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