Dining Gluten-Free With Friends in Istanbul

Last weekend I spent some time with a friend I haven’t seen in months. While we were catching up, she asked about my trip to Turkey last November. I told her about the astonishing ancient cities I saw — Ephesus, Aphrodisias, Hierapolis, Pergamum — and about the beauty and history of Istanbul. But I found myself talking even more about Oya Özden and her family.

Oya is the founder of the Living With Celiac Association of Turkey. I contacted her organization before my trip, and she e-mailed me a celiac disease information card, written in Turkish, that I could show to chefs and other restaurant staff. She also gave me some general guidelines about dining in Turkey (which you can read in this post). While I was in Selçuk, she e-mailed me to ask where I was staying in Istanbul. I told her it was the Erguvan, a boutique hotel in the Sultanahmet district that’s a short walk from Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The next day, Oya e-mailed to say that she had contacted the hotel about my diet. I appreciated her help, but I didn’t realize how much Oya had done for me until I arrived in Istanbul. The staff at the Erguvan actually baked gluten-free pastries for my breakfast, from a recipe provided by Oya. (This was, I should add, in addition to the impressive breakfast buffet at the hotel, which already included gluten-free items such as boiled eggs, fresh fruit, dried fruit, and several types of cheese.)

Oya also invited my husband and me to have dinner with her, her husband, Hasan, and their daughter, Nil. (Oya and Nil are pictured above, with me.) They took us to a banquet hall on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. The dining room was full of celebrations (I counted one wedding, one 45th wedding anniversary, and one high-school reunion). There was no set menu; instead Oya had made special arrangements in advance (her celiac support group has met at the banquet hall in the past). For us, the kitchen staff baked gluten-free pide, a substantial bread that looks like a giant waffle; I’d seen it on menus throughout my trip, but this was the first time I was able to try it. There were also appetizers that consisted of a wafer-thin gluten-free bread topped with lamb, parsley, and spices. Oya had arranged for gluten-free mezes, which included hot peppers, yogurt seasoned with garlic, rice-stuffed vegetables, a hot tomato sauce, and a dish of leeks and carrots, all of which were delicious. The main course was lamb, and for dessert there were several treats, including dates filled with cheese. I also tried raki, Turkey’s unofficial national drink, for the first time at dinner (similar to ouzo but not sweet). It was a fabulous evening from start to finish, partly because of the great food but mostly because of the wonderful company.

I realized at dinner that Oya is an incredible activist. After being diagnosed with celiac disease, she went on to form a national organization in a country where the disease is not well known. In addition to providing information and support to adult celiacs, she created a booklet for children to help them understand the disorder and the gluten-free diet (it’s available as a printed booklet as well as on the organization’s website). Oya is also in touch with her counterparts in other European countries and has lobbied Turkey’s government to provide support for celiacs. In Turkey, celiacs now get a government subsidy for certain gluten-free provisions every month. (In North America, I’m grateful just to see celiac-safe products on store shelves, even if they are priced sky high.)

Meeting Oya reinforced for me how important it is for the gluten-intolerant to share information and advice. It also made for the most memorable night of my trip. Thanks again, Oya, Hasan, and Nil!

Erguvan Hotel [address] Aksakal Cad. No: 3, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey [tel] +90 212 4582784 [fax] +90 212 4582788 [e-mail] info@erguvanhotel.com [web] www.erguvanhotel.com

8 thoughts on “Dining Gluten-Free With Friends in Istanbul

  1. Hello! I was wondering how I can get ahold of a card to show the restaurants when I travel to Turkey that I am gluten intolerant. I am leaving in a few weeks and am nervous about my dining experiences. Any words I could use or a card to show them about my allergy would be appreciated

  2. Hello
    I have celiac disease & I live in IRAN.I have a little information about it .
    I am glad to have relation with you in order to catch some information about my disease &your institute in istanbul beacause I want to come there
    next month. How can I have these infformation .please tell me about it.
    My Email Adress is markaz2000@yahoo.com

    Yours faitfuly
    Mohammad Mahmoudi

  3. I am travelling to Instanbul and staying in the Sultanahmet district and I was wondering if I could get a list of celiac friendly restaurants in or around the area as well as a gluten free dining card in Turkish. I would greatly appreciate your help. Thank you in advance.

  4. I will be visiting Istanbul late May and would like to find a few gluten free restaurants to eat in.

    Can you help or advise a website that I can use.

    Many Thanks

  5. Thank you for this encouraging information. Our family will be traveling to Istanbul this summer and our daughter has celiac. I’m wondering if you have an email available for this Living with Celiac Association. I’m anxious to contact them. Thank you so much!!

  6. Thank you for sharing your travelling expirience in Turkey. The information you’ve provided will serve me well during my trip to this country in February 2012. My university is planning the trip, and since I enjoy travelling, I will be participating. However, I still have some concerns as to what I will be able to eat. Because I am not on the planning comitee for the trip, I will have littlle to no control over where we will eat, but I was hoping to be able to provide the comitee with a list of restaurants that offer gluten free meals. I was wondering if you have an email available for this Living with Celiac Association. I would like to contact the association before my trip. Thanks again!

  7. I definitely liked the hotel – we spent here 14 nights, everything was perfect – staff
    is extremely friendly (Russian-speaking front-desk manager after 3 pm), breakfast is very
    good, wi-fiworks perfect. I asked a room on the top floor in advance and they arranged it.
    Welcome drinks and good-bay present were very nice.
    When the problem occurred (e.g. no towels in
    a room) they solved it immediately. A lot of TV-channels in different languages (2
    Russian channels). Breakfast is really good-even traditional turkish tea
    is served (very tasty!). The swimming pool (free of charge, underground floor, works 10-10)
    was cold only once, though we did not use it very often. The staff was always smiling and helpful, etc.
    I really like our stay here. Location is ok – you can reach the center
    by walk or use tram (tram station near the hotel)

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