Find out what kind of food you can eat as a vegetarian or a vegan in Egypt, learn the name of the famous vegetarian dishes and see what suits you.
As a vegetarian, I know how it can sometimes be difficult to find food without meat while traveling. And because I lived in Egypt for 15 years, I thought I would share what I know about Egyptian food—what you can find and eat.
The very good news is that vegetarians (and even vegans) don’t have to worry much in Egypt, as the main and most popular dish is a vegetarian dish!!! You will find “fool wa ta’meyyaa (Egyptian name for falafels)” everywhere. The “fool” is not someone crazy that you’re going to eat! It is only the same fava beans with which falafels are prepared, except they are but boiled. They are both served in a pita bread sandwich, or on a plate with oil over it for the “fool.”
In the same sandwich shops you will also find baabaa ghanoush sandwiches ((mashed eggplant with tahini). Tahini is a sesame seed paste that they usually put on pretty much everything, and which is delicious!) You can also find French fry (batates ma’leeya) sandwiches, mashed potato (batates boore) sandwiches, boiled egg (beid masloo’) sandwiches, omelet (beid omlet)sandwiches and cauliflower (arnabeet) sandwiches (but not everywhere). All the sandwiches are served with salad (tomatoes, cucumber, onion and carrots—sometimes with all these ingredients, and sometimes with some of them), and the tahini will be the common in all sandwiches.
In the same kind of restaurants and elsewhere you will also find delicious lentil soup (shorbat a’ds), a soup made of yellow lentils that is very tasty and really nice in winter.
Another very popular street food in Egypt is the kooshary, which is made with rice, pasta, lentils, chick peas and fried onion. You can put tomato sauce, vinegar with garlic or some very hot (optional) sauce on top.
You will find small kiosks where they sell tuna sandwiches, cheese sandwiches (two kinds: feta sandwiches [giebna beedaa] or a kind of hard cheese sandwiches [giebna]), roomy and jam sandwiches (sandwich murabbaa . These are in a different kind of bread (other than the pita bread) called “feeno“.
In the restaurants where you can find Egyptian dishes, vegetables are usually cooked with meat, so if you’re not too strict of a vegetarian, you will be able to taste the delicious “molokhia (pronounced moolokheya) soup,” which is made with the molokhia plant (ha ha!). It’s a green soup and it looks…viscous…so usually you love it or you hate it! But it is a very healthy dish with lots of vitamins in it, and it is good for dealing with the hot temperatures. Plus, it is delicious!
Almost all of the other vegetables (potatoes, spinach [sabanekh], Jerusalem artichoke [‘ol’ass], peas [biseellaa] and mixed vegetables [torlee]) are cooked with tomato sauce.
You will find also stuffed vegetables (mahshee)—wine leaves (wara’ enab), eggplant (bateenga), zucchini (kuwssa) and cabbage (kromb)— my favorite! But be careful—they are sometimes stuffed with meat in addition to the rice and herbs. You will also find sautéed vegetables, which are cooked separate from the meat.
The Egyptians also have their own“pizza”, which they call “fetira”, and which is a kind of puff pastry filled with feta cheese (gebna beida), romee cheese (gebna romee), or tuna. They usually also add tomato slices and hot or sweet pepper.
More good news for vegetarians and vegans is that in Egypt they have the Coptic Egyptian fast, and when they fast they don’t eat meat at all for one fasting season (there are two main fasting seasons—one before Christmas and one before Easter). They can have fish and eggs for the other fasting season, so throughout that time you can ask for a “seeyaamee” dish.
Finally, you will find a big variety of fruits (depending on the season), such as apples, oranges, bananas, mangoes, guava, strawberries, dates, pears, figs, prickly pear, apricots and peaches
That’s it, so bon appétit!