Jordan, a mystical and magical travel destination found along the east bank of the Jordan River with coasts on both the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, is filled with archeological wonders and majestic natural beauty. Pink sandstone, vast and rugged desert landscapes, monuments and temples, as well as excellently preserved ancient ruins make Jordan an alluring travel destination. Famous spots include the “Rose City” or “Lost City” of Petra, the Nature Reserve in the Wadi Rum Desert and the eclectic capital city Amman.
Although Jordanians are known for being frequent meat-eaters and most of their cuisine includes meat, the basis of their food culture depends on fresh produce, lentils, beans, legumes, spices, and herbs. Awareness and understanding of vegan diets are emerging in Jordan, while many dishes are inherently vegan making it a very easy destination for both vegan and non-vegan travelers.
The experts at Tourist Jordan Tours, who have seen a recent spike in vegan travelers in the Middle East have shared their five tips for exploring the country as a vegan.
One of the best parts of about food in Jordan is the concept of “mezze”. Common in Mediterranean dining, seen in many Arab and Middle Eastern countries, mezze refers to many small dishes that are served at once, often before the main dishes are served and shared amongst the table. In Jordan, almost all of the dishes served in the mezze accompaniments are vegan-friendly. Dishes usually include hummus (dip made from chickpeas and tahini), falafel (fried balls made from chickpeas and spices) tabbouleh salad (chopped parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and olive oil mixed with bulgur), majadra (rice with lentils and onions), yalanji dolma or warak enab (grape vine leaves stuffed with seasoned rice), moutabel (eggplant dip), babaganoush (smoky eggplant dip), ful maddamis (crushed fava beans served with lemon juice, olive oil and herbs, pickled vegetables, fresh salads and olives. There is also bread served with all the small dips and salads, including manaqish (flatbread topped with olive oil and za’atar), pita bread and shrak (whole-wheat Bedouin bread, cooked on an open fire over a saj – medal dome). There are other dishes served with the mezze platter which include non-vegan dishes such a cheese, yogurt and kubbeh ( bulgur mixed with minced onions, and finely ground lean beef, lamb, goat in balls) – be careful not to confuse the kubbeh for falafel! Mezze-style eating is seen all over the country and is, in essence, a vegan dream come true filled with dips, salads, and a variety of bread all made from fresh produce and packed with protein seen in the lentils, beans and even tahini which is rich in B vitamins and healthy fats.
Know what to order
Many other traditional Jordanian dishes are vegan-friendly or can be adapted to accommodate vegan diets. Knowing what to look for on menus can make it much easier to order and find suitable options. A few staple street foods include falafel, which is usually served in a pita bread or laffa (flatbread cooked in a taboon oven). Falafel is served with salads, tahini and even sometimes french fries!
Other popular dishes to look out for include Makloubeh – a traditional dish that generally includes meat but can be ordered without. It is a dish made of rice, potatoes, and nuts cooked together with herbs and spices. Freekeh – bulgar is also a popular ingredient in Jordan which can be served with vegetables instead of meat, making it vegan-friendly. Shorbet Adas (lentil soup) is a trusty go-to as well as Fasolya – a soup made from white beans in a tomato broth. Chelsea Jiminez, a native Californian who now lives in Amman is the creator of the blog My Amman Life and is a passionate vegan herself who says, “Plenty of typical Jordanian dishes are vegan-friendly [but] the only time it is hard to know if something is vegan or not is when it comes to the bread as most places add milk powder to their recipe”.
Learn basic Arabic phrases
Arriving prepared (as most vegans know) is an important part of dining out regardless of the location, but traveling in a foreign country and not knowing the native language can add extra challenges. Knowing a few important phrases in Arabic can make it much easier to find vegan options. Check out a few key phrases and words below:
- “I am vegetarian” – Ana nabati (male) / Ana nabatiye (female)
- As vegan is not a widely recognized concept, the phrase for vegan and vegetarian is the same but it is also possible to say -”‘I do not eat the products of animals” – ana mabakolsh el-montagaat el’ayawaaniyya
- “I do not eat “ – Ana – laa – akool
- “Meat” – Lohoom ( Lahma) )
- “Meat broth” Shorbet- lohoom
- “Pork” Lahm- khanzir
- “Chicken” – Ferakh OR ( Dajaj) )
- “Fish” – Samak
- “Eggs” – Baid
- “Dairy products” – Montagat – Alban
- “Cheese” – Gebna
- “Milk” – Laban
Know where to eat in Jordan
More and more vegan-friendly restaurants are emerging in Jordan, most specifically in the capital city of Amman. Hashem is a staple in Amman, found downtown, serving authentic Jordanian dishes and a perfect way to mingle amidst the locals. Shams El Balad is found on the well-known Rainbow street in historic Jabal Amman, serving farm-to-table cuisine, including many vegan-friendly dishes and a small shop selling organic and local items. Fakhreldin is a traditional Levantine style restaurant that serves meat, but also offers vegan mezze platters and other dishes which can be made vegan. Primal Restaurant caters to vegan, gluten-free, paleo and raw diets and offers a comfortable and welcoming environment. There is also the Wild Jordan Center overlooking the old city of Amman, which includes a vegan-friendly cafe as well as a co-working space, handmade crafts, workshops, hotel accommodation, and information. These are just a few of the vegan-friendly options found in Amman, with plenty more to find, and many other cafes and restaurants adapting their menus to accommodate vegan diners.
What to buy
It is definitely worth stocking up on vegan souvenirs in Jordan to savour the flavours and spices of the region long after your trip is over. Arabic coffee spiced with cardamom is a must, as well as sage tea. Spices like za’atar, turmeric and sumac are worth buying in Jordan. Medjool dates and olive oil are also worthy items to purchase while in Jordan. Bringing back these ingredients are sure to spice up dishes at home or – they also make for a perfect gift.
A Note On Animal Treatment in Jordan
While Jordan is progressive and advanced in vegan-friendly dining, the country has come under scrutiny regarding the treatment of animals. Most specifically, in Petra where horses, donkeys, and camels are used for tourists and can be subjected to inhumane conditions. PETA launched an international campaign to try and prevent the mistreatment of these animals, and other smaller animals rights groups have also been involved. In the streets, there are also many stray cats and dogs. Like most things, it can take time to make changes but the international community has been putting pressure to improve the lives of animals in the region, but it is important to keep this aspect in mind when traveling in Jordan.
From mezze to makloubeh and everything in between, Jordan is filled with a wide variety of vegan-friendly dishes and is sure to satisfy both vegan and non-vegan travelers. The rich flavours, bright colors, spices, and traditional techniques mixed with the newfound awareness of vegan diets, Jordan is quickly becoming a very popular vegan destination.
For more on vegan travel, follow Vilda on Twitter
All photos courtesy of Tourist Jordan Tours