Follow Safiyah’s vegan journey through Amman as she embarked on a year-long exchange at the University of Jordan.
Share her frustration at only having the option of chips to eat each day at the university canteen and how she navigated the streets of Amman to find its best-kept accidentally vegan secrets!
Benefit from Safiyah’s advice on where to find the best vegan food in Jordan’s capital city and her top tips on how to eat a plant-based diet whilst surviving on a student budget.
Vegan Arabic and Linguistics Student in Amman, Jordan
Summer of 2018 I was preparing myself for what would be a defining year; I was to travel to Amman, capital of Jordan for my year-long exchange and would finally be able to practise my language of study, which had for two years prior, been confined to classrooms. Though at the start my spoken skills rested precariously upon a rudimentary framework, I was eager to get out there and do my best to forge some kind of meaningful conversation from it.
As an Arabic and Linguistics student, I was set to enrol at the University of Jordan for a two-semester course and I was excited to experience, not only a valuable academic opportunity, but a new culture that was bound to be an adventure into unexplored plains.
Amongst my rush of excitement, there was one aspect which I remained a little unsure of: Veganism is by no means an internationally mainstream ideology and with the much-loved national dish of Jordan being Mansaf (a rice-based meal with lamb, drizzled in fermented yoghurt known as Jameed) it didn’t seem to set a terribly vegan-friendly precedent.
According to Ahmad Safi, founder of PAL (Palestinian Animal League), in the Middle East “they don’t consider a meal without meat to be a ‘full’ meal” and indeed my dietary choices were at times met with confusion, even concern.
However, I would soon discover that in-between the meat-heavy mains lies some of the best accidentally vegan food I have ever tasted. Jordanian plant-based food is in fact everywhere, hiding in plain sight amongst a sea of globalised fast-food chains, and is not only delicious, but oozing with nutrients too!
Plant-Based Options at the University of Jordan
All chipped out at the canteen!
After several days of exploring the city’s amazing touristic sites, my first day at the University of Jordan finally arrived. Joined by six classmates from the UK, day one was spent partaking in the usual socially awkward icebreakers, only this time the whole exercise was to be conducted in Arabic.
Thrown into the deep end, all lectures henceforth would be delivered in this way however I quickly learned to stay afloat and before I knew it was swimming full linguistic lengthens. I loved my new university and quickly made friends with Jordanian students around the campus with whom I began to converse using my new found skills.
My only qualm- come lunchtime, as is often the case for vegans abroad- my only option at the canteen seemed to be chips. It was only a week or two before I was all chipped out so started to make my own food to refuel on during breaks.
Discovering vegan products in Jordan’s supermarkets
At first, delighted that I had found it on the other side of the world, I would make cheese sandwiches with the Violife cheddar, which I had bought at an obscure little health food store called The Green Shop. It was also available at the rather high-end supermarket, Centro. However high import tax and limited demand made for a financially unsustainable shopping list item on a student loan, so I happily resorted to the widely available hummus from then on.
Vegan Dining in Amman, Jordan
Outside the University gates though, that’s when I found the good stuff- but it wasn’t without trial to start with. There are a wide variety of great restaurants all around the city, and eating out would eventually become a pastime, however initially ill-equipped on where to go, I ended up with a side of chips all over again.
Plant-based fast-food options
Fast-food is everywhere in Amman with all the big chains you’d expect, however, you can’t just pop down to McDonald’s for a veggie burger on-the-go or order a plant-based Pizza Hut takeaway for a night in (though I couldn’t believe by luck once I’d found a Costa serving soy milk).
In other restaurants, I’d rely on a plain bowl of pasta with tomato sauce, which was always met with bewilderment when I’d request that the cheese be left out. On one occasion a waiter had passionately contested “but it’s just parmesan!” with a terrible concern that I would somehow be missing out. In such situations, I had resorted to declaring that I simply had a terrible dairy allergy which mostly got the point across.
Jordan’s vegan food- hiding in plain sight
For authentic vegan-friendly food you have to look a little deeper, at times venture off the beaten track, away from the omnipresence of commercialised American junk food; only then will you find the real culinary heart of Jordan. Below I have listed some of my highlights.
Have you been to Jordan? Pitch us your vegan travel experiences here!
Top 5 Restaurants for Vegan Dining in Amman, Jordan
Set in a beautiful traditional townhouse with a paradisal downstairs garden, I have heard whispers that Will Smith dined here during his time filming Aladdin in Jordan. Though sources remain unconfirmed, what I can confirm is the great food on offer at Sufra; it’s traditionally Arabic, deliciously authentic and amazingly so, mostly accidentally vegan!
Some of the food on offer includes lentil soup, tabbouleh, cooked-to-perfection falafel and endless Arabic bread which is always on hand with a pot of Hummus.
2. Bab al Yemen
Amman is a multicultural hub with a significant Yemeni community, and with them, they have generously brought their delicious food. Though you’ll have to watch out for ghee, also known as clarified butter (again the lactose intolerant excuse works great to avoid intercultural food politics at the table) there is a wide range of bean-based dishes and traditional Yemeni flat-bread which in my opinion trumps all bread ever baked.
3. Abu Jabara
The cheapest and most delicious falafel in Jordan, upon discovery me and my exchange group had started frequenting Abu Jabara several times a week like one would their local pub. Served in a wrap with fresh salad or simply in their glorious original form with a side of hummus, the falafel here truly is a cultural gem and is great with a cup of traditional mint tea.
Though it is hardly the place to go for an authentic Jordanian selection, Primal is the only restaurant in the city serving a vegan burger, and after many months of not having one, I was delighted to have finally found it.
Primal is part of the new generation of restaurants in Amman experimenting with gluten-free, plant-based and super-foods. It has a growing menu of vegan items along with some outstanding dessert options, so is well-equipped to cater to all your vegan needs.
5. Wild Jordan
A cultural centre great for first-time visitors; as well as providing a brilliant plant-based meal you can book trips, stay the night and pick up a souvenir from the gift shop at Wild Jordan too. As it specifically caters to tourists, this is one of the few places you’ll find ‘VE’ on the menu.
There is a decent selection of starters, mains and desserts of the plant-based persuasion- I personally recommend the Koshary. As a vegan you are in safe hands at Wild Jordan and it can be a great help for the rest of your trip too.
Check out our Ultimate Vegan Travel Guide for more advice on how to discover vegan food abroad
New Perspectives: Veganism in Amman
Though my uncertainty had been satisfied upon discovering Amman’s treasure chest of vegan-friendly food, confusion remained an inevitability whenever it was raised in casual conversation. However when the opportunity arose, I was happy to discuss my vegan motivations amongst friends, and present my case with an added dimension of cultural awareness. This did not at all mean filtering my responses in regards to this important cause for justice which I remain devoted to; it simply meant reapproaching the subject in a way which could reach a perspective that had been nurtured in different surroundings than my own.
I had some truly engaging discussions on veganism, with some friends even declaring they would consider taking it on in the future. And whilst I was glad to get home to a large Papa John’s Vegan Garden Party, I missed the city, the people, and of course the endless plant-based falafel of which I am yet to find a worthy equivalent.
I look forward to the day when I can return, do it all over again, and catch up with friends over a delicious vegan meal in Amman.