A Little Food… Vegetarian Survival Guide to Jordan & the Middle East

Last updated on March 29, 2023

As a vegetarian traveling to a new country, I face a few extra challenges and considerations. While I wouldn’t out-right skip a destination because of food, the pecking order does change if I know I can eat well once I’m there. So when I read the invitation from the Jordan Tourism Board about a visit the country, my initial thoughts circled like vultures around every tidbit of Middle Eastern food information stored in my brain.

Vegetarian Survival Guide to the Middle East

Jordan sits right in the heart o f the Middle East and on the edge of the Mediterranean region, giving the country flavors and influence from nearby Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece. This proximity to so much cultural diversity seeps into Jordan’s national dishes and cuisine; nearly every single one of these vegetarian dishes can be enjoyed throughout the Middle East.

A jordanian meal laid out family style and ready for the sampling.
A Jordanian meal laid out family style, with lots of vegetarian mezze ready for the sampling (and FYI, I traveled with a carnivore, so the meaty-looking red dish is, in fact, meat.)

My favorite dishes—and the dishes appealing to most vegans and vegetarians traveling in the Middle East—are mezze, or rather a spread of small appetizers. Culturally, these dishes are served at the start of the meal and served family-style.

Family-style is a bit opposite from the American meal mentality, where meals are plated and served individually. Instead, small dishes are spread throughout the table for sampling and we ripped off chunks of pita and dunked right onto the plate.

Warning: Traditional cooked meals in Jordan feature a lot of meat (lamb is popular), but the selection of mezze are healthy, filling, and delicious!

My first three questions about Middle Eastern food:

  • Are there inherently vegetarian dishes in the national cuisine?
  • Can I eat the fresh fruits and veggies without risking contamination from the water used to clean the food?
  • Is vegetarianism understood and accepted?

Yes, yes, and yes! All systems are a go on the foodie front for vegetarian travelers heading to the Middle East (and Jordan specifically). Jordan offers dozens of dishes consistently cooked vegetarian, and the country is touristy enough to easily communicate the concept of vegetarianism (a marked contrast to traveling China as a vegetarian, where culture and poverty create an environment where there is no widely understood direct translation).

You’ll need a couple of phrases to order your food and ensure it’s vegetarian.

  • Ana nabateeyah: I’m a vegetarian (females)
  • Ana nabatee: I’m a vegetarian (males)
  • Ana la akol allahm: I don’t eat meat

So with that in mind, let’s take a photo journey through Jordan’s foodie side as a vegetarian!

Best Middle Eastern Breads

Breads will be served with each and every meal, although they differ in texture and thickness, and even flavor—some breads are cooked near an open flame. But one thing they have in common is that they are delicious and were always served completely fresh.

In addition to using the breads for dipping and scooping your mezze and meal, there is often a bowl of za’atar seasoning on the table—feel free to dip your pita in olive oil before scooping some za’atar seasoning as well!

Pita Bread

Golden rounds of pita bread
Golden rounds of warmed pita bread served in a large basket on the table

Pita bread is a staple part of the diet and served with every meal. It’s completely acceptable to tear the bread with your fingers and use your pita to dip into the family-style mezze served on the table. Seconds are also fine too, so don’t hesitate to grab some more from the basket on the table because there is always extra bread nearby—an endless supply it often seems!


Traditional shrak bread in Jordan
A woman making making the thin, traditional shrak bread in Jordan with the firelit saj in the background.

Shrak is a delicious whole-wheat Bedouin bread. Shrak is baked on a dome-shaped griddle (a saj) with an open fire beneath; this bread is tossed thinly and then lays over top of the griddle to cook until there are some deliciously crispy bubbles in the bread.

Traditional Middle Eastern Salads

Fresh fruits and vegetables play a large role in the Mediterranean diet; you’ll find most salads have natural dressings like olive oil and lemon. The olive oil is delicious and local, and because olive trees grown so well through the Levant and Middle Eastern region, the oil is far cheaper than the olive oil I purchase back home in the U.S.—I am supposing that is one reason so many dishes are served coated in oil! Most of these vegetarian salads are tangy because of the heavy lemon, so get ready to purse your lips on each first bite!


Fattoush salad from Jordan and the Middle East
Fattoush—crispy fried pita and fresh vegetables—is prepared in a delicious and light oil with sumac seasoning for a tangy and tart flavor.

Fresh tomatoes and cucumber are sliced into thick chunks alongside onion and a few greens. The toasted pita bread is the highlight of the dish and such a tasty alternative to croutons. These items are tossed together into a dish with a light and zesty dressing.

This is my favorite of the new vegetarian dishes I discovered in Jordan, and the dish’s simplicity is the best part. I love traditional salads a whole lot, but the variety of non-lettuce based salads in Jordan was a welcome addition to my vegetarian diet.

Another salad, quite similar with the large veggie chunks, but spicier is Ezme Salatasi; although I did not sample this dish in Jordan, it is a Turkish tomato salad you’re likely to find on some menus in the region.

Farmer’s Salad

A bowl of diced veggies make a yummy Farmer's Salad in Jordan
A bowl of diced veggies make a yummy Farmer’s Salad in Jordan

Like the Fatoush, this cold salad is served without lettuce. The catch though is that each part of the salad is finely chopped into small cubes before being tossed together into one bowl. Copious amounts of lemon saturate the veggies for a no-dressing-needed bowl of raw and tasty veggies. To be truthful though, the sheer amount of lemon in the dish took some adjustment time before I was able to eat the dish in large quantities. This recipe for Israeli salad is really close—just add in some green pepper and lemon chunks.


Tabbouleh salad at Wild Jordan in Amman, Jordan
Tabbouleh salad at Wild Jordan in Amman, Jordan

A no-chewing-necessary salad! Okay, I kid, you do have to chew it, but tabouleh is made from bulgar and incredibly finely chopped veggies that include: parsley, tomato, and onion. The dish is then heavily soaked with oil and lemon juice. I grew up eating tabbouleh and loved tasting the flavors in the dish so much closer to its home base. It’s also reliably vegetarian when you find in the in the Middle East, so it’s a safe bet on any menu!


Shanklish salad in Jordan
Shanklish salad and with cheese chunks, tomato, and onion

Shanklish is actually the name of the cheese used within this dish, but because the cheese is most often served with tomatoes and onions, it now refers to the whole dish if you’re ordering in a restaurant.  I loved it; the soft cheese made the salad creamier than a traditional veggie and cheese salad and quite tasty! Since I’m not vegan (and never have been), I live for a good cheese dish, and this one is a new Middle Eastern favorite!


These are not my favorite dish; most often served as simply a plate of plain olives, it just doesn’t do much for my taste buds, but if you’re an olive fan then you are in great luck! Also, they like pickled sides, another delicacy I just don’t get so I’m lumping them with the olives!

Yalanji Dolma or Warak Enab

Dolma, stuffed grape leaves were a tasty snack in Jordan
Dolma are rice-stuffed grape leaves and make a tasty snack throughout the region!

Call this whatever you choose, but the essence of the dish is grape leaves stuffed with rice, seasonings, and occasionally meat. In fact, some dolma are inherently vegetarian and others are not, so you’ll want to ask carefully before sampling. Particularly and important tip since you have to bite into one of the dolma before you know what’s inside! Delicious and a quick pick-me-up, we snacked on these during a family-led cooking experience in Ajloun, Jordan.

Creamy Spreads for Your Bread

Most of these spreads include healthy doses of olive oil, just like the salads in this region. The spreads are most often creamy, with strong flavors. Again, lemon and garlic are popular (just like in the salads) but so is the smoky flavor of fire-roasted eggplant, alongside a rich sesame paste known as tahini.


Closeup of hummus dip as a Jordanian mezze to start the meal.
A creamy hummus dip, made from boiled chickpeas, is the most popular mezze in Jordan

Hummus has crossed over nicely into the rest of the world and you’re probably already familiar with it—and even better if you’re already a hummus fan. Plan on eating a lot of hummus while you’re in the Middle East, and Jordan is no exception. Every single meal in Jordan started with a bowl of creamy hummus and pita and I enjoyed knowing I was getting a good dose of protein with every scoop!

The dish is made from boiled and ground chickpeas that are then blended with lemon, garlic, and oil into a finely ground paste—its seasoned to taste by the chef, so it adds a nice variety that it’s not actually standard prep throughout the region!


Chowing down on a moutabel mezze
Digging into a plate of moutabel, a creamy roasted eggplant dip reminiscent of baba ghanoush, that was served as a family style mezze at a Druze family lunch in Jordan.

If you’re familiar with baba ghanoush then you already have a pretty good flavor profile for moutabel, which is by far more popular in Jordanian cuisine than baba ganoush. Both dishes are made from roasted and mashed eggplant, but the extra ingredients are what make these subtly different.

Moutabel is served at the beginning of the meal as a mezze. The dish is very heavy in tahini paste and garlic and once the dip is smoothed to a creamy finish, a heavy layer of delicious regional olive oil is doused on top. Moutabel is rich and very creamy because of the tahini and the smoked flavor is just delicious in contrast to the sharp citrus salads also served as mezze.

Baba Ghanoush

This is the dish that has most often crossed over into Middle Eastern dishes all over the world, and for good reason. The smoky flavor of the eggplant is complemented with pomegranate molasses, tahini, finely chopped veggies and pine nuts. Tasty, and a fun way to change up the flavors if you bounce between moutabel and baba ghanoush as your mezze of choice.


Muhammara:A spicy chili dish in Jordan
Muhammara: A delicious and quite spicy pepper dish in Jordan.

Having arrived in the Middle East from months eating and traveling within Thailand, I figured I was pretty much ready to tackle any spice the Jordanians threw my way. I was wrong. Muhammara is spicy! But tasty in small quantities. It’s made a walnut and roasted red pepper dip that is by turns sweet, savory, and spicy. Don’t order it alone as it works best in tandem with some of the other mezze, like falafel, pita, and the crunchy fried cheeses. That said, in the West I have sampled this dish without any spice.


A creamy and thick yogurt, Labneh much more closely resembles the tartness and full flavor of Greek yogurt (which is also strained by the way) than it’s American counterpart. I ate this every single morning, and throughout the day too! Really insanely delicious on the often-served candied sweets like these tasty dried apricots. I live for labneh, and highly recommend this protein-ladden dairy to start your day.

Heartier and Heavier Middle Eastern Dishes

To be honest, there just are not a lot of traditional vegetarian cooked meals in Jordanian and Middle Eastern cuisine—they eat meat! Now, that is not to say that you will starve and be living from salads and spreads while you’re there—restaurant menus will offer pastas and other cross-culinary dishes when you’re in touristy areas. And in addition to the handful of adaptable dinner dishes, breakfasts and snack foods are delicious any time of day!

Ful Mudamas

Foul (ful) Mudammas, a local MIddle Eastern dish made from fava beans and topped with spices and seasonings and eaten widely across the region.
Foul (ful) Mudammas, a local MIddle Eastern dish made from fava beans and topped with spices and seasonings and eaten widely across the region.

Ful is my favorite of the cooked dishes, which some would say doesn’t say a lot about the sophistication of my palate since it’s actually a common dish (referred to as a peasant’s dish by some Jordanians), but the peasants do know how to make the most out of simple ingredients and spices! Ful is made from mashed fava beans as the base of the dish and is often served as a hearty breakfast. But fava beans alone hardly rate on the tasty-scale, so add in some fresh veggies and seasonings and it transforms the flavors.

The extra flavors and veggies you’ll find added to the ful depend entirely on where you’re eating it. The Four Seasons Amman was my first sampling of ful on their full breakfast buffet and I had the whole rigmarole to choose from: tomatoes, parsley, cumin, za’atar, sumac, and then drowned in a lovely layer of super-fresh olive oil.

The dish is often served throughout the day as a snack and could make a nice, hearty lunch. I figure most vegetarians are like me: Unaffected by if it’s “peasant” food and more interested in if it’s filling, tasty, and nutricious :)


Falafel balls from Jordan vegetarian cuisine
Falafel are simply deep fried mashed chickpeas served hot and fresh, traditionally with plenty of pita, too!

These little balls of delight need no introduction. Like hummus, falafel has made the cross over to the global palate as a typical Middle Eastern food. And again, for good reason—it’s tasty! These little balls are made from deep-fried ground chickpeas and they are a jack of all trades in the regional diet. Eat them alone as a snack you just pop in your mouth, add a plate to your mezze at the beginning of the meal and they compliment the other dips and salads.

And if you’re hungry but on the go, find a street-side stand and have a falafel sandwich for lunch! Chickpeas are a bit of a wonder-bean because they’re so versatile. Why don’t we in the west cook with chickpeas more often is what I’m wondering?!

Manakish (also Manakeesh)

Manakish served with za'atar and fresh veggies.
Manakish served with za’atar or soft cheese (often akkawi cheese) and fresh veggies

Alongside ful, manakish is a traditional breakfast or snack item that you can likely have made for you throughout the day too. The most popular form of manakish is served with the za’atar seasoning baked on top, which means a very flavorful piece of bread served fresh and warm from the oven.

Also popular is manakish with a creamy cheese spread on top. Hard to say which was my favorite—I loved the riot of flavors in the za’atar manakish, but also dug the way the cheese spread adds a bit of needed moisture to the baked pita bread. You should try both, they’re an inexpensive snack or breakfast!

Bonus tip from a reader! Go to a bakery in the mornings (try Suf’ra in Sweifieh in Amman on Friday mornings)—they make fresh Manakeesh or crumbled Halloumi in a pita fold and hot grilled.


Mujaddara is a popular and very hearty option in the Levant region—order this dish and you won’t be hungry afterwards! Made with cooked lentils, most usually rice, and topped with roasted onions mujaddara is a filling choice and a great way to get some protein into your diet while in the Middle East. You might be lucky and find it served with a side dish of vegetables too!

Makloubeh (Maalouba)

A vegetarian version of makloubeh
A vegetarian version of makloubeh, hand made by me at the Beit Sitti Cooking School in Amman, Jordan

Makloubeh is not an inherently vegetarian dish, but if you’re at a restaurant it shouldn’t be too hard for them to make this tasty dish without the meat since there are plenty of veggies and rice still left to make a filling meal. It’s fun to make too because it’s constructed in the pan upside down and then you flip it over onto the plate and hope it stands long enough to be presented prettily. Mine stood up nicely—yippee!  :)


A vegetarian reader emailed in with this one. He notes that “freekeh is bulgur/wheat and usually made with chicken, but you can have them put veggies on top.” Sounds like a great way to add a savory dish into the repertoire if you are traveling through Jordan or the Middle East!

Middle Eastern Desserts


Eating Knafeh at Habiba in Amman, Jordan
Eating Knafeh with Jodi from LegalNomads.com at Habiba in Amman, Jordan

For those with a sweet tooth, this is delicious and sweet. Which is bizarre, because the dish is made with a thick cheese, which is not inherently sweet. The sweetness comes from the buttery shredded phyllo-like dough on top that is soaked in syrup. I highly recommend hunting down knafeh, because when I posted this same photo on the A Little Adrift Facebook page a debate broke out about who serves the best knafeh (consensus says: Each person voted on their own mother’s recipe, go figure!). If you’re in Amman, Habiba Sweets’ small shop is well worth finding for a taste of delicious knafeh, or other popular Arabic sweets.

Tips to Eat Vegetarian in the Middle East

These dishes constitute the bulk of the food I ate during my ten-day trip to Jordan. It is far from an exhaustive list of the foods in the area, but should give traveling vegetarians a more clear understanding of the types of foods available. I loved traveling vegetarian in Jordan—besides some moments of explanation when eating with Bedouin, there was very little issue.

In fact, I welcomed the freedom of traveling through a region with such a wide array of fresh fruits and vegetables, and even more than that, a focus on fresh and flavorful cuisine.

Am I missing any other tasty vegetarian dishes from the Middle East and Jordan that should find a home on this list? Or, which one from the list is your hands-down favorite?

Traveling Advice for the Middle East

If you’re headed to Jordan, the Jordan Lonely Planet is one of the most recent and reliable guides to this region.

Stay Safe

Don’t forget to book travel insurance for Jordan and the Middle East—it provides essential coverage in case you encounter health issues, lost belongings, or if you face any political challenges. I’ve used IMG Global for more than a decade and highly recommend it. If you’re a solo traveler, also bookmark my advice for solo female travelers.

Travel Around Jordan

I visited the Dead Sea, Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum, and so many other beautiful places in the country.

More About Middle Eastern Vegetarian Food

Essential Travel Planning Resources:

Booking.com: Essentially the only hotel booking site that I use. It has a wide and affordable selection of traditional hotels, but also hostels and vacation rentals, too.

Rome2Rio: Super handy to assess the full range of transport options between two cities—shows everything from flights to trains, buses, minibuses, and more.

Expedia: Best site, hands down, for low-cost flights in the region.

IMG Global: A travel insurance option I’ve used for well over a decade and recommend for many other travelers.

42 thoughts on “A Little Food… Vegetarian Survival Guide to Jordan & the Middle East”

  1. So glad that the guide was helpful and I hope that your Myanmar travels were also enjoyable. I so loved the cuisine there, and could always generally find something delicious to eat! :)

  2. One reader emailed with these additional suggestions. They all sound too delicious not to include!

    “One option I would mention is freekeh. It is bulgur/wheat and usually made with chicken but you can have them put veggies on top — my favorite — if mezze is not enough!!

    Our Palestinian neighbor makes awesome Palestinian dishes not found in restaurants —like stuffed cucumbers in Tahini Sauce

    For vegetarians, there are lovely seasonal fruits year round — whether fresh dates, figs, plums, persimmon and pomegranate. The best place I have found to get them in western amman is in Sweifieh near 6th circle/KFC in Amman.

    There is Suf’ra bakery and right next to it are the fruit shops. Next to it is the spice vendor who will only be too happy to explain what the different spices are. It is so wonderful to just smell them — thanks to the dry weather they are kept out in sacks and don’t spoil.

    Just across is Iziman and Basman Roastery for coffee and the wonderful thyme/sesame mix called Za’atar. You can get your coffee roast (dark/medium/light), optionally with cardamom (hel in arabic). Za’atar is great to just sprinkle on salads or on toast; you can spread on supermarket-bought labneh (hung curd) with olive oil.”

  3. I’m an omnivore, but I don’t mind an occasional all-vegetarian meal. All of these looked really good. I love grape leave-wrapped rice. mmmm

    • Those grape leaves are one of my favorites too! My friend I traveled with was an avid meat eater but she’s always keen on some of the tastier veggie dishes, they really can be tasty if you add the right ingredients :)

    • The flavors can really shine when you take out the meats! I love how the
      delicious olive oil really brings out the freshness in Mediterranean foods!

    • No falafel! Well, all taste buds are different I guess :) There’s enough
      other foods though that you’d be safe, particularly if you ate meat, lots of
      meat in the Middle East too!

  4. I swear all you did was make me hungry!  This is similar to the place setting of food from my wife’s family who are from Ethiophia.  Except you will never see any silverware.  I enjoy eat Falafel but haven’t had any in a while.  I would like to give the Knafeh a try!

    • Guilty as charged! I get hungry every time I think about the post too, if
      that is any consolation! I love meals you eat with your hands–and Ethiopian
      food is delicious :) I’ll go hunt down some Ethiopian restaurants for me,
      you go find a Middle Eastern one…deal? ;-)

      •  Will do, you have a deal!  I wasn’t a fan of eating with my hands at first but its like trying chopsticks for the first time.  Just get better at it the more you do it.

  5. Wow, great post! I’ve already been itching to go to Jordan, and now I can’t wait (not sure when I’m going to make it though :). Each story I read about the country draws me in more and more.

    • Thanks Randy! I was really amazed by Jordan, it’s such a small country, but
      the bang for the buck there was great—delicious foods, Petra, and the Dead
      Sea were all really “wow” for me :) I’ll cross my fingers that something
      comes up soon so you can go for a visit!

  6. Wow! What a post! I’ll head to Jordan in November probably and I love meat… But I wouldn’t mind to have one of the dishes on your post. One? Serve them all! :)

    • Thanks Melvin! You will eat so very well while you are there, no doubt about
      it. You should shoot Jodi LegalNomads an email though since she was a meat
      eater and really loved some of the national lamb dishes she sampled, she
      will definitely have the meatier recommendations for you! :-)

  7. I’m a Jordanian girl and i really advice everyone to visit Jordan it’s such a great Country and there’s way more places to see in here there’s plenty of desert castles  and there’s Mujeb Nature Reserve  it’s such a wonderful place just amazing !!  and that’s Habiba shop  is my fav  place in here ;) and i wanna ask you  Shannon did u visit The Roman Theater by any chance ? it’s a great place to go to.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more Rasha! Really wonderful place and the food is
      so tasty :) I didn’t have the opportunity to actually walk around the Roman
      Theatre, but we visited a look out point above it and our guide explained
      the history and a bit more about Amman :) Thanks for sharing your
      experiences and endorsement for Habiba! I would go back there in a heart
      beat for some knafeh if I could!!

  8. Great post for all us veggies and anyone into finding out about the local food before they travel. I’ve also found Oman, Turkey and Morocco to be great for veggies :)

    • Ooo! That has me intrigued, I’ve had Turkey on my bucket list for a while
      now, and if the food is as tasty and veg friendly as other countries in the
      region it just got higher on the list! Thanks for stopping by and weighing
      in, appreciate you sharing other great veggie spots :)

  9. Lonely Planet Twitter pointed me here.  Good post, but I won’t be back because of your insanely annoying locked overlay of the facebook like, tweet and su buttons.  In PC Firefox 5+ it blocks and ruins the readability of your article unless you have the window maximized.  Some of us multi-task and don’t want to have to maximize the window to read and it’s annoying how it creeps along when reading.

  10. Hard to believe such varieties in jordan……have perception about them being non veggies….would love to have Farmer’s Salad and dolma…even knafeh looking gr8…..so as you both!!

    • There’s an interesting split — the dinner dishes all have a lot of meat,
      but I think the Mediterranean influence has a lot to do with the fresh and
      raw mezze served throughout the country :) The knafeh is just as good as it
      looks btw! Yum!

  11. Hard to believe such varieties in jordan……have perception about them being non veggies….would love to have Farmer’s Salad and dolma…even knafeh looking gr8…..so as you both!!

  12. Wow, this post is making me very hungry! :) Lovely picts and great information about veggie food. Being a veggie myself, I know how hard it can be to travel to other countries, but I can see that Jordan shouldn’t be a problem for me. Far from that! Thanks, Shannon! :)

    • I have a hard time looking at it myself if I haven’t eaten recently! You
      should be really good traveling through Jordan — although they are a meat
      eating culture in the national dishes, and main cooked foods, they really
      have a wide range of those delicious mezze! :)

  13. Mouthwatering! I am so addicted to falafel after eating it nearly every day in the Middle East…I actually found a packet mix from Lebanon in a supermarket in Sydney which is pretty authentic but I have trouble getting the water/mix ratio right…it’s either too dry or too wet! 

    • I haven’t thought about trying a falafel mix! That would surely be easier
      than cooking and mashing falafel by an as yet unknown recipe (which is what
      I was thinking I was going to be forced into!). :) Yum!

  14. This is a wonderful overview of the different types of Mediterranean foods one could possibly try.  When I was vegetarian for several years back in University I ate this kind of meal at least once a week.  My personal favorites are Tabouleh and Falafel.  Anyhow, a great post & I’m quite hungry now!  

    • These are also some of my favorite veggie stables…I think I must eat
      hummus nearly 5 days a week—so delicious with freshly chopped vegetables!
      Good luck hunting down a snack ;-)

  15. Oh wow as a fellow veggie I’m drooling over your pics!  What gorgeous pics you took of the food.  Looks insanely delicious!!!

  16. Oh wow as a fellow veggie I’m drooling over your pics!  What gorgeous pics you took of the food.  Looks insanely delicious!!!

  17. This is why I want to go to the Middle East! Sounds fantastic for vegetarians and I love many of these dishes already so it’d be great to sample them at the source.


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