Vegan Food Turkey: It’s Easier Than You Think
A new adventure was overdue, so a few weeks back we decided to pack up and take a last minute trip to Turkey.
Mickie is a Turkey veteran, having been out there a couple of times before, and I liked what I heard about the place, so we thought we’d just go for it. With some cheap flights and a half price villa booked, we set off.
We stayed near the Lycian Coast, in a remote mountain village called Kadikoy, about a 10 minute drive to Saklikent and roughly 50 minutes from the bigger towns of Kalkan and Fethiye.
Aside from the sun, sea, and beautiful scenery, one thing that drew us to Turkey was the opportunity to experience the different foods. To discover new authentic Turkish dishes and whatnot, and see for ourselves how hard (or in this case easy) it is to live a plant based lifestyle when travelling abroad.
It was an awesome experience, so I thought I’d share it with you. If you ever decide to travel to Turkey, I hope this blog post will have enough info in it to help you get the most out of your trip. Be sure to take note of Mickiesal’s top ten tips too. Girl knows her stuff.
But before we go any further…
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The Basics: Useful Turkish Food Phrases
Courtesy of Wikibooks and Google translate…
|I am vegan||Ben veganım|
|I am vegetarian||Ben vejetaryenim|
|I eat only products of plant origin||Sadece bitki kaynaklı ürünler tüketiyorum|
|I do not eat meat||Et yemiyorum|
|I do not eat fish||Balık yemiyorum|
|I do not consume dairy products||Süt ve süt ürünleri tüketmiyorum|
|I do not eat butter||Ben tereyağı yemem|
|I do not eat anything that comes from an animal||Hayvansal hiçbir şey yemiyorum|
|I do not eat milk||Ben süt yemem|
|I do not eat eggs||Ben yumurta yemem|
|Home-cooking restaurants||Ev Yemekleri|
We printed off a sheet like this before we went, which definitely came in handy in the small rural villages where English isn’t really spoken that much.
If you’re eating out, show the phrase list to the waiter or owner before hand, and at most places they’re really happy to accommodate.
Vegan Turkish Food: Eating Out
We were pretty excited to get out there and try the restaurant food, and for the most part we weren’t disappointed.
Tourism has steadily grown in Turkey, especially in the bigger towns like Fethiye and Kalkan, so a lot of restaurants have started to adapt to please the westerners. It’s a little sad to see, but can’t be helped really. You’ll find plenty of places that serve lots of meat, all day breakfasts, chips, and kebabs. There are still some vegan friendly dishes in most touristy places, but we found that the small, home-cooking restaurants (Ev Yemekleri) were the way to go.
As the name suggests, the home-cooking restaurants are family run, and generally serve the more authentic Turkish food. And it tastes great. There’s still plenty of meat around if you’re into that, but lots of veggies too. They’re usually found in the smaller villages, or randomly dotted along the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.
The home-cooking restaurants are often way cheaper than the places in touristy areas, and give more generous portion sizes, which is handy. Most of the ingredients are usually home-grown and organic, and the food is freshly prepared on site.
On of our favourite restaurants was Bolulu Osman’s in Patara. With a big smile and funny voice, he served us up a giant mixed mezze with bread, hummus, vine leaves, stuffed peppers, aubergines, and beans, along with a Turkish pizza and fruit salad. All this came to around 38 lira for the two of us, which is about £10, or $18. Not bad for a feast. We could hardly move afterwards…
One word of note – I ditched being being gluten free during our trip. Partly to see how it made me feel, but mainly so I could experience all the different foods without having to worry about avoiding gluten all the time. Fresh bread is everywhere, and comes free with most meals. It tastes pretty good too.
I’ve actually just had blood test results that have given me the all clear when it comes to Coeliac disease, so I think I’m gonna start incorporating gluten a little more now.
Anyways, on to the meals…
Traditional Vegan Turkish Main Meals
1. Gözleme: The greatest flatbreads you’ll ever eat
Probably my favourite vegan food in turkey.
We found them mostly in the roadside restaurants in rural areas, but also in the bigger towns too. A Gözleme is basically a Turkish milk-less pancake, made with thin flatbread cooked over a giant griddle. They sometimes like to stuff them with mince meat or cheese, but you can usually get potato and spinach instead. Some places will do onion, mushrooms, and parsley too. They also do sweet varieties, with honey, nuts, and banana, which are really tasty.
We ate a lot of these badboys. One pancake is usually good for a light lunch, but if you have a big appetite, two is probably best. At one place in Saklikent, we ordered four between the two of us, three savoury and one sweet. They served them up and we quickly realised these were a lot bigger than ones we’d had elsewhere. Good job I’m a growing boy…
The gözleme range in price from around 3 lira at roadside restaurants (85p / $1.43), up to 15 lira in fancier places (£4.20 / $7.15). They sometimes like to coat the pancakes in butter, so it’s probably best to check before hand if you don’t wanna eat that. That’s where our phrase sheet came in handy. Some places like to use quite a bit of oil to cook the Gözleme, but most used very little, if any at all.
2. Pide: Yes, cheese-less pizza can work pretty damn well
A kind of Turkish pizza made from thin crispy bread, baked in a traditional wood fire oven. Again, there are loads of different varieties, but in most places you can get them cheese-less with loads of finely cut veg on top. And they’re usually pretty damn good!
The Pide start at about 8 lira (£2.25 / $3.80) in the home-cooking restaurants, but get a little more pricey in the tourist places.
3. Ciğ Köfte Durum: Perfect for on the run
These are big-ass wraps filled with a spicy paste made out of mashed up bulgar wheat, pepper puree, and spices. Back in the day, the paste used to be made from raw meat, but that practice got outlawed a few years ago. Still, it’s probably best to check beforehand, using that good old phrase sheet.
Served cool, the wraps usually come with a pomegranate molasses sauce, salad, and lemon juice, and they taste really good. We found some for 3.50 lira in a small cafe in Fethiye, which comes to about £1 or $1.70.
4. Mixed Mezze: A Mediterranean Classic
The Mezze’s in Turkey are awesome. Specify beforehand and you’ll get a mixture of veggie dishes, cold or hot. Aubergines and peppers stuffed with rice and veg, okra and green beans cooked in a sauce, vine leaves stuffed with herbs and rice, spicy borlotti beans, hummus, and fresh bread of course.
We ordered mezze as a starter a few times, and it was always good. Sometimes a little oily, but still delicious. They range in price from about 7 to 15 lira (£1.95 – £4.20 / $3.30 – $7.10).
5. Vegetable Casseroles: Sweet and Simple
Most restaurants will have some sort of veggie casserole going. If not, you can usually get cheeseless moussaka if you ask nicely. They’re typically filled with a load of aubergines, peppers, onions and courgettes a nice tomatoey sauce, served with rice and bread. Again, between 7 to 15 lira is pretty standard. (£1.95 – £4.20 / $3.30 – $7.10).
Turkish Vegan Snacks & Desserts
If you’re after something a little lighter, there are plenty of plant based snacks and treats to choose from too.
1. Good Old Fruits and Veggies
I’ve never seen so many fresh fruits and veggies in my life. Small grocers can be found dotted around most villages, but the serious markets are usually found in the bigger towns and cities. The one on a Tuesday in Fethiye was especially good.
Most of the produce is seasonal, locally grown, organic, and very affordable. At Fethiye we had a big bag of cherries for 2 lira – which is about a dollar, or 50p. Crazy.
The variety of fruit is huge – lots of apricots, big peaches, oranges, figs, grapes, berries. It all tastes amazing. Melons are everywhere too, and you’ll find plenty of stalls set up on the side of main roads selling them. Apparently they taste pretty good, but I’m not a huge fan.
Turkey is ideal if you’re frutarian or if you like experimenting with the whole 80-10-10 thing. You could do it really cheaply over there, and the fruit tastes so good.
2. A Little Treat: Turkish Delight
Probably not as healthy as a piece of fresh fruit, but damn good, and easy to find. Usually comes in a whole load of different flavours. Banana, pineapple, strawberry and cinnamon were some of our favourites.
The traditional turkish stuff is usually made with cornstarch, rather than gelatin, which is used in some western versions. But it may be worth checking just in case. Some of the more milky looking ones do actually contain milk, so avoid them if you’re not a dairy fan.
A sweet mixture of tahini and sugar in a dense, nougat like block, which can be eaten cold or served hot and melted. Halva comes in a few different flavours, most commonly vanilla or chocolate. It’s often mixed with pistachios. The Turkish love their pistachios…
A jelly like block made from condensed down carrots, often filled with a variety of nuts. Cezerye usually comes in lots of different flavours – the pomegranate one we tried was pretty good. Mickie used her haggling skills to get a well good price. The amount of sugar used in the cezerye can vary widely from place to place. Some will do varieties with no added sugar at all, if you’re into that.
I couldn’t find a good image of cezerye that I could use for free, so take a look here if you’re interested.
5. Dried fruit and nuts
Found at most markets and big shops. Everything from dried apricots, pineapple, kiwi, dates, even tomatoes. The nuts are great too, and again the choice is vast.
Do it Yourself Turkish Vegan Recipes
Sure, the restaurants and cafes are great, but somedays you might just wanna do your own thing. Again, there are plenty of options.
We were lucky to have a decent kitchen at the villa we stayed in, so we did a lot of our own cooking. We whipped up a few tagines, rice curries and Mexican beans during our stay, and even had a go at making our own Ciğ Köfte Durum (which didn’t quite live up to the Turkish made ones).
Staples like beans and rice are easy to find in most small shops, as well as in the big supermarkets, and they’re cheap. Bulgar wheat is big in Turkey if you’re into that, and oats are easy to find too.
As I said, the fresh fruits and veggies are so good. Aubergines, courgettes, peppers, onions, cucumbers and potatoes are easy to find. There’s a huge variety of spices at the markets and most small shops too. We picked up a bag of Turkish saffron for pennies.
Just as a heads up, there are a few things you won’t find as much, but that’s to be expected. Brown rice, hummus, tofu, and soy milk aren’t all that common, but it would probably be boring if they were. Bananas aren’t everywhere, and fresh lettuce isn’t big in the small villages we visited, but there was loads at the markets in the bigger towns.
Adventure & Fun: Things to do in South West Turkey
If you ever decide to travel near the Saklikent/Fethiye/Kalkan area, there are a few places that are worth checking out.
1. Saklikent Gorge.
For 5 lira you get to hike up the deep gorge, cut through the mountains by glacial meltwater. If you like being humbled by nature, as well as scrambling over rocks and wading through chest high streams, then it’s for you. Get there early to avoid the crowds.
2. The Blue Lagoon.
A pebble beach at the village of Oludeniz, apparently one of the top 5 in the world. The calm turquoise waters are awesome for swimming, and there are plenty of big rocks to jump off. You can hire pedalos and canoes pretty cheaply too, or head up to the skies for some paragliding if you’re really keen.
3. Tlos Ruins.
The 4000 year old ruins of an ancient Lycian citadel. Breathtaking. Go check it out.
4. Kayaköy Ghost Town.
The ghost town, abandoned at the start of the 20th century. Sounds cool already doesn’t it? I cant remember why exactly it was abandoned. I don’t ask questions. All I know is that it’s now a giant playground for exploring. Just look out for the goats…
MickieSal’s Top Ten Turkey Tips
This next part of the post is written by a special girl called Mickie from Halycon Living. There’s some useful tips and tricks in here, so listen up!
As Luke said, salad is pretty scarce, apart from at the markets and more tourist-y areas. If you’re staying in a village like we did, it’s worth finding out if they have a market. Kadikoy had a small one every Monday that had a couple of fruit and veg stands where you can pick up salad without straying far. They also sell really comfy Turkish trousers (great for the heat) for 15 lira each, about £4/$7!
The Turkish people love haggling. They actually want you to at the markets. I was chief haggler and it paid off. Set a price in your mind and go lower, and you’ll most likely pay what you want. Just be persistent! Some places, like local grocers or the village restaurants with unclear price lists, will try and charge you more because you’re foreign. Don’t let them! Always confirm a price before you buy. We did this once after realising we’d paid way more for our gozleme than we should have, the next time we agreed on a price before we ordered.
Consider how you are going to get around before you arrive. The Lycian Coast spans far, with many places to visit, and if you’re like us you’re going to want to explore as much as possible.
You can book with tour operators which will take you by coach or by safari, but these run from the main towns and not from the villages. They can also be a bit restrictive with set times. You could get the dolmus, which is a small bus service. These are cheap and regular, but can take a while due to stopping through different villages. Where we stayed the dolmus ran roughly every half hour towards Fethiye and Saklikent. It took around an hour and a half to reach Fethiye, which is normally a 50 minute journey. It also would take us around half an hour to walk from our villa to the village to get on the bus. Not fun in the searing heat.
I’d recommend hiring a car like we did. You can pre-book or sort one out whilst you’re there. Normally pre-booking means collecting them from the airport, but if you’re staying in the middle of nowhere and will be arriving late, I would suggest organising a transfer and getting the dolmus into a town to hire a car. We did this and sorted out a deal for £20 a day and then we were allowed to upgrade to a small diesel car for an extra £20, bargain! If you don’t want this added expense, stay nearer the towns such as in Fethiye or Calis beach, where the dolmus service are much better and widely served!
4. Location, location, location!
If you’re anything like us, you’ll not bee too fond of tacky touristy places. Whilst Luke has painted a lovely picture of mountains, ruins and beaches, Turkey still has it’s fair share of Magaluf-esque towns.
North of Dalaman airport is where you’ll find most of them, such as Bodrum and Marmaris. There aren’t loads in the Lycian coast, but the ones you’d want to steer clear of are Hisaronu, Ovacik and Olu Deniz. Whilst Olu Deniz is home to the world famous blue lagoon blue flagged beach, the actual town is a bit tacky.
But, if places advertising all day hangover breakfasts are your kind of thing, these may be the choice of location for you! If being in the middle of nowhere also isn’t your thing then check out places such as Kalkan and Fethiye. Kalkan is expensive, but caters well to tourists whilst still retaining it’s authentic fishing village feel. Fethiye is busier and has everything you need, but definitely still has that Turkish town atmosphere.
Only exchange a small amount of money before you go. The exchange rates in Turkey are usually much better. Just get enough to see you through. Also, if you will be hiring a car over there, take English cash as this is what they tend to prefer.
If you don’t like parsley, learn how to ask for your food without it. It’s used a lot in Turkish cooking, especially in potato gozleme. “Hayır maydanoz, teşekkür ederim!” is the translation for ‘No parsley, thank you!’. Might wanna add that one to your list…
7. Last minute travelling!
It can be risky, but rewarding. We booked our holiday 2 days before jetting off. I’ve been organising villas for my family for quite a few years now, and have developed some good bargaining skills.
Not long before you, go check out villa letting sites. Search for your holiday dates and I guarantee that there will be villas or apartments (whichever you prefer) still available. Email and ask for a discount, the worse they can say is sorry, no. I emailed round asking if we could get 2 weeks for the price of 1, and in the end that’s what we had! Villa owners would nearly always prefer to be getting in some money than none at all, so they appreciate last minute bookings (as long as they wouldn’t be making a loss).
8. Travel food!
When booking flights consider your flight times. Will you be due a meal? If so I’d recommend booking an in-flight vegan meal, even if you’re not vegan,you won’t regret it! We flew with Thomas Cook and we paid for an extra bundle to get our baggage, seats and meals which worked out so our meals were essentially free! We were dubious, but it turned out great!
On the way out we had a veg biriyani with a bread roll, crackers, vegan spread, an apple, raisins, marmite (we’re not fans!) and orange juice. On our return it was a Moroccan Tagine with cous cous similar side snacks. They were delicious! Although, beware if you’re travelling with hungry people like I did, as the portions aren’t huge! But, these meals were invaluable on the way back from Turkey where the airport is full of fast food and the healthiest thing you’ll find is a Mcdonalds salad (yuk!).
On the way out it’s easier to stock up on additional food for the flight. If you’re flying from the UK see if there’s a Starbucks at the airports as they now sell vegan gluten free humous and roasted vegetable wraps, yum! Places like boots are great to stock up on drinks and fruit bags, and there may even be a Mi Casa Burrito or similar (like there was in Manchester where we flew from) for a pre flight meal!
9. Sun protection is vital!
The heat is Turkey is intense and the sun is out from around 7am until about 8:30pm in the summer! Be sure to protect your skin against the sun’s harmful rays by wearing at least SPF30 and check for a 5 star UVA protection. These stars are important! We used Boot’s soltan range which was on half price offer for £5 a bottle, which is very cheap compared to other brands! It offered this crucial 5* UVA protection at SPF30 and you could also get variations, such as ones that contained insect repellent!
10. Water Shoes.
This trip to Turkey was my 3rd time visiting the country and this region, therefore I knew the exact thing that me and Luke needed. Water shoes! Most beaches are pebbled and so these are great for protecting your feet in the sea, and if you plan on climbing the rocks around the bays. If you plan on visiting Saklikent gorge, or the nearby Gizlikent waterfall, then these are essential!
Whilst you can buy or hire shoes there, they are not nice and are really uncomfortable with little grip. Our water shoes actually made my third trip to Saklikent the most enjoyable! They were hot tuna ones purchased from Sports Direct, you will need a few sizes smaller so I’d recommend trying them on in the shops before you buy.
Also, a bonus tip for Saklikent is to take as little as possible, as your stuff will get wet! This is made easier if you have a hire care, as you can leave everything in there. We just took our car key, wrapped in lots of plastic bags, and the entrance fee with us. Also wear as little as possible, especially don’t wear denim as your clothes will get wet. I wore my bikini with just a vest top over and Luke wore just shorts (and our awesome shoes), and have spare clothes and a towel in the car just in case. Also take a waterproof camera or put it in waterproof casing if possible. The less stuff you have to carry the more enjoyable you’ll find it and the less you’ll have to worry about damaging your stuff!
There you have it, my top ten tips! I hope they are useful and encourage you to visit the beautiful country of Turkey for your next holiday or adventure. Thank you for taking the time to read through!
Turkish Adventures: Wrap Up
All in all, the whole experience was amazing, and I’d definitely recommend checking Turkey out if you haven’t already. And it wasn’t just the food, the scenery, the sun and the sea – it was the Turkish people who made it great too.
Most of those we came across were so generous. Like this guy, Ibrahim, the local village green grocer. What a hero. He kept inviting us to his feast at the end of Ramadan, and was always happy to help out any way he could. Maybe it was just because we were tourists, but it didn’t feel that way.
And despite the language barriers and cultural differences, almost all restaurants and cafes were happy to accommodate our weird dietary needs. They may not have understood why we ate like we did, but they were always respectful and willing to help.
That was cool to see.
A Few More Useful Resources
1. Vegan Backbacker. Some useful tips for the travelling vegan.
2. Happy Cow. A directory of veg friendly restaurants across the globe.
3. Trip advisor. Cool things to do and see in Turkey.
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