As more people are embracing a plant-based lifestyle around the world, it only makes sense that Cairo, home to a population of over 9 million, would jump on the vegetarian bandwagon. More and more modern day Egyptians are turning to vegetarianism, for health, moral and religious reasons. The Copts (Christians of Egypt) who make up around 4 million of the Egyptian population, fast between 180-210 days a year, where they follow a strict vegan diet (except for fish on some occasions). In the Pharaonic era, the regular consumption of meat was limited to the upper classes, and it is not so different nowadays, with the rising cost of meat & poultry. Your average, typical Egyptian diet is based more on beans, legumes & vegetables than meat. In light of that, the most common dishes in Egypt are plant-based: Ful Medames (baked beans), Ta’meyya (fava-bean-based Falafel) & Koshari, all great options for a vegetarian in Cairo.
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Now, we have to stop and dedicate a whole paragraph to the Egyptian wonder that is Koshari. Known as Egypt’s official national dish, it is a delicious concoction of rice, brown lentils, pasta and chickpeas, all mixed together and topped off with a rich tomato-garlic sauce and sprinkled with crispy fried onions. Koshari is served with shatta (hot sauce) and daqqa (a garlic vinegar spice infused sauce) to add according to your preference. Koshari is a vegetarian (vegan if cooked in vegetable oil and no butter), nutritious, delicious, cheap and filling meal, loved by most, if not all, Egyptians. It is either cooked at home (many recipes are available online), or eaten at any of the many koshari restaurants scattered across Cairo. If you have never tried it, Koshari Abou Tarek, located in Cairo’s charming downtown area, is known to have the best koshari in town (currently ranking at #44 in Tripadvisor). Expect to pay between 15-30 Egyptian Pounds per serving, (which is insanely cheap!) depending on serving size. Abou Tarek offers delivery and take-out services, but a visit to the 4-floor restaurant is worth it for an interesting experience.
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Vegetarian in Cairo: Veggie Burgers
The rise in the number of vegetarians in Cairo in recent years in addition to fasting Coptic Christians has created a demand from suppliers and restaurant owners to include vegan ‘Seyami’ options in their menus. For vegetarians who prefer to eat out, there are countless options to cater to even the pickiest palates. If you’re in the mood for a mouthwatering treat, several burger joints serve a vegetarian option, like the Burger Factory’s Mushroom Veggie Burger. There’s also McDonald’s vegetarian option: the tasty McFalafel sandwich.
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Vegetarian in Cairo: Syrian Restaurants
Alternatively, several local Syrian restaurants such as El Aseel El Demashky serve vegetarian sandwiches, like french-fry or hummus falafel wraps drizzled in different sauces like garlic and tahini, and sprinkled with tasty spices and pickles. Local Syrian restaurants have increased in number since many Syrians have moved to Egypt during the war on Syria the past few years. They have deliciously contributed to Cairo’s vegetarian food scene with their charming, clean and tasty restaurants. Lebanese dine-in restaurants such as Taboula offer great vegetarian-friendly options. You will find a delicious variety of salads and vegetarian appetizers, like mahshi wara’ enab (stuffed vine leaves), cheese stuffed sambosa, hummus dip, fattush salad, spiced potatoes and baba ghanoush (a tasty smoky eggplant dip). For a vegetarian in Cairo, the delicious variety of budget-friendly Levantine dishes is deliciously overwhelming. While on the subject of Lebanese cuisine, we have to mention Man’oucheh, home of the delicious cheese and za’atar mana’eesh (a tasty dough topped with thyme or cheese).
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Vegetarian in Cairo: Veggie Pizza
Let’s not forget everyone’s favorite comfort food – pizza. Of course, there’s always Pizza Hut’s vegetarian pizza, but for when you fancy a change, Maison Thomas offers its ‘Thomas’ pizza (a 4-cheese vegetarian delight). Vinny’s Pizzeria’s NY Original Pizza is another tasty option for a vegetarian in Cairo topped with artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes.
For a varied Egyptian menu at reasonable prices, you can head over to Zooba (a real treat for a vegetarian in Cairo) for a low-key, delicious local meal. Zooba offers variations of ta’meya (falafel) sandwiches with tasty toppings (try the eggplant ta’meya sandwich!). Other items on the menu include foul, cheese sandwiches, lentil soup, koshari, and various salads and delicious drinks. They also have a sweet harissa (spicy) cauliflower dip.
Vegetarian in Cairo: Asian Cuisine
For Asian cuisine enthusiasts, Peking offers delicious appetizers, such as their Crispy Shandong Vegetables and of course, vegetable spring rolls. For a main course, make sure to try their vegetable fried rice or noodles, both equally tasty. Another hidden gem is the Korean Gaya in Cairo’s Maadi area. This authentic restaurant has a section in its menu dedicated to tofu lovers (try the tofu-kimchi). Gaya is well known for its assortment of tasty vegetable appetizers, set upon your table as soon as you place your order, and its impeccable service. For a sushi treat, Mori Sushi (Cairo’s favorite sushi spot) serves a varied and flavorsome vegetarian sushi menu for vegetarians in Cairo. Try the Hoso Avocado Maki and the Ura Maki. If you like Indian food, Maharaja serves a delicious Indian vegetable biryani, and several vegetarian tandoori options. Don’t forget to order the vegetable samosa as a starter, and their delicious naan to dip into any of the many vegetable curries available in the menu.
Egypt’s moderate climate makes local produce delicious and available all-year round at reasonable prices. Tomatoes, cucumber, leafy greens, apples, bananas and oranges are locally produced and readily available. Additionally, you will find organic versions of local produce in most supermarkets. Exotic fruits and vegetables that are not locally produced (such as avocadoes, asparagus, blueberries and grapefruit) can be found in higher-end supermarkets like Metro and Alfa Market. For vegetarians in Cairo, Gourmet offers an entire section of vegan food, where you will also find organic tofu, and ready to cook vegan burger patties. Nowadays, most (if not all) of grocery stores have a mobile application for online orders, from the comfort of your home. Check out InstaShop for grocery deliveries and Otlob for food deliveries. If you prefer home-cooked meals, simple vegetarian meals can be made at home with a few ingredients. Stock up on staples such as rice, pasta, quinoa and beans and combine it with whatever vegetables you have on hand for a hearty meal. Add mushrooms, lentils, peas or beans for protein and play around with different spices. Egyptian rice is cheap, filling and tasty and there are many easy recipes online for vegetable stews like Egyptian bamya (okra), green beans and peas. As another option, stir frying fresh vegetables like bell peppers and broccoli with garlic and a dash of soya sauce, makes a quick and interesting meal – just add some noodles and eggs. While on the subject of eggs, you can’t go wrong with a good old Egyptian shakshuka, which is basically eggs scrambled with diced onions and tomatoes, eaten with Egypt’s famous baladi bread (a thicker kind of pita bread). As the largest and most diverse city in Egypt, vegetarians in Cairo will definitely feel at home, no matter what your food preference, or your budget for that matter is.