One of the most politically neutral and refreshing dining spaces you’ll likely find in Turkey is Bi Nevi Deli in Istanbul. Branded as a plant-based kitchen, its owners Özge Şen and Belkıs Boyacıgiller are appealing to an uptown crowd that is seemingly more concerned with raw foods and detox diets than animal shelters and speciesism. Though personally committed to the cause of animal rights and veganism, their business vision is to do more than preach to the choir but rather entice the appetites of the veg-curious. Özge shares that “being vegan or calling ourselves a vegan restaurant needs more…understanding of vegan philosophy.” Belkis adds that “plant-based cooking is typically more health-based cooking, which is what we try to do at the restaurant. We try to stay away from processed oils, refined sugar and flour, preservatives, etc. And there were a handful of vegan restaurants, but no one was really doing plant-based, health-promoting cooking, so we wanted to fill that need.”
At Bi Nevi, the conversation of food is more nuanced. Raw, gluten-free, and paleo enter the dining vernacular alongside newly arrived ingredients like hemp seeds, spirulina, tempeh, and jicama. Locals and visitors can attest to how veg-friendly Turkish cuisine can be with an assortment of slow-cooked bean and vegetable dishes, fresh salads, and a great variety of nuts, but Bi Nevi draws inspiration from other culinary influences. BLT sandwiches made with tempeh bacon, raw carrot cake, and quinoa salad are now on the menu. An entirely new experience of veganism is being hand-crafted for their largely non-vegan client base.
Admittedly, high-quality plant-based dining is above and beyond the budget of your average resident but the ingredients can’t be sourced for any less. Bi Nevi, for example, started out with a laundry list of imports but these initial sourcing challenges have been largely mitigated by supporting emerging local businesses and making in-house products like aged nut cheeses and seitan salami. From amaranth to avocadoes, black rice to Beluga lentils, the price tag can be hefty but knowing that another plant-based business is thriving in concert with your own creates a sustainable vegan economy, not one manipulated by the ebb and flow of tourists and visitors. Especially considering political events that can easily throw Turkey into the media spotlight once again, a homegrown veganism must be nurtured and rooted to survive.
In my last seven months since moving to Turkey, I find the word ‘vegan’ popping up surprisingly in conversations and advertisements. A conservative young woman allied with the Animal Party, the Turkish version of Netherlands’ political Party for the Animals, admits that she loves animals but calls veganism “extremist” and allied with leftists. A gluten-free bakery owner tells me, “Honestly, I don’t understand you guys,” but has no problem hashtagging the term ‘vegan’ when selling her gluten-free and dairy-free cakes. Turkey has a rich tradition of hospitality that is vast enough to include all diners. If plant-based options can be requested with more compassion than passion and more politeness than politics, maybe the word ‘vegan’ won’t sound so strange in Turkish after all.
Bi Nevi Deli
Dilhayat Sokak No: 10/1
Etiler, Istanbul +90 (212) 358 60 32
This article was originally published in Vegan Lifestyle Magazine, Issue #31. The entire digital magazine can be downloaded at the following links: