Marta Vergés talks with Belkis and Özge from
VI NEVI DELI
By Marta Vergés
If you are a vegetarian tourist in Istanbul and do not speak Turkish, don’t worry! You are pleased to know that the word ‘vegetarian’ is equal in Turkish than in English. So if you have to eat at an establishment where the staff does not speak English (which happens occasionally), no fears! The word ‘vegetarian’ is all you need to guarantee a meat-free experience.
Turkey is one of those ideal countries for vegetarians. In fact, most dishes have a vegetarian base, and meat, when lead is added as a topping at the last moment. Turkish cuisine is based on strong flavors, and uses a variety of spices and sauces on each plate; the black dry pepper is one of the most common. Strong flavors complement, usually with yogurt and/or lemon. With a range of snacks and aromatic spicy soups to main courses, it is very easy to fall asleep to the richness and exoticism of Turkish cuisine. But as is happening in many parts of the world, vegan cuisine is also occupying the space between the cuisine that the city offers.
BI NEVI DELI is one of the new proposals contemporary vegans that is growing strongly in the city, which opened two years ago. Its creators are Belkis and Özge. Two entrepreneur women who one day decided to give a 180 degree turn to their careers to devote himself body and soul to their passion.
What does the name of your restaurant mean? Why did you chose that name?
The name of our restaurant, Bi Nevi Deli, is kind of a play on words. Bi Nevi means kind of, sort of so Bi Nevi Deli means kind of, sort of a deli as in delicatessen. We thought this was a fitting name because we were aiming to produce a selection of vegan cheeses and charcuterie such as smoked seitan, tempeh bacon, carrot lox, and marinated baked tofu. Also, Deli means crazy in Turkish, so our name can also mean kind of, sort of, crazy!. Which maybe some people might think about our kitchen, which is totally free from any sort of animal product.
How did the idea of a restaurant come out?
Ozge and I were uninspired by the options available when eating out. We wished we could find a place where we could eat a full meal when dining out. One not just consisting of olive oil braised vegetables and salads, which is typical of Turkish cooking but not entirely satisfying if you want something warm and comforting or something more exotic.
How is the vegan movement in Istambul going on?
It’s going strong. New cafes are popping up around town and packaged products are showing up in the supermarket aisles.
How is the political situation in Turkey affecting to the habits of the population, and especially in your market?
The political situation is very unstable for the past 3 years which has resulted in people changing their habits. Evening leisure such as fine dining and clubbing have declined due to the instability. So lunch restaurants and local neighborhood haunts, like ours, have gained more importance in the market. It was never our primary aim to focus our sales on lunch service, in fact we always thought that we would get a liquor license at some point and serve organic wine and spirits, but the way things have turned out it we have enjoyed where we have ended up: a day-time venue for lunch and desserts.
Where do you get inspiration from to create your dishes?
We get inspiration from everywhere! It can be a photo on instagram, a dish our parents used to make us, an ingredient we discover and want to use, or even recreating an old favorite. We recently did a take on fried calamari using Sevketi Bostan, a local weed from the Aegean coast.
Which values do you want to transmit with your food?
We want to transmit sustainability and we try our best to source organic ingredients from local providers as much as possible. We want people to be kind to animals and discover that life is amazingly delicious on the plant-based side.
What recommendation you would give to a vegan person that comes from visit to Istanbul?
Right now as we are in fall/winter, we would recommend enjoying roasted chestnuts on the streets in Eminonu while touring the amazing Spice Market where you can load up on eastern spices, nuts and amazing dates. At restaurants you should be able to find lots of choices if you go to traditional restaurants that feature mezes, Turkish tapas, such as roasted aubergine salad, black eyed peas, or wilted greens in olive oil and lemon juice. Most places make their soups with bone broth and add butter to things like rice and beans so beware. And of course the best street food Simit, Turkish Bagel.
What typical dish of Turkish cuisine that suits veganism should not miss a tourist?
Turkish cuisine has many wonderful olive oil based dishes made with the ingredients of the season. A tourist should not miss this amazing experience. A favorite dessert of ours is Asure. It is filled with beans, dried fruits, nuts and al dente wheat. If you can find one without milk in it, definitely try it!
Which is the never missing ingredient in your kitchen?
Which is the signature dish of your restaurant?
Our Philly Cheezesteak has quite the following, so probably that!
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