Review: Ege Günlüğü in Ankara

Olive oil cooking

Aegean cuisine has a reputation for being one of Turkey’s most vegan-friendly regions. Along the fertile coast, a plethora of beans and vegetables grow abundantly and are traditionally slow-cooked with cold-pressed olive oil, fresh herbs and seasonings. Red lentils and bulgur wheat are combined to make mercimek kofte, the vegan version of a ground meat burger. We have yet to visit Turkey’s Northwestern coast, but thankfully Aegean food has come to us by way of Ege Günlüğü.

Ege Cuisine in Ankara

In Armada Mall, an imposing shopping center, Ege Günlüğü is a welcomed oasis. The open dining hall sits at the end of a busy corridor with white, painted wooden furniture and soothing pastel pillows and cushions. The aqua and blue hues invoke a calmness that I don’t usually find in a packed mall. When I asked one of the managers, Maliha, about her recommendations for vegan diners, she instinctively directs me to their cold food bar where out of more than a dozen dishes, only several include yogurt and none of them include meat. Being able to see all of the entrees makes it easy to pick and point at the dishes I want to fill my platter. With the option of a büyük large plate or a küçük small plate, the choice is obvious. I want to taste as many dishes as they can fit on my plate, centered around my absent dish of yogurt.

Vegan Meal at Ege Gunlugu

Most of the dishes are Aegean versions of familiar ingredients: black-eyed peas, brown lentils, and green beans but the flavors are unique. I recognize the taste of dill, leeks, and olive oil, of course, but the others are harder to distinguish. Regardless, everything tastes fresh and wholesome. When Maliha tells me that they don’t use any frozen vegetables, I’m not surprised. As soon as their produce arrives, it must be washed, chopped, and prepped. Some of the unfamiliar dishes are a variety of green leafy dishes that I couldn’t identify, celery root, stuffed dried eggplant, and artichokes. My favorite dishes were stewed sundried tomatoes with walnuts and mercimek kofte. To complement the mostly gluten-free entrees, a bread basket full of sourdough olive oil and walnut bread rounds out the meal perfectly. The small rolls are not airy and fluffy but rather filling and mildly dense. Even though all of the zeytinyağlı (with olive oil) dishes are served cold, the hospitality was warm and satisfying.

Fresh, Aegean cuisine in Ankara

Ege Günlüğü is most popular during lunch hour, when health-conscious professionals seek out a meal that leaves them more fueled than full. With the cold bar ready and stocked every day from 10am to 10pm, anyone can grab a meal without having to wait or order hot foods from the menu if time allows.  And, with the prices so reasonable, you can easily make eating here a healthy habit.

Vegan Oasis in Armada Mall

With special thanks to Ege Günlüğü for hosting our visit.  All opinions are our own.

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Review: Wuyang Chinese Restaurant in Ankara

Wuyang Restaurant

A little known fact about me is that I’m part Chinese–one eighth to be exact. If you’ve ever seen my grandmother, Ms. Chin, our lineage would be evident. But her decision to marry my grandfather, a tall, dark-chocolate man, makes our Asian features hard to identify. Interestingly, my grandmother only remembers a few words of Cantonese, but she has an undying affinity for Chinese culture. Any product made in China was made by her “cousins”, she jests. From art to fashion, she wears her father’s legacy with pride. I have fond memories of attending Chinese cultural events in Jamaica with her and dining on the delicious cuisine. Authentic Chinese food is nothing like the remixed fast food that is popular in urban America. At the recommendation of a friend, we tried out a restaurant in downtown Ankara, and I’m glad to report that my grandma would been pleased.

Authentic Chinese Restaurant in Ankara

On a busy street lined with restaurants, Wuyang stands out with red lanterns and stringed lights decorating the entrance. When we arrived, the dining hall was mostly full save for two tables near the door. At a glance, we see Turkish waiters in uniform but Chinese managers, cooks, and diners–all very promising signs for a good meal. The menu had the weight of a short novel but we eventually found our chapter of choice: the vegetarian dishes. The price of each dish was also hefty, so we placed our order wisely: Tofu Stir-Fry, Sweet and Sour Tofu, Simmered Eggplant, Vegetable Noodles, and Steamed Rice. No budget for appetizers and desserts today. Water quenches the thirst just fine, so we pass on fruit juices and teas.

Appetizers at Wuyang Restaurant in Ankara

Our waiter had a good enough command of English to answer our questions about the dishes and convey our dietary preference. After topping up our glasses with bottled water, he brought us a platter of fried wonton noodles with a sweet dipping sauce and kimchi, Korean-style fermented cabbage. We appreciate the show of Pan-Asian solidarity and enjoy the spicy appetizer before our meal arrives.

Sweet and Sour Tofu and Stir-Fried Tofu

When the entrees reached our table, they all looked appetizing. Because the restaurant makes their own tofu, the portions were generous. Instead of relying on imported produce, the menu mostly revolves around what is locally available like eggplant and mushrooms, as opposed to bok choy and dasheen. Each of the dishes were uniquely flavored and complemented each other well. The service, food, and ambiance were all top-notch. The bathroom, not so much, but everything else made our meal enjoyable. If we have a special guest or an occasion worthy of fine dining, we now know where to go.

Simmered Eggplant

Review: Spicy Curry House in Ankara

Spicy Curry House

On a cool fall evening last month, we ventured out to try something new. Our taxi wove us through and around downtown Ankara to reach Gaziosmanpaşa or GOP. From a main road lined with high-end restaurants and boutiques, we couldn’t see our destination but another taxi driver directed us to turn the corner where we found Spicy Curry House.

The vibrant Indian décor warmed us instantly, and we were seated behind a young couple awaiting their meal. The windowsills were lined with potted plants and paintings adorned the walls. We sank into our cushioned booth and quickly scanned the vegetarian section of the menu which included a handful of vegetable curries and stewed legumes.

Pappadum

Worried that the portions would be small, we ordered generous helpings of chickpea curry, moong dal curried lentils, baigan bharta eggplant stew, and plain biryani rice. A very light and crisp pappadum wafer paired with tamarind sauce whet our appetites for the meal to come.

The spread

All of our dishes arrived to the table and we began to salivate.  Piping hot and freshly prepared, we started heaping spoons of each dish onto our plates.  I overlooked the parsley sprigs garnishing our food instead of cilantro but had to reorient myself when I tasted brown lentils mixed in with the yellow dal curry.  Undeterred, I hoped to savor flavors beyond the repertoire of my own cooking but each dish, though tasty in its own right, lacked the authentic taste of Indian cuisine. I know that it is quite common for ethnic foods to be toned down in spice to suit the local palate, but this was a bit like a reinvention of the cuisine. The exact same meal would’ve impressed me if it was served in someone’s home but for restaurant dining, I expected more.  It didn’t feel worth the cross-city trek that it took to reach the restaurant.  Nonetheless, the meal was satisfying and we looked forward to reheating our leftovers the next day.

Indian

With the dearth of Indian restaurants in Ankara, I believe that Spicy Curry House has an opportunity to remain unchallenged in the Turkish dining scene.  We didn’t meet the Algerian owner but the local manager is personable with an excellent command of English, so communicating our dietary needs was easy.  Maybe meat-eaters will leave with a different impression but our vegan palates noticeably missed the unique nuance of authentic Indian cuisine that we hope will eventually reach Ankara during our stay.

Rediscovering Queens

Beautiful Farm Day

I’m a Queens girl who loves Brooklyn.  On every visit to New York, I find myself sneaking to the PRB (People’s Republic of Brooklyn) for a taste of the vibrant culture, free activities, and delicious food.  But crossing boroughs with a baby gets taxing, so we’ve redirected our attention to Queens and have been pleasantly surprised.

Queens County Museum Farm

This lovely oasis was a convenient answer to Lil’ Z’s questions about how things grow.  Visiting an active, functional farm with animals, a farmer’s market, and a community compost program was a relaxing way to spend a summer afternoon.

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Queens Botanical Garden

This garden is patch of peace in the bustling Flushing neighborhood.  The rose and fragrance gardens were our favorite.  Take note of the free admission days and hours.

Jamaica Breeze

A new spot for veg-friendly dining has popped up in Queens.  They’re offering a refreshingly new concept for Jamaican dining in New York– a self-serve hot bar where you pay by weight.  The word buffet is a bit misleading, so be forewarned.  They consistently have one tofu dish and an ital bean stew on the hot bar.  Their rice and vegetable dishes aren’t cooked with meat, so fill up and enjoy!

 

Review: Trang Viet in Tampa

Vegan Buffet
Vietnam is one of those countries we don’t know much about and have never been to.  Food can be a nation’s ambassador but, unfortunately, our first taste of Vietnamese cuisine in Casablanca was unimpressive.  Enjoying tofu was such a welcomed treat at that time that we didn’t mind the lackluster food.  We knew that we needed to give Vietnamese food another chance and found the perfect opportunity recently in Tampa.

Trang Viet

At Trang Viet, you’ll find a simple family-owned eatery with a full omnivorous menu.  Traditional Vietnamese dishes featuring meat, as well as veganized versions are served regularly but on the second Saturday of each month, the herbivores have a special treat.  From 5:30-7pm, a delicious buffet of plant-based dishes are the featured attraction.  We arrived last Saturday only 15 minutes into the buffet and found the restaurant packed with folks of different ages, races, and ways of life feasting on a varied and filling buffet.

Starter Soup

After selecting a beverage of unsweetened iced green tea or water, we found small bowls of a coconut milk-based soup filled with pumpkin, carrots, seaweed, and mushrooms.  The next course included both winter and summer veggie-filled rolls with peanut sauce, steamed dumplings, and cabbage salad.  For our entrees, we had a tofu noodle stir-fry, grilled tofu, vegan ginger beef, tofu-stuffed squash, and seasoned vegan chicken drumsticks.  Side dishes included brown rice, white rice, and yucca root.  All of the dishes were well-seasoned and freshly prepared.  The young men serving the dishes ensured that portion sizes were controlled, in spite of being limitless.

Carrot Cake

As if the yummy meal wasn’t enough to satisfy us, small slices of iced carrot cake were brought out to cap our evening.  At $14 per adult and $7 per child, we had a great opportunity to fill our veggie bellies and sample the delights of Vietnam.  The cordial servers and efficient service made for an enjoyable meal.  It’s a shame that we have to wait another month for the buffet to return, but as long as the baby hasn’t arrived yet, we will happily put the date on our calendar and eagerly wait to feast once again.

Restaurant

Review: La Flamme d’Istanbul in Casablanca

La Flamme

Casablanca has a strong consumer culture.  If you love shopping and food, you can have your heyday in this city.  New restaurants are the talk of the town, and the opening of La Flamme d’Istanbul was no different.  Plastered on billboards, delivery trucks, and Facebook, the new Turkish restaurant was well-marketed and their Turkish chefs became local celebrities.  We stumbled on its location during a morning stroll and I couldn’t help but grab a menu.  With my limited French food vocabulary, I successfully identified a handful of vegan dishes and was anxious to try them since I’ve always enjoyed Turkish cuisine and hospitality.

One very special friend of mine was in the neighborhood, so we planned to meet at La Flamme for lunch.  We both were riding high on anticipation and couldn’t wait to add our impressions to the growing list of rave reviews.  The sleek modern décor with colorful, hanging lanterns was inviting.  Our waiters didn’t don their red Fez hats that day but they were cordial and attentive.

Before placing our order I had two inquiries to make:  Was the lentil soup of the day vegan?  Can I have my hummus without Turkish yogurt?  Disappointingly, the soup had chicken in it but the hummus didn’t have yogurt as the menu indicated, so I proceeded to order the latter.  Lil’ Z had her heart set on French fries—a rare treat– and I added baba ghanoush to our order.  For meat-eaters, the offerings are abundant but the plant-based options were limited.   Nonetheless, I looked forward to tasting the familiar staple dishes I’ve always enjoyed.

Fries, Hummus, and Baba Ghanoush

The French fries were served in the cutest little fry basket with small dishes of ketchup and Dijon mustard.  Both the hummus and baba ghanoush looked appetizing alongside the warm, baked rounds of bread.  Once my friend’s meal arrived, we started eating and casually chatting.  As usual, our conversation was rich but at some point I realized that the food was lacking in flavor.  I would taste again and again searching for the familiar delight of Turkish cuisine but found it absent.  Though we haven’t made it to Turkey yet, we’ve enjoyed their cuisine as one of our favorites in Oman.  How could La Flamme be so off?  My friend agreed that the hummus was bland but assured me that the meat she ordered was pretty good.  “Perhaps their specialty is all things meaty”, I suggested to her while debriefing our visit.  The most satisfying part of my meal was their baklava which was lightly sweetened, filled with cinnamon and walnuts, and topped with ground pistachios.  It was the best I’ve had in a while and the only dish I would return for in the future.

Baklava