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Since You Asked: Allergy Free Istanbul

Dear Istanbul Eats:

My daughter and I both have a severe allergy to chickpeas and lentils. She also has severe allergies to peanuts, eggs, and dairy. I was hoping you could recommend some restaurants for our week long stay in October that would prepare foods without these things in them i.e. simple grilled fish (I wouldn’t expect anything more). We are looking for low-end, moderate, and high-end restaurants.

My husband eats everything. My daughter and I prefer seafood, vegetarian, and chicken. We will be staying close to Istikal Cadessi and would most likely be having our breakfasts and dinners here and lunches in Sultanhmet.

Thank you,
H. Ives, Vancouver, Canada

Dear Reader,

Thank you for your question. We imagine that are many others like you, so it’s a subject worth tackling. Fortunately for allergy sufferers, most Turkish food is prepared simply, usually only from a few ingredients that are all easily discernible. The key to your having an allergy free holiday is the Turkish suffix –siz, which means “without.” So, for example, a dish without nuts would be “fistiksiz,” or a dish without eggs would be “yumurtasiz” and one that’s dairy-free would be “sütsiz” (süt means “milk”). Yogurt is a big part of the Turkish diet, but usually served on the side, so you have less to worry about in that case.

Peanuts (yer fistigi in Turkish) are not really part of Turkish cuisine and are usually only found in the nut mix served at bars with your beer, so you will probably not encounter them in anything cooked. Eggs and dairy are a big part of breakfast (less so at lunch and dinner, with the exception of dessert), but since breakfasts are usually served buffet style, you can easily avoid them. Chickpeas (nohut) are used frequently, but usually kept whole and thus easy to spot. When it comes to lentils (mercimek), Turks usually cook the red kind (rather than brown or green lentils), using them to make a commonly found soup (mercimek corbasi) and vegetarian patties (mercimek koftesi).

Any esnaf lokanta (traditional Turkish lunch spot) will have a wide variety of prepared dishes, many of them vegeterian. We are big fans of Pera Sisore [2] and Sahin [3], both near Istiklal. Ciya [4] on the Asian side is another good choice.

For fish, try Furreyya [5] near the Galata tower or, for something more upscale, Grifin [6] in Karakoy. In general, fish in Turkey is usually prepared very simply (on the grill or fried), so you shouldn’t encounter any problems there.

Another good option for you is going out for grilled meat, since most kebab joints serve their food mostly unadorned. Cigerimin Kosesi [7] is a great little kebab joint near Istiklal that serves both beef and chicken skewers. We are also big fans of Zubeyir [8], a fun kebab house near Taksim Square.

(photo by Yigal Schleifer)

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