My love affair with Turkish cuisine cannot be overstated. Walking through the streets on any given day you can see colorful bazaars lined with fragrant herbs and spices, fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables from the fertile Anatolian heart land, nuts and cheeses and hanging meats so tempting you will want to try them all.
Walking across the Galata Bridge you can witness the old men pulling fish straight from the Bosphorus and if you were to feel so inclined you could even purchase a popular street dish called Balık Ekmek, (fish sandwich) always being prepared at the base of the bridge. Nibble your sandwich and explore the fish market for fresh Mediteranean and Black Sea fish.
Turkey is a country that still keeps to the classic local, fresh and seasonal agricultural tradition. Istanbul is a foodies dream and one of the top food destinations in the world. While the idea of food allergies is somewhat new here, don’t let that keep you from exploring this dynamic city. As with everything, proper planning and a little bit of research and you can get a full culinary experience. I have prepared some tips but I am always looking for feedback from any travellers with limited diets and food allergies.
After you have decided where you will be staying contact your hotel and let them know of any food allergies of dietary restrictions. Turks are famous for their hospitality and will generally do anything within their power to make your stay more enjoyable. The concierge may also be instrumental when making dinner reservations, his ability to convey your restrictions to the restaurant is going to be much more successful. That being said; take matters into your own hands. Prepare a chefs card written in both English and Turkish clearly stating any food allergies. Give this card to the waiter and ask him to take it to the chef. Gluten Free Passport is a good resource on chef cards.
When travelling to any foreign land it is best to know the local hospitals. Amerikan Hastanesi, The American Hospital, in Nişantaşı has doctors who speak English in the event of an emergency. Consider wearing an allergy alert medical bracelet, and keep emergency contact information easily accessible. Carry your epi-pen at all times an inform your family doctor of your travel plans so he can be available for faxes or phone calls.
Know in advance the words in Turkish for any food you may have a problem with. This Wikipedia article has a lot of common Turkish dishes and their Turkish names.
Wheat and its various forms are popular in Turkey. Bulgur wheat is a common side dish and wheat flour is often used as a thickening agent in many Turkish soups. Asking for a rice substitution would be easily granted. Turks are becoming more aware of gluten intolerance with the local grocery chains Migros and Carrefour and the upscale market Macrocenter all boasting a small gluten free (glutensiz) section.
Travellers with nut allergies are in luck. While nuts are a popular snack they aren’t as common in cooking. The cooking oil of choice here is sunflower oil and less commonly olive oil. Sesame oil can also be used in cooking and the popular street bread called Simit is covered in sesame. While there certainly can be nuts in dishes they are generally easy to spot thereby avoiding consumption. Some of the most popular nut dishes are the desserts. So if nut allergies are a problem for you we recommend doing extra research on this topic before you go. That being said Turkey Travel Planner is a wonderful resource on food allergies in Turkey and the author welcomes email interaction if you have any questions on his material.
Dairy and Milk intolerance
While yogurt and the yogurt drink Ayran are a popular part of Turkish cuisine it is also quite avoidable. Yogurt is spelled the same in Turkish as it is in English so scanning the menu should help you avoid any pitfalls. White cheese is popular for Turkish breakfast, but there are many other delicious breakfast options, so fear not, you won’t go hungry!
There are a lot of great culinary tours in Istanbul. How could there not be? One I really like is with Olga at Delicious Istanbul. With a little bit of advanced notice Olga can accommodate you with a special food tour or cooking class. Contact her through her website she promises that the Istanbul she will help you discover will be just as delicious and diverse as those without dietary restrictions!!