Going on a quest for gluten-free food in Istanbul is not so easy when you see a variety of beautiful-looking pastries, kebabs and Turkish pizzas in every shop window.
Baklava with pistachio or with almond or walnut or… I often stop in front of the shop windows, although – or maybe because – I cannot eat most of them. At some point I try to convince myself that these treats are all just tiny works of art and are actually not edible or that they definitely taste terrible; the attempt fails at the latest when I see people in the adjoining café, who eat eagerly.
But with a little effort, it is not so hopeless to get some of these sugar-dripping or interesting oriental-flavored treats.
Since 2009, I live with the autoimmune disorder Celiac disease. This means that I cannot even take the smallest amount of gluten, as this can cause severe damage to my body. But that does not mean that I let go of my greatest passion: traveling and exploring other cultures.
Follow me into another world through one of my favorite cities, which found a place in my heart the very first visit: Istanbul.
Let’s start with the breakfast. For me it is the most important meal of the day. The rich variety that awaits you at the buffet or at a small breakfast in the café makes my eyes sparkle: olives, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, dried fruit and much more… Nevertheless, there is no harm in having a pack of gluten-free bread in your suitcase so you can enjoy the wonderful breakfast in any case.
In the morning, my heart beats especially for the delicious Turkish shepherd’s cheese that is a true culinary delight when you sprinkle it with cumin and sesame seeds. As a „breakfast dessert“ I try a slice of bread with rose jam or honey; I even forget to ask if it is gluten-free. But no meal is complete without a glass of typical Turkish tea (Çay) and mocha (Kahve). After that I am prepared for a day of sightseeing.
One of my highlights in Istanbul is taking the ferry from Karaköy or Eminönü to the Asian side of the city. By the time you arrive in Kadiköy, you can relax on the water and have a Ҫay while the Maiden’s Tower can be seen in the distance and the seagulls are fluttering and shrieking around you.
There are so many interesting and fun things to discover on Istanbul’s streets such as ice cream vendors who sell almost no scoop of ice cream without the accompanying show. Don’t be surprised that you will not get your ice cream so fast. First, you have the ice cream cone in your hand and suddenly the scoop of ice is missing, which the seller made magically disappear. But that’s a problem for me: One or another of these scoops of ice, which were previously filled in an ice cream cone during this show, come back into the ice cream container: Hello gluten! So it does not make any sense to order an ice cream in a cup, as at least traces of gluten are already in the ice cream. But it’s nice to watch someone else desperately trying to get his ice cream.
However, there are fresh pomegranate and orange juice, roasted chestnuts and grilled corncobs on every corner. The many markets offer fresh fruits and vegetables and delicious pickled foods such as green and black olives, pickled cucumbers and peppers. Try the Turkish version of our baked potato: Kumpir. Filled with all kinds of ingredients like corn, olives, peas and other goodies, it’s a really substantial meal! Make sure that the potato is not filled with bulgur, otherwise it will no longer be gluten-free.
However, you cannot come to Turkey and not try the dessert Baklava.
Back at home, I happened to discover that a bakery not only offers a wide range of gluten-containing baked goods, but also two types of gluten-free baklava. That’s why I go to Gullüoğlu on Sunday morning before visiting the Galata Tower. When I ask the cashier if gluten-free products were really offered here, he replied „of course.“ But my problem is that I am extremely indecisive and cannot decide if I would rather have baklava with pistachio or with walnut. My helplessness causes the staff to call me over and let me taste the Baklava varieties. Skeptically, I ask: „Are you sure? They are really gluten-free?“ And then I take the first bite: a crispy layer of puff pastry and layers of dough and pistachios soaked in sweet syrup and honey. It sticks to the hands and the syrup drips down the fingers. I am in baklava paradise.
You pay at the cash register and then receive your selected treats based on your receipt at the counter. The staff is generous and puts extra bits of baklava in my box. My eyes are shining. I pick the baklava box up as if it is a little jewel that I found and that now only belongs to me. I plan to guard it and only eat it when I’m at home in Germany. However, this attempt fails: the box does not even survive the day.
Address: Karaköy Güllüoğlu, Mumhane Cad. No: 171 Karaköy
As the sun goes down slowly, the waiters on the streets become more and more active. They try to lure potential guests into their restaurants – in a charming way of course.
You will find gluten-free food especially in the tourist area around the big mosques in Sultanahmet. For safety, I knew how to translate the “request to the cook“ in Turkish. But even without the exact description, many restaurants were knowledgeable about this topic. I chose the Rumeli Café. According to the waiters, more and more customers ask for food for people with food allergies, which is why they are now a bit better prepared for it. To be on the safe side, the waiters asked the chef, so that I felt in good hands. My meal consisted of Spit Roasted Chicken with vegetables and butter rice (caution lactose).
Address: Rumeli Café, Alemdar Mh., Ticarethane Sk. No: 8, Fatih
The fish stands beneath Galata Bridge are also very tempting. In the dark you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the city and the mosques. There are a lot of customers, especially in the evening hours. But the problem with fish and bread is the bread. After watching the bustling activity, I decided it would be too risky to ask if I could only get the grilled fish without bread. The bread was suspiciously close to the grills, and the barbecue tongs have probably come in contact with the bread more than once. Bad luck for the fish vendors and luck for the chestnut vendor, from whom I buy a bag of fresh roasted chestnuts.
About the author: Since 2009, Anna Greta Pietsch lives and travels with the autoimmune disorder Celiac disease. Since 2016, she tells her experiences with the gluten-free diet in the world on her blog www.glutenfreiumdiewelt.de and also shares her travel stories with those who are not affected by this disease.