This is a tricky one, gluten free in Turkey.
Vegetarian? Easy. Just ask for no meat and there will always be options. No fish or eggs in your meal is also possible. Gluten free is the real challenge.
I certainly don’t wish to put people on restricted diets off going to Turkey, an outstanding place with fabulous food but wheat, gluten and sugar are difficult to avoid in Istanbul. All of the most common dishes usually contain wheat, nuts and other allergens.
I have put together some restaurants, shops and general dining suggestions for the gluten or sugar-free traveller:
What to avoid:
- Turkish people love their bread and pasta but they even like to shove gluten in to things where it really doesn’t belong: most local restaurants serve rice with orzo pasta or barley mixed through the rice
- Kofte, or Turkish meatballs, are made with bread
- Turkish tea is made without sugar, Turkish coffee can also be made sugar free. Sahlep is a hot, sweet drink made from orchid roots and milk. It’s popular in Turkey and the surrounding countries, it is almost always served with sugar
- Wheat is used as thickening in most soups. I find that staff in restaurants often have no idea what is actually in the dishes, so it’s best to assume that soups are unsafe
- Sugar free chocolate and sugar substitutes are not very common
- It’s not unusual to find bulgur wheat in salads
Where/What to eat:
Buhara 93 in Sultanahmet is run by a friendly, English-speaking owner who will prepare Gluten Free, delicious meals upon request. He is generally accommodating of people with special dietary requirements (website in Turkish)
Heirloom Istanbul – a beautiful cafe tucked away in the back streets of Cihangir. Everything is made from scratch and sugar free cakes and sahlep is on the menu. The staff actually know what is in the food on the menu, which includes meat and vegetarian dishes. Goat’s cheese is available as an alternative to cow’s cheese and things can be made without bread. Heirloom closes quite early but it is perfect for breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea.
Those wonderful people at Gluten Free Travel Site led me to find Lokanta Maya in Karakoy (Kemankes Caddesi 35-A Karakoy, Istanbul) which is a high-end restaurant that caters to gluten free, sugar free and vegetarian diners. It’s not specifically Turkish food, serving steaks, meze and fish. Lokanta Maya is rather pricey for Turkey, but if you fancy a special meal that is guaranteed to fit your specifications then it’s worth a visit.
Halk Ekmek is a company that is throughout Turkey that sells gluten free bread and organic flour and bread – apparently they used to use wheat starch but not anymore. City Farms is an organic shop with several different locations that sells imported gluten-free crackers, flour and other products – often with English and French labels.
It’s best to be prepared with “safe” snacks and don’t forget to print your Turkish gluten free card from celiactravel.com