John Wood and Paul Harrison, installation view from ‘I DIDN’T KNOW I DIDN’T KNOW IT’, Contemporary Art Gallery, February 12 – April 24, 2016. Photography by SITE Photography

Derya Akay | Cooking with Maria Dyulgerova and Biliana Velkova

“Two eggs or three?” There’s a bit of debate amongst three generations of women as preparation of the banitza begins. A mixture of leeks, yogurt, feta cheese and eggs is combined and spread onto buttered sheets of filo pastry then rolled tightly like a cigar. Guests take turns rolling the filo—a delicate task that requires both a careful balance of pressure and motion. Once rolled, the banitza gets brushed with another coat of butter and then is baked until golden and crispy.


We’ve gathered for the first of a series of dinners open to the public as part of Mantı, Börek, Baklava a project initiated by Vancouver-based artist Derya Akay.  Akay has collaborated with women elders to share the knowledge and stories that food activates. Today Maria Dyulgerova and her granddaughter, Biliana Velkova are sharing traditional Bulgarian recipes that have similar counterparts in Turkish cuisine. What is called “börek” in Turkey could be described as a variation of banitza in Bulgaria—at their most basic, both are stuffed baked pastries and devastatingly delicious.


Apart from being appetizing, these meals offer a way to connect and a means to look at how diaspora shapes food histories, culture and communities in Vancouver. For women elders like Maria, Akay’s project celebrates the crucial knowledge brought from afar and cultivated throughout generations.