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Sep 10
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 and Sahin, both near Istiklal. Ciya on the Asian side is another good choice.

For fish, try Furreyya near the Galata tower or, for something more upscale, Grifin 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 is a great little kebab joint near Istiklal that serves both beef and chicken skewers. We are also big fans of Zubeyir, a fun kebab house near Taksim Square.

(photo by Yigal Schleifer)

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4 Responses to “ Since You Asked: Allergy Free Istanbul ”
  1. Thank you for your recommendations. I was wondering if anyone could translate this paragraph for us:

    “Our daughter has a life threatening allergy (or anaphylaxis) to eggs, dairy, nuts, chickpeas, and lentils. Does this dish/entree/item contain any of these?”

    We had a friend do this for us when we went to Italy and it made things a lot easier. We just showed the waiter every time we dined out. She wrote it down in a very polite way and said that the way we had pieced it together ourselves would have been taken the wrong way and we definitely don’t want to offend anyone.

    We arrive this coming Wednesday and are very much looking forward to eating in Istanbul!

    Thank you.

  2. Dear Selena,
    I know how difficult and dangerous this is. A friend of mine has the same allergy to peanuts and she almost got killed once. She ate a piece of tahin helvasi in a street bazaar in Istanbul. I would like you to remind that tahin helvası is normally made of sesame, yet sometimes producers use cheaper ingredients to cut the costs without even notifying the consumers. Hence, I’d urge you, or your daughter, to be double careful while savoring Istanbul’s street food. Anyway, I hope this paragraph may prove useful for you:

    “Kızımızın yumurtaya, süt ürünlerine, fındık, fıstık gibi kuruyemişlere, nohuda ve mercimeğe karşı hayati tehlike taşıyan bir alerjisi var. Bunlardan herhangi bir tanesini kesinlikle yememesi gerekiyor. Yediği zaman gırtlağı şişiyor, soluk borusu kapanıyor ve nefes alamıyor. Bu yemeğin içinde bu saydıklarımızdan herhangi bir tanesi var mı?”

    Hope you enjoy your stay in Istanbul,

  3. Hi Sevin,
    Thank you so much for the translation and tips about the candy as I know she will be wanting to sample it:). The translated paragraph will definitely be helpful to us every time we eat out.
    Thanks again,

  4. Shawne Cooper

    Oct 23, 2010

    Thanks for these tips for travelling with allergies, particularly for the warning about tahin helvasi and other street food.

    I’m in the same boat- coming to Turkey in a week with my 20-year old daughter who’s allergic to nuts, legumes, soy. I found a really useful link about this at:: I typed up the relevant info: “My daughter is extremely allergic to -peanuts -nuts, etc… (and listed all the specific foods) Please make sure the food we order does not contain any of these ingredients.”

    I wrote it in English one one side and Turkish on the other, cutting and pasting info from the above link and by using google’s language translator. Had this info laminated onto a small sheet so that I will show our waiters when we eat at restaurants in Turkey.

    I know Selena’s already in Turkey, but hope this will help others who have loved ones with specific allergies- and want to make sure all your bases are covered.

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