Sibel Karakokcek’s journey to the forefront of the vegetarian and vegan movement in Bloomington has not been your typical one. 20 years ago she and her husband took the plunge and left Ankara, Turkey to pursue their PhD studies at the University of Illinois, where Sibel specialized in sociology.

beer, tea, wine
Natsuko Mazany

It was only after moving to Bloomington a number of years later that the idea of opening a Turkish restaurant began to take shape. At first Sibel was resistant to the idea, fearing it would distract her from her studies. However, fast-forward 12 years and Sibel has “ended up doing the whole thing myself!”

salad, chicken
Anna Arteaga

Anatolia is well-known for its Lunch Buffet, which runs from 11:30am–2:30pm Wednesday through Friday, and boasts a vast spread of mouth-watering international dishes all for $9(!). However, what the adventurous-yet-broke student may not realize is that Anatolia has recently expanded its regular menu to accommodate more student-friendly meals.

The vegan and vegetarian options on offer are the type of dishes that you could trick your devoutly carnivorous father into eating and he would not know the difference (this is an extremely underrated skill).

One aspect of Anatolia’s cooking that has remained the same, however (I can vouch for this), is the taste and flavor of the food. On my visit I tried one of the new dishes, beef gyro on a bed of salad, rice, beans and cacık (yogurt with cucumbers and herbs), introduced onto the menu due to customer demand. The beef was both succulent and flavorful.

meat, legume, cereal, vegetable
Natsuko Mazany

Where Anatolia is making real strides and standing out from the crowd is in the vegan/vegetarian community. Sibel explains that Turkish cooking lends itself to vegan and vegetarian adaptation, but I think there is a certain amount of skill involved too.

A particular highlight is the Happy Vegan Combo, which, for an incredible $7.95, entitles you to unlimited freshly made soup with house-baked Turkish bread, salad, seasoned rice and beans, and to finish off, Turkish tea. My description does not do justice to what is essentially a banquet—the strain on the top button of my jeans afterwards is testament to this.

Natsuko Mazany

To me, what makes different Anatolia from other Turkish or Mediterranean restaurants around is the hospitality of its host. Sibel’s genuinely warm personality was infectious as she engaged with customers. Since leaving Ireland 4 months ago to study at IU, I have found this aspect of eating out sadly lacking on many occasions.

It wasn’t until my experience in Anatolia that I realized what it was that I had been missing—the enjoyment of taking your time over food, and enjoying the whole experience.