Just One Dish: Turkish Sausage at Vanilya Bakery

The story behind this breakfast sandwich and why you should try it.

Vanilya Bakery

Turkish sausage at Vanilya Bakery / Photograph courtesy of Vanilya Bakery

Welcome to Just One Dish, a Foobooz series that looks at an outstanding item on a Philly restaurant’s menu — the story behind the dish, how it’s made, and why you should be going out of your way to try it.

On any given morning on East Passyunk Avenue, a small crowd forms around Vanilya Bakery’s window. Parents stop by with their kids in strollers for a cookie or scone, people pause for a bagel while they walk their dogs. It’s the kind of reliable bakery you’d want to integrate into your routine.

Vanilya has long been a part of my own routine. Up until recently, my order was a za’atar bagel with egg and cucumber-dill cream cheese, a sandwich I highly recommend for its herby freshness and eggy heft.

My loyalties have shifted. About a month ago, I brought a friend from out of town to Vanilya. He studied the menu closely, before ordering his bagel with Turkish sausage, an option I had never noticed.

His bagel called to me: The fat from the sausage soaked out of the patty and into the bread. It was richly fragrant; spiced, but not spicy; and stacked in generous thickness with egg and a little cream cheese. My friend shared his bagel with me, and my single bite stayed with me until the next week when I returned on my own. Why hadn’t I ever had this before?

The sausage recipe comes from deep family lore. Owner Bonnie Sarana’s parents — third-generation butchers — immigrated to the United States from Turkey when she was a child, settling in New York and opening a butcher shop. Vanilya’s version is based on a common Turkish sausage called sujuk, which is typically made by stuffing spiced ground beef into an intestine about the size of a kielbasa. The sujuk is semi-dried and then is sliced and fried for omelets and other egg dishes. The sausage is her mother’s recipe: Sarana’s mom still comes to the shop weekly to make it, mixing a fatty ground beef mixture with cumin, coriander, paprika, chili flakes and garlic.

“My version, which is a kind of Americanized, Bonnie-fied version, is a patty,” Sarana explains. “It’s very much my mom’s recipe and I just help her make it each week.” The sausages are cooked in batches ahead of time and then reheated to order, releasing enough fat to stain the bagel in a way that Sarana says reminds her of her childhood.

“Italians dip their bread in sauce, but we used to dip our bread in fat,” she laughs. “The part that soaks up the sausage is the best part.”

Turkish sausage has been on the menu since Vanilya started serving bagels in 2018, adding to their spread of cookies and pastries. It might not be new, but it is a good reminder that even on your most well-trod routines, there’s always something new and delicious to try.