Istanbul - a filling vegetarian snack of Istanbul
A packet of croissants from the Cigdem patisserie in Istanbul – a filling vegetarian start to the day

Many people don’t speak enough about the bakery products in Istanbul. Even though croissants aren’t a specialty of Istanbul, the ones you get in Istanbul are impressive. There are many local variants of croissants available too. (I admit, I don’t remember their names!)

I used to pick fresh croissants and ponciks from local bakeries and then have them while traveling in a tram. Not only were the croissants delicious, but they also used to keep me full till breakfast places in Istanbul opened.

One bakery that I highly recommend is Çigdem – right opposite Sultanahmet tram station. Stand in a queue outside at around 7.30 in the morning for the first batch of the freshest croissants.

13. Baklava

Baklava and Kadayf Istanbul
Baklava in different variants at a sweet shop in Istanbul

If you are a vegetarian, you have to try the baklava served at one of the many dessert outlets in Istanbul. The taste of a classic Baklava can make even those who don’t have a sweet tooth fall in love with it – no wonder it’s one of the biggest foodie attractions of Istanbul.

For the uninitiated, Baklava is a pastry made using layers of sheets sweetened with syrup and filled with nuts like walnuts and pistachios. Kadayf is Baklava’s sibling which uses shredded phyllo dough and is often rolled or shaped like a nest.

Is Baklava vegan?
Baklava uses butter and is not vegan. But some outlets serve a vegan variant of walnut Baklava. Many popular outlets like Karaköy Güllüoğlu – Nadir Güllü serve a few vegan variants of baklava that are equally delicious.

Where to find Baklava?
You’ll find Baklava all across Istanbul. It is served in restaurants and cafés as well as can be bought in supermarkets, sweet shops, and even from Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar.

But to get the best Baklava, it is better to visit renowned places. My top picks are
1. Hafiz Mustafa – found in Sultanahmet area, Taksim and Istiklal Street, and in various touristy areas across Istanbul is my top pick for the best Baklava in town.

Their in-house confectionary and café serves a large variety of local Turkish desserts and the experience of dining here is one that you’ll remember for a long time after your trip.

Hafiz Mustafa is also an excellent place to buy Baklava in large quantities to take back home with you. The Baklava is neatly packed and in properly sized boxes.

2. Nadir Güllü – This plush place in Karakoy serves one of the best Baklava in all of Istanbul. The recipe has been passed down from older generations and the taste is authentic and divine. You can choose from multiple flavors and variants. You can eat Baklava at their in-house dining area.

3. Faruk Güllüoğlu – One of the most authentic tasting Baklava in the Old Town – a few minutes walk away from Sultanahmet and Grand Bazaar. If you want to sit down, have dinner, and then sample a few different types of Baklava – this is one of the best places for Baklava and Kadayf near Sultanahmet.

14. Kunefe

Kunefe with Icecream at Mado Istanbul - a filling vegetarian dessert of Istanbul
Kunefe with Icecream at Mado Istanbul – a filling vegetarian dessert of Istanbul

One dessert that I would probably choose over Baklava is the Kunefe. I had it multiple times all through my trip to Istanbul and still didn’t get enough of it.

A kunefe is a dessert made with shredded phyllo dough, filled with cheese or clotted cream, and baked until crispy. It’s then soaked in sweet syrup and often garnished with crushed pistachios.

It is also served with ice cream in many popular restaurants. The best place to have Kunefe with ice cream is Mado – a restaurant chain known for their excellent ice cream found all over town as well as in farther-off places like the Princes Islands.

Is Kunefe vegan?
Kunefe uses cheese or cream and is hence not vegan.

15. Halka

Vrushali eating a Halka outside  a sweet shop in Istanbul
Me eating Halka from Safa outside Sirkeci Metro station – a quick vegetarian sweet treat of Istanbul

There are few Istanbul food lists on the internet that mention ‘Halka’. But if you are in a hurry and want an affordable, filling ‘dessert on the go – there is no better alternative to the halka.

Halka means ‘ring’ and as the name suggests – halka is a delicious ring-shaped dessert similar to churros but different in texture and composition. Halka is made using semolina and dough.

It is crispy on the outside as it is deep-fried. But on the inside it’s juice thanks to the use of sugary syrup.

It is available in all sweet shops and bakeries. I loved the ones at Safa (opposite Sirkeci station) – freshly prepared and served hot.

It is very affordable and yet quite filling given how calorie-dense it is.

16. Icecream (Dondurma)

Multiscoop icecream Istanbul
Me holding a multi-scoop icecream bought at Buyukada – Princes’ Islands near Istanbul

The reason why I am adding ice cream to this list – even though it’s pretty obvious that ice cream is vegetarian – is that, unlike other places in the world, eating ice cream is an enthralling experience in Istanbul.

Ice cream is always served with a whole spectacle of tricks. Regardless of how many times you see it and experience it, you never get tired of it. It’s a unique Turkish offering and one that you should make the most of during your time in Istanbul.

The actual ice cream itself is also different than the ice cream sold in the rest of the world. Turkish ice cream’s texture is unique. it is a lot creamier and thicker, denser, stickier, and doesn’t melt rapidly.

Pro tips:
Do not have Turkish ice cream in prime tourist areas. It is 3-4x more expensive.
– Try ice cream in local areas like Kadikoy, Uskudar, etc from places where locals eat.
– The multi-scoop ice cream served at Buyukada is renowned. Make sure you eat it on your day trip to the Princes’ islands.

Other types of vegetarian food you get in Istanbul

Istanbul is a vegetarian paradise and finding delicious local vegetarian food is not difficult. But if you are looking for more generic food options or international cuisine choices, Istanbul still doesn’t disappoint.

17. Indian Food

Bombay Masala - An Indian restaurant in Istanbul serving vegetarian food
Bombay Masala – An Indian restaurant in Istanbul serving vegetarian food

There are plenty of Indian restaurants all around Istanbul that serve many vegetarian options.

If you are an Indian reading this, you should note that
– most of these Indian restaurants are owned and operated by Turkish people. So expect some variance in taste and style of serving.
– most Indian restaurants are at least 1.5 to 2 times more expensive than other similarly sized local restaurants.

One Indian restaurant that I highly recommend is Dubb and Bombay Masala in Sultanahmet.

18. Italian food

Italian Food in Istanbul
Eating an Italian spaghetti for dinner with Turkish tea

I had pasta a few times on my trip to Istanbul when I wanted a change from local Turkish food and had no difficulty getting a vegetarian pasta variant.

It is often a part of the menu at most local restaurants in prime touristy areas. But one place that I particularly loved Akveren Makarna in Kadikoy – a canteen-styled spaghetti and lasagna place that is a local favorite!

19. Nuts, Fruits, Smoothies and Juices

Chocolate coated nuts sold at Spice Bazaar in Istanbul
Chocolate coated nuts sold at Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

There are plenty of juice and smoothie stalls in the tourist hubs of Istanbul. You will especially find plenty near Aksaray station (near the Havaist bus going to the airport) as well as outside Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, and in Sirkeci area.

The juices and smoothies are freshly made and an excellent alternative to calorie-dense snacking.

If you are a fan of dried fruits, you can also pick a few packets up at the Spice Bazaar or at Arasta Bazaar to keep you company on your hectic day trips. Likewise, you will find a great variety of chocolate-coated nuts in Spice Bazaar that also prove to be a tasty vegetarian snacking option, especially for kids.

Final Thoughts

What fascinated me most about Istanbul’s food culture is its strong tradition of passing down recipes through generations. Even today, many of the beloved desserts and classics like gozlemes are prepared by experienced chefs who preserve the authentic flavors.

I encourage you to step out of your culinary comfort zone and explore the diverse range of vegetarian dishes available in Istanbul. Just as I’ve shared my personal favorites above, I invite you to curate your own list of cherished vegetarian finds in Istanbul. It’s a rewarding gastronomic adventure waiting to be savored.

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