By: Chantal Blake
They say that the most successful entrepreneurs are those who know their customer profile intimately well. So, I can’t imagine a more suitable person to open Ankara’s first meatless restaurant than Ilkay. She has lived in her city for more than 16 years as a vegetarian. On a quiet, tree-lined street her veggie haven, Vegihi, sits calm, peacefully inviting guests of all diets. Both the young and old are drawn into the Victorian-style dining halls or the sunny outdoor patio, to enjoy plant-based meals and warm hospitality.
Only finding out about this new gem at the eve of Ramadan, I held off on my visit until the weekend following Eid. It was a rare Saturday that my whole family slept in, so instead of sitting around, we made a decision to do something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time—go out for breakfast. The traditional Turkish breakfast is heavy-laden with bread, eggs, and cheese. The few times we attempted it, we ended up binging on the tahini, molasses, jams, and olives, which doesn’t make for a very satisfying or nutritious meal. However, Vegihi’s current menu substitutes tofu and potato salads in place of dairy products, while retaining the colorful assortment of small, individual dishes—the signature aesthetic of the Turkish spread.
Our meal started with the surprising Middle Eastern staples of zaatar and olive oil with bread. Next came toasted garlic bread, potato salad, and a platter of jam, molasses, hot pepper preserves, olives, and tomato and red pepper paste. On the particular day of our visit, Vegihi was out of tofu but that gap was aptly filled with a delicious lentil, sprouted quinoa, and cranberry salad and a falafel platter with fries and veggies. To conclude, our host brought us a plate of freshly cut fruit. I loved that Vegihi served more than Turkish tea and had a great variety of herbal teas to choose from.
Without a doubt, we’ll be returning to Vegihi and bringing our friends along too. Ilkay’s patient perseverance served her well. She has brought a much needed maturity to Ankara’s veggie scene, but her roots are grounded enough to envision movie screenings and events that any animal rights activist would applaud. I look forward to visiting her sunny side of town in the near future again very soon.