Turkish cuisine is, to my mind, one of the most exciting and accomplished in the world.
-Yotam Ottolenghi, Israeli-born British chef, recipe writer and restaurant owner
Traveling requires flexibility, but when it comes to food, I can only be so flexible. I've been a vegetarian for more than 22 years and do not plan on ever eating meat again, and my former "clean eating" ways have proven impossible as a nomad. I love eating traditional foods when visiting new countries, a noble goal complicated by the fact that signature dishes of most countries involve meat.
Not so for Turkey.
Turkey, lovely Turkey, with your abundance of chickpeas, cucumbers, pistachios, strawberries, pomegranates, and dried fruits, I love you for having so many vegetarian options. Every (as in EVERY) restaurant I went to had a vegetarian section on the menu or a selection of vegetarian sides to choose from. And it wasn't the standard vegetarian fare of boring spaghetti and a wilted salad, but protein- and calcium-rich foods like white beans, spinach, and eggs. Turkish breakfasts took some getting used to, though, because Turkish folks tend to eat foods different than what I'm used to in the morning, like cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, yogurt, cheese, and hard-boiled eggs. On the sweet side, Turkey had many gorgeous shops with overwhelming arrays of baklava, chocolates, dried fruits, nuts, and other treats. But the sweetest part of Turkish food, apart from its freshness and variety, was the price: meals ranged from $4-8, pretty good considering that I ate well and mostly in the tourist areas.
And despite harping on Turkey for difficulties traveling as a single female, I found Turkey's food culture to be the richest I've experienced so far. I loved getting freshly-squeezed orange juice from vendors for a dollar, or watching the silly antics of ice cream vendors, or laughing at balloon bread wrapped in plastic wrap used as a lure for restaurant-goers, or reading my future after drinking Turkish coffee. Turkish people pride themselves on their food, treating it as something to be enjoyed and savored; never did a meal go by without a complimentary tea afterwards. Experiencing all of this was rewarding, yet my most rewarding food experience in Turkey had to be the potato and spinach flatbread (gözleme) I got to-go in Antalya, which I ate while sitting on a ledge in a park overlooking the Mediterranean Sea bathed in moonlight. Ahh, the good life.
I'm not a huge fan of flying for many reasons, but flying outside of the U.S. definitely has its perks. Turkish Airlines not only offers free snacks (like a hearty vegetarian sandwich and a drink) on short flights of an hour or two, but on longer flights as well. Flying direct from Istanbul to Bangkok, I tried the vegetarian Jain meal (served twice on a 9-hour flight) and was not disappointed. So kudos to Turkish Airlines for delicious food!