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Vegetarian Turkish Cuisine: The Meat Trend is a Myth



Vegetarian Turkish Cuisine: The Meat Trend is a Myth

Vegetarian Turkish Cuisine: The Meat Trend is a Myth

When I speak to people who have not visited Turkey, often their first impression is a country full of meat lovers, existing on the typical donor kebab. However, the truth lies at the opposite end of the spectrum. High prices of meat and a history of excellent produce farming ensure meat is not eaten daily.

Turkish cuisine also has a subtle blend of other cultures including Armenian, Georgian, Greek and Iran and it is worth remembering that the Ottoman Empire ruled for more than 400 years and they employed the best chefs to construct recipes that were dripped into the mainstream public and passed down through generations of families.

The result is a national cuisine that has captured the eyes of the world because of its diversity, especially when looking at vegetable dishes. These days, restaurants are keener than ever before, to accommodate western visitors with their vegetarian menu choices.

Food Ideas for Vegetarian Turkish Cuisine

Salad and Bread Are in Abundance

Salad is a dish eaten every day in Turkey. Full of fresh, natural and tasty produce, the humble salad accompanies most meals and typical ingredients include tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, and onion. Called Çoban Salatası (shepherd’s salad) if asked, chefs will add extra ingredients like white cheese or lettuce. Complementing the taste is a traditional dressing of olive oil and lemon with crusty, fresh bread, another staple product of a Turk’s daily diet.

Pastry Delights – Gözleme and Börek

Any tourist on a food budget, while in Turkey, should taste Gözleme. Sold in roadside restaurants and at the local market, it is an extremely cheap dish of soft pastry and a variety of fillings of which the most popular are white cheese, potatoes and spinach. Closely related and sold in smaller portions from local bakery shops is the humble börek. Avoid the ground mince version and choose cheese or spinach.

Cheap Jacket Potatoes

Mainstreams restaurants largely neglect the humble jacket potato (Kumpir) but it is one of Turkey’s most popular street food choices, especially in the Ortaköy district of Istanbul. Fillings include Russian salad, onions, cheese, sweetcorn, salad ingredient, beetroot, mayonnaise and olives. Sit down and eat it as a quick bite or take it to go but either way, it is another cheap dish for those on a budget.

Simple but Tasty Menemen

Local restaurants in remote places may just sell the typical kebab or meatball (köfte) dish, without vegetarian options. On occasions like this, ask the waiter if the chef can cook Menemen, and the response will be a positive yes because it is a dish they can rustle up from everyday ingredients.

Normally served for breakfast but sometimes lunch or an early evening meal, it consists of tomatoes, peppers and onions simmered in an oven top pan with eggs. Sprinkle with olive oil and chives for an extra kick, then when the dish is finished; wipe the plate clean with fresh bread.

Corbalar : Soup, Soup and more Soup

Turks are experts at making soups and this is possibly a throwback to the days when soup was the standard Turkish breakfast. Soup kitchens and Turkish restaurants also do a roaring trade when nightclubs have closed their doors because soup is the widely preferred choice to soak up the alcohol.

Served with bread and salad, this is another cheap eat and vegetarian versions include Mercimek (lentil), Ezo Gelin (lentil, tomatoes and mint). Otherwise tomato soup with grated yellow cheese sprinkled on top to form a melting and stringy mess is another delicious choice.

Mezes (Appetizers)

Mezes have an important place in Turkish cuisine and because of this; can also be a main course when served with salads or bread. A waiter will normally bring a large selection to the table or diners choose from a glass cabinet.

Sample vegetable dishes like beans soaked in olive oil, with a touch of garlic or sarma, a blend of rice and herbs wrapped in vine leaves. The simple Sigara böreği is white cheese, wrapped in crusty pastry and deep fried but heed the warning that they can be addictive!

Footnote : A popular foodie tour in Istanbul is the Circle Istanbul walking trip, taking visitors around the local hotspots to teach them about the history, culture and of course, Turkish cuisine.

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Natalie Sayin

Natalie Sayin is an avid traveler who enjoys visiting destinations within Turkey to learn about the history, the culture, the people, food and regional trends. From the East to the West, her aim is to see it all.

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