After telling you about the airline food from his flight there and his flight back, Josh has finally found time to write about his recent work trip to Istanbul and it sounds so amazing that I think I’ll be booking a ticket to go there myself. Read on to find out what Josh had to say:
My first stop was the Vegan Dükkan (dükkan=shop), a small but brilliantly stocked shop in the Beyoğlu/Taksim area. The owner – Tarkan – was very friendly and thankfully speaks wonderful English. He told me that there are not that many vegans in Istanbul but he enjoys running the shop and being a part of the community.
The shop has some wonderful products including a world-class range of plant-based milks. Other items of note were the various types of tofu and other vegan meats, as well as the SAF products (remember SAF, the restaurant that had two locations in London?).
The range of toiletries and household products was overwhelming but I had no room in my carry-on luggage for non-food items.
Tarkan mentioned that it is very hard to import food into Turkey so he relies heavily on Turkish products but would like to get more imported goods. I thought the shop was fantastic and a must-visit for any vegan visiting Istanbul. I took several goodies back to my hotel including this outrageously good raspberry cheesecake by SAF.
Next on my list was the Community Kitchen located just off İstiklâl Caddesi which is the main shopping street in Beyoğlu. It wasn’t hard to find, just a short walk downhill from the main drag and easily spotted by the cute LED lights spelling out ‘VEGAN FOOD’.
The staff were very pleasant and explained that they didn’t have a printed menu as it changed all the time. The offerings that night were a mezze platter or a seitan kebab. As I was with my colleague, we decided to get both dishes and share them. It’s worth pointing out at this stage that if you don’t like aubergine/eggplant then Turkey just might not be the best place for you to visit as they are everywhere. Thankfully I love them as the mezze platter consisted of four different variations on aubergine/eggplant, each tasting remarkably different. My favourite by far were the stuffed mini-aubergines which had a richly-spiced rice and tomato filling. These small aubergines are common in Istanbul and they can be bought hollowed out and dried in the markets. They are partially rehydrated and then stuffed and baked. Delicious! The mezze platter also came with a dip made with red peppers, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, paprika, parsley and other magical ingredients, all of which were matched perfectly by the fresh-baked bread.
The rich and chewy seitan kebab came on a bed of hummus and torn bits of pitta bread and was topped by a tangy tomato sauce which was pleasantly spiced (I tasted cumin amongst other spices). I might have misunderstood, but I think the owner said the seitan was made with chickpea flour but it certainly tasted very gluten-y. It was a very tasty dish but I’m glad my colleague was there to help finish it as it was a lot even for me.
Of course we couldn’t leave without trying the desserts and we had a wholemeal pistachio brownie. It wasn’t earth-shattering and I’m not a fan of wholemeal flour but if you were after a sweet treat that isn’t too decadent, then this would do nicely.
My final (and favourite) vegan stop in Istanbul was on the morning of my departure. Tarkan (owner of Vegan Dükkan) had told me to check out the vegan brunch at Bi’ Nevi in Karakoy (not to be confused with Kadikoy!) and boy am I glad he told me about it! The place can only seat about 18 people or so inside and there were no indoor seats left by the time I arrived but thankfully it wasn’t too cold to sit outside. If you plan to visit – get there early! The owner was incredibly friendly and welcoming and in her brilliant English told me all about their homemade vegan cheeses and other delightfully crafted dishes.
The brunch was so tasty with such an incredible array of dishes that I’ll let the photos do most of the talking and just give special mention to the ‘cheese’ and spinach rolls… I think I had three and could have happily grabbed the whole platter and run away with them. The flaky filo pastry was bursting with savoury spinach and nutty cheese flavours complimented by a rich olive-oil aftertaste. So. Very. Good.
From what I understand, I only scraped the surface of vegan Istanbul with lots more places to try on my next visit. Although FGV wanted me to write about the food, I have to mention just what a beautiful city Istanbul is. Make the effort to get there and check out all the places mentioned above – you’ll love it. Teşekkür ederim İstanbul!