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Expat guide: All about vegan scene in Türkiye

Leyla Yvonne Ergil

In honor of Nov. 1, which is World Vegan Day, I thought it would be apropos to share what life is like as a vegan in Türkiye. From festivals to restaurants and bakeries, takeaway and orderable faux-meat products, Turks have developed a new-wave culinary tradition exclusive to plant-based and kind-living foods

In my humble opinion, Turkish cuisine has always been conducive for vegetarians and vegans. From the home cooking staples, consisting of vegetable stews and olive-oil-based mezes, to the fresh salads that are ever present in nearly every type of restaurant there is here, it has never been hard to satiate vegans in Türkiye. Fish restaurants pretty much always have an array of mezes available, and meat restaurants are the same. Even köfte shops tend to have a salad bar or will serve the customary white-bean salad that accompanies the meatballs the country is famed for. That said, the locales where a vegan would face difficulties could be döner stands and shops that specialize exclusively in fish sandwiches, traditional “tost” stands that specialize in decked-out grilled cheese sandwiches, as well as, of course, the late-night offal vendors all of which a vegan would admittedly be hard pressed to find something delicious to eat.

Best vegan fast-food snack

Suppose you are a vegan and a night owl. In that case, however, there is always the extremely affordable and widely available çiğ föfte, which, although historically, was a raw meat product. Hence, the name has, ever since 2008, become exclusively vegan. When the Ministry of Health deemed the raw meat variation unfit for sale, a new variation, which is prepared with bulgur and spices, began to pop up prolifically and sold by fast food joints bearing the name çiğ köfte.

While the meat variation is still prepared in households, the çiğ köfte sold in restaurants and supermarkets is vegan. However, it is still wise to always read the ingredients to ensure a beef stock hasn’t been incorporated into the mix. These spicy finger-sized and shaped patties are traditionally rolled into a lavash wrap and accompanied by tomatoes, pickles and sweet pomegranate molasses, as well as a spicy pepper-based dipping sauce. It is also consumed without the wrap with lettuce leaves used as a bun to scoop the patties up. Çiğ köfte restaurants are plentiful, with many open late and offering takeout services.

Evolution of vegan classics

For those vegans who miss the flavors of meat, Türkish cuisine has taken on an exciting twist: plant-based brands popping up that prepare classic Turkish meat preparations in a vegan variation. Some products that come to mind would be vegan sucuk, vegan döner, vegan köfte and even vegan schnitzel. And then, of course, there are also a wide array of vegan cheeses that are available online. Some of the most popular brands to look out for are Veggy, Eat Vappy, It’z Nutz, Yaşam Vegan, Cheezmir, Newer Foods, Quorn, Bi Nevi Deli and so much more.

Traditional Turkish meatless çiğ köfte. (Getty Images Photo)
Traditional Turkish meatless çiğ köfte. (Getty Images Photo)

2 mega vegan festivals

It has now become a steadfast tradition that at least two major vegan festivals are held each year in Türkiye. One of these is the International Istanbul Vegfest, which took place last Saturday at the Haliç Congress Center. This multiple-stage event, dubbed the largest vegan festival in Europe, had parallel talks, workshops, and performances in multiple halls as well as stands, presenting a wide variety of vegan foods, products, gifts and textiles. Speakers came out from all over the world from organizations such as PETA. There were veterinarians, psychologists and animal search and rescue experts who all delivered talks, while writers, directors and musicians also shared their connection to this cruelty-free lifestyle.

The Didim Vegfest, Türkiye’s oldest vegan lifestyle-geared festival, was a three-day affair this year that took place right next to this beloved coastal town’s Temple of Apollo. Set in a carnival-like atmosphere, there were talks, workshops, stands and entertainment such as hikes as well as blowout concert performances. Pretty much all of the vegan restaurants and product brands made a showing with the town’s streets transforming into a vast food court. This particular event makes for the perfect timing to discover the Didim region and has enough activities transpiring on the sidelines to entertain anyone, vegan or not.

Take a vegan vacation

VeganKamp is an organization that hosts getaways supporting the vegan lifestyle. At the start of September, they held a four-night and five-day vegan event at an apart in Çanakkale’s Geyikli that featured seminars, workshops and activities such as dance classes and games. The seminars included discussions on how to answer the questions that tend to be repeatedly asked of vegans and how to prepare for an emergency as a vegan. In contrast, workshops included topics such as making vegan mayonnaise and tiramisu as well as how to use seitan to prepare products such as vegan sucuk, all interspersed with entertaining and engaging activities such as sandcastle competitions and beach volleyball.

Cafes, restaurants, bakeries, more

As one can see, the vegan lifestyle is on the rise here in Türkiye as it is throughout the world, and thankfully so. It is a more sustainable way to consume food and does not contribute to the deaths of animals or animal cruelty. The vegan diet is also revered for its health benefits and the plant-based diet combined with the ingredients in the Mediterranean diet makes for the healthiest way to eat, as evidenced by multiple studies. The number of cafes, restaurants, bakeries and shops that cater to the vegan diet is also fast on the rise, so much so that my next article will be devoted entirely to the newest and most popular vegan establishments throughout Türkiye.

Courtesy: Dailysabah