Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Eating Gluten-Free in Istanbul


Turkey is by no means notoriously gluten-free friendly. Upon traveling to Istanbul, I was unsure of which Turkish delicacies I'd be able to indulge on. In the land of kebabs and baklava, I was afraid of arriving with an empty stomach and failing to find anything safe for Celiacs. Thankfully, with a little bit of research and a lot of help from the friendly Turkish people, I was able to taste my way through Istanbul one gluten-free bite at a time.


First and foremost, if you are traveling to Istanbul and have Celiac Disease or a gluten intolerance, I highly recommend printing out a Turkish gluten-free restaurant card like this one to give to your waiters at restaurants. I didn't find any eateries in Istanbul that had special gluten-free menus, and not every waiter knows what gluten is. Using this card helped me enjoy traditional Turkish treats without ever getting sick.

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BREAKFAST


Though finding a gluten-free breakfast in Istanbul is a difficult feat, thankfully it's not impossible. Our breakfast buffet at Big Apple Hostel included a myriad of naturally gluten-free goodies such as yogurt with honey, sweet jams, grilled bell peppers, feta, cucumber, fruit, olives, meats and cheeses. I recommend booking a hotel or hostel where a similar spread is offered, because the chances of finding a gluten-free breakfast at a nearby bakery or café are rather slim. 

LUNCH

A Döner Kebab without bread

When in Turkey, do as the Turkish do... meaning, eat kebabs! I had no problem ordering this famous dish without the flatbread. Döner meat - lamb, beef, pork or chicken roasted vertically on a spit and shaved into thin slices - is generally gluten-free, but always ask your waiter about it just in case. Combined with some hummus, Tzatziki sauce, eggplant and French fries, this dish is an economical way to send your taste buds to Turkish heaven.

The quest for kumpir

One of the Turkish friends we met suggested that we venture down to the waterfront near Beşıktaş for the street food, namely the stuffed baked potatoes called kumpirKumpir is a street food staple in Istanbul, notorious for its mind-boggling array of toppings and endless combinations of flavors. We loaded our potatoes with corn, sour cream, butter, cheese, pickled beets, olives, tomatoes and other colorful garnishes. 

We got ridiculously lost trekking to this area from Taksim Square, and we were caught off guard by how far away it was. But without a doubt, these baked potatoes were worth it! To find these savory spuds, wander down to Beşıktaş - one of the stops for most popular Bosphorus river cruises (just east of Dolmabahçe Palace). You can find them in the covered area of food stalls across from the Beşıktaş docks and the BeerPort. Apparently, you can find more kumpir stands near the Ortaköy Mosque as well.

SNACKS

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...

If you get the munchies near Taksim Square, be sure to snack on some roasted chestnuts from the street vendors! Wash it down with some tart pomegranate juice for a truly refreshing treat. Or, pick up some dried fruit and nuts from Istanbul's Spice Bazaar to take with you as you explore the city. The delectable pistachios, hazelnuts, dates and figs make for the perfect gluten-free snack on the go!

Freshly squeezed pomegranate juice
Dried fruit and nuts from the Spice Bazaar

DINNER

Lamb tomato stew from Palatium

Though finding a gluten-free dinner in Istanbul requires a bit of patience, it's worth any extra effort.

Meze, or appetizers, can easily be made gluten-free. I recommend starting with a plate of dolma, or stuffed grape leaves with rice and herbs. When ordering your main course, be weary of soups, stews and meatballs. When in doubt, show your waiter your restaurant card! Also be sure to stay away from rice pilaf, because it almost always has orzo in it.

I had great luck eating at Palatium, located above the ruins of the Great Palace of Constantinople. I loved their lamb tomato stew so much, I went there twice! All I had to do was order it without the bread. Overall, the waiters at Palatium were incredibly patient and accommodating.

(But a word for the wise: as picturesque as they may be, do not  sit in the beanbag chairs... unless you want to leave the restaurant with a few flea bites. Yuck!)

One of the best meals I had in Istanbul was at Imbat, on the top floor of the Orient Express Hotel. As one of Istanbul's top rated restaurants on Tripadvisor, Imbat did not disappoint! The staff was very knowledgable about which dishes contained gluten, and they even offered me gluten-free bread (that tasted surprisingly normal). I ordered the baked leg of lamb slices marinated with milk, onion and paprika and served with Aegean rice, and now I just want to go back in time and relish this meal again.

Dessert:

Sky rockets in flight, Turkish Delight

For dessert, you can't go wrong with some classic lokum, or Turkish Delight. Because Turkish Delight is made from corn starch, it is naturally gluten-free. The best Turkish Delight I found was from the Spice Bazaar and Hafiz Mustafa near the Blue Mosque. At Hafiz Mustafa, we savored rose, pomegranate and pistachio lokum in their elegant sitting room alongside piping hot cups of sweet apple tea and black çay  tea. The delightful flavors and ambiance made me forget about all of the baklava I was missing out on!

Savoring apple and çay tea with a view at Charm Hotel's rooftop lounge

Although I thought being a Celiac would hinder me from experiencing traditional Turkish cuisine, I was surprised by how much of it I got to enjoy in Istanbul. Though it took some effort, I left Istanbul with a happy heart and a full belly!


Do you have any food allergies or intolerances? 
How do you survive them while traveling?

29 comments:

  1. Although I probably need to reduce my intake of gluten-related carbs, reading your blog has reminded me of how fortunate us non-celiacs are to be able to indulge in flour-containing goodies. But I learned a lot reading your practical, specific pieces of advice for eating gluten-free in one of the world’s most fascinating cities—that kebab-on-a-plate looks delish and I had no idea kumpir existed! Loved your photo of the Turkish Delight :D

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  2. Haha from what I ate pre-Celiac in Turkey, I'm surprised to see so many options (and droolworthy photos)! That baked potato looked delicious and seriously filling. Ugh, I haven't had anything resembling a kebab in a while and now I only want that!

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  3. I swear by those gluten free reminder cards, printed in various languages - oftentimes, they're a lifesaver as many restaurants and far-flung cities (or even big ones like Istanbul) dont know about Celiac Disease or gluten. Thanks for the tips - already looking forward to my next Turkey trip to use your tips!

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  4. I have to remind myself not to look at your posts when I'm hungry - everything looks so delectable!! Thanks for the tips, I really don't have a gluten intolerance but I enjoy gluten-free because I end up feeling so much lighter (as long as I'm not only eating cheese). Can't wait to head to Turkey!

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  5. I think it's so wonderful that you do these GF round-up posts... they are so helpful to so many out there! I just saw that someone posted your link in this Czech forum I visit when someone asked where to eat GF in Prague :))
    (and wow- the view of the mosque form that last picture with the pretty teas-- incredible!)

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  6. Thank you Trevor!! Enjoy all the gluten you can when you travel, because I've got to live vicariously through you haha :)

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  7. Oh, don't we all! Those kebabs were the best drunchies back in my gluten eating days. It's sad to have to turn down the real thing so often :( But then again, the whole not-getting-violently-ill-after-every-meal thing makes it kinda worth it. I guess.

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  8. I'm so glad you found these tips hopeful! Those cards are the best, aren't they? They've truly been my lifesaver here in Europe!

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  9. Thanks Cynthia! That makes me so happy to know that people are actually reading my tips :D I always do a ton of research before I travel to new places that aren't known for being GF friendly, but I can never find as much information as I'd like. Thankfully, doing the research myself has a lot of tasty benefits ;)

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  10. Haha thank you Lian! Everything was truly delicious :) And I totally know what you mean about the cheese. I just want to eat cheese all day every day... the struggle is real!

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  11. YES! That's what I would always get after the clubs in France (they don't beat the ones in Germany though). Ask me the day after I YOLO'd a kebab :P jk, I would never.
    I recently tried to "test" to see if it was still a thing—the Celiac denial phase, I guess. But short story, I still am!

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  12. Oh wow! All of it looks so amazingly delicious....I can almost smell it through the screen! I'm so glad you were able to find dishes to suit your needs!

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  13. I didn't know you were Celiac! Turkey is a good country for eating gluten free. :) My boyfriend has gluten intolerance and I recall that he was able to find good stuff there! Personally, I love the stuffed grape leaves!!

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  14. All of your Turkish food choices look like great picks for anyone - gluten intolerant or not! Istanbul has been on my bucket list for a while now so I'm really enjoying posts like this :)

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  15. I found Turkey pretty good for being lactose-intolerant too - I just had to avoid the occasional yoghurt or cheese topping. So many delicious meals!

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  16. Thanks Jamie, it was definitely a relief to be able to enjoy Istanbul's phenomenal cuisine!

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  17. The stuffed grape leaves are the BEST! They were even better in Greece though :) How has traveling through Asia been with his gluten intolerance? That's one of the things that makes me the most nervous about going there!

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  18. Thanks Em! I hope you get the chance to go there soon!

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  19. I'm so glad it was fairly easy for you to avoid dairy there! I had no idea Turkey would be so food-intolerance-friendly! Just another reason why Istanbul is amazing :)

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  20. It's not a problem at all in Asia because you can just get rice! We ate soooo much rice noodles every meal in Vietnam. It's like the best country ever for Celiacs.

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  21. That's a huge relief to hear! Wow! Thanks so much - when/if I make it over to Asia, I may need to pick your brain more :)

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  22. So many pretty colors!! Love the meat man with the pomegranates. Perfect!

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  23. Thanks for all of this great information! I am revisiting Istanbul in a couple months, now with a host of dietary restrictions that I didn't have to deal with last time. So this article was a HUGE help! Do you mind if I include this in a round up post I am doing concerning resources for eating gluten-free abroad?

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  24. Thanks Nora! Please let me know if you find any other good GF places while you're there - I'm always looking for recommendations for the next time I make it to Turkey! And I'd be honored to be included in your round up :)

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  25. Thanks, Courtney! Look for the post on June 11th. I will also let you know what I find when I am there!

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  26. Will be going to Istanbul in October for 4 nights. This article and the comments sure helps me feel a lot better knowing that I will be able to enjoy eating there - just ask for no bread :-) thank you to you all!

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