While Turkish cuisine may be more famous abroad for its meat dishes such as kebab, the truth is that most Turks mainly eat vegan and vegetarian dishes for a majority of their meals and hence, it’s a healthy Mediterranean diet. Thus, many vegan options in Türkiye’s culinary tradition have also been turned into street foods available in most towns and cities throughout the country. Not only do these dishes tend to qualify as fast foods, but they are also, in most cases, the most affordable options for dining out as well.
Check out this list of 10 popular vegan Turkish dishes and meals that you will find available nearly everywhere throughout the country.
The conundrum with çiğ köfte, which translates as “raw meatballs,” is that the dish consisting of spicy finger-sized patties was originally made of raw meat and spices, which can still be the case when it is prepared in households. But ironically, a law rendering the sale of this form of raw meat by restaurants resulted in creating the ultimate affordable take-out and fast-food meal for vegans because the main ingredient has been transformed into bulgur. And so these bright-red spicy patties are fully vegetarian, delicious and slightly spicey and have a number of chain restaurants committed to serving them as well as are available in take-out packages in markets. Customarily, çiğ köfte is either prepared in a lavash wrap with tomatoes, pickles and pomegranate molasses as well as a spicy sauce, or it is eaten with lettuce leaves as a vessel.
Turkish soup-centered restaurants not only offer the most affordable sit-down option for dining in Türkiye, but most of them are also open 24 hours and will always have the vegan option of lentil soup. From ezogelin, which is a tomato-lentil soup with herbs and spices, to mercimek, a plain, smoothly blended creamy-colored lentil soup, both of which are doused with a squeeze of lemon, the soup vendors in Türkiye have vegans covered.
Beans, grains, rice
After soup kitchens and çiğ köfte cafes, the next most affordable indoor and takeout restaurants are those that serve homecooked dishes, which are displayed in a window casing and tend to consist of a variety of stews and bean dishes and rice and bulgur on the side. While most of the stews will admittedly have meat as a main ingredient, most tomato-based bean dishes will not. It’s always best to ask to make sure, and I also always check whether a meat broth was used in the preparation of the rice, but in most cases, it has not, and you can pretty much bet on the bulgur being vegan.
Dolma, i.e., stuffed things
Dolma, which literally translates to “stuffed,” is what the iconic stuffed grapevine leaves are referred to, but it is also the name for any dish that involves stuffing something with a mixture of spiced rice. While some dolma does indeed have meat added to the stuffing, especially when prepared in households, the rule generally is that any stuffed grapevine leaves that you can purchase in bulk take-out containers from markets or charcuteries will be vegan. Sometimes, delicatessens and traditional restaurants will also have stuffed tomatoes and peppers with a filling of tomato-based rice, which will also be a delightful vegan option.
The majority of mezes, which are available at all seafood restaurants in Türkiye, are actually vegan. From smoked eggplant salad to bean dishes, wild greens, pickles and more, mezes are delicious, varied, and in most cast cases, plant-based. This means that even if the restaurant is centered on serving fish, there will still be a lot of options for vegans to feel satiated in such dining experiences. While seafood restaurants are certainly not considered budget or as street foods, mezes made this list because most markets and charcuteries will have mezes that can be purchased in takeout containers.
Like seafood restaurants, most establishments serving köfte will also offer a side salad referred to as piyaz. This refreshing salad based on white beans, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and a vinegar dressing offers a perfect side to Türkiye’s classic meatball dishes but is also a satiating option for vegans.
The fact that Lahmacun, the name for a spicy thin Turkish pizza-like flatbread, has come up on this list may surprise many, but the thing is, in cities and more densely populated areas, a number of restaurants serving this popular meal are now offering vegan variations. This finely chopped tomato, onion and spicy crispy circular pizza is actually Türkiye’s top favored take-out item and its vegan variation offers all of the delicious taste profiles of the original and is divine.
Flatbreads and the Turkish above “pizza” tend to be prepared at a restaurant called a “pide salonu.” Not only are these restaurants affordable and most will deliver, but they also tend to be open at all hours of the day and night. While the menus will admittedly be predominantly based on meat and cheese topping options, Türks do love their greens and will always have an option for an “otlu,” which means herbs flatbread.
Gözleme is a stuffed phyllo-like thin pastry that is grilled on both sides, is generally a huge serving, and is available at nearly all farmer’s markets and many take-away stands or sit-down breakfast restaurants and more. If you see the mainly women cooks sitting down and hand-rolling out thin dough, then you can bet they are doing so to fill it with stuffing and grill it. While a majority are indeed stuffed with cheese, I can also nearly guarantee that there will be vegan options that are loaded with greens or potatoes.
Börek is a term that pretty much refers to most pastries in Türkiye, which are available at pastry shops, many bakers and as to-go items or frozen in markets to be baked at home. While these also tend to be stuffed with cheese or meat, there will almost always be vegan variations stuffed with potatoes.