Struggling to find healthy vegetarian food in Dundee, Nilufer Zerener decided to take matters into her own hands and opened Vegana.
The Turkish chef has been busy since her vegan and vegetarian cafe opened at the end of April on 127 Nethergate.
Nilufer – who also goes by Nili – moved to the city one year ago, after working as a chef in London for four years.
At the restaurant she worked in, she witnessed a crab being boiled alive. The vegetarian of six years decided there and then she could not work there anymore.
“I was very sad,” she says.
“I love animals very much and I was born on a farm. We had sheep, cows and a lot of rabbits.
“Slowly, I realised that I can’t eat meat. As a Turkish chef, working in a restaurant every day it was meat, meat, meat.”
Dundee’s new vegetarian cafe offering
One thing that’s not on the Vegana menu is meat. Instead, Nili prepares fresh salads, sandwiches, burgers, cakes and more every day.
Her offering includes vegan and vegetarian breakfasts, from large plates with eggs, halloumi, beans, vegetables and chips to toast with sweet or savoury toppings.
At lunchtime, the freshly made menu is popular, featuring The Italian, The Arabic, The Cyprus, The Vegan, The Vegetarian and The Shakshuka fillings in a wrap, baguette, roll or toastie.
There are also jacket potatoes, burgers, soups and salad boxes on offer to eat in or take away. To satisfy a sweet tooth there are cake and pastries – and of course Turkish baklava – as well as smoothies, milkshakes and homemade iced tea.
“This is my menu, I eat this at home every day,” says the chef.
“The customers are very happy, someone came and tried hummus, falafel and shakshuka with baked potato for the first time, and they loved it.
“I’ve had some good reviews, and when they like the food I’m happy.”
Vegana is open 8am to 4pm Monday to Thursday and 8am to 5pm on Friday and Saturday.
Dundee similar to Turkish hometown
Becoming a chef was always Nili’s dream. Her entire family are cooks, including her brother, sister and mum.
She has not been home to Turkey for four years to see them, but she’s hoping to make the trip this summer.
“I miss my family a lot,” she says.
“But Dundee is similar to my home city Kuşadasi, it’s small and quiet.
“Scottish people are very friendly. When I was in London I was not happy, but I came here and now I am.
“In London, I told a customer ‘sorry, my English is not very good’ and they said ‘then go learn’.
“But here, people say don’t worry and talk to me slowly. They are very nice and I’m very happy.”
The mother of two says Turkish schools don’t teach English very well, so she’s learnt the language from working in cafes and restaurants.
Her two children, aged 13 and 9, are learning in school, while her husband Burhan helps in the cafe from time to time.
Vegana ‘makes me happy’
This week, Vegana became available on Just Eat, meaning Nili can get her food delivered across the city.
She’s been impressed with how many people have visited her cafe so far.
“I’m shocked at the amount of vegan people here,” she says.
“But some customers are sceptical, they go past and I can see them thinking ‘no, no, no!'”
As she is currently the only chef in the cafe, it means long days. Sometimes she comes to the Nethergate eatery at 5.30am in the morning and doesn’t leave until 8pm at night.
Nili hopes her efforts will make Vegana a thriving cafe that she can expand on in the future. But the most important part to her is doing what she loves.
“In a year’s time, if I have the money, I’d like to open other cafes,” she says.
“Maybe one in St Andrews, I hope. But that’s it, nothing too big.
“I just make food, I don’t know any other job and I must work hard for my children.
“I’m preparing healthy food that I love and doing this job makes me happy.”