Vegetarian/Vegan Travels in the Holy Land

By Miri

Being vegetarian or vegan in your home country or your country of residence is usually not such a big deal. It may take a little time, it may take a little practice, but at some point, no matter what the local cuisine has to offer, you will figure out and learn how to best accommodate it to your needs.

Being a travelling vegetarian or vegan is somewhat more difficult. Most likely you won't be familiar with the dishes and/or all the ingredients, and in many cases you will also not know the language well enough in order to inquire about all of this. At the same time, trying and tasting the local foods, for many, is an integral part of travelling and learning about different cultures. For the same purpose, the Vegan Society has issued a Vegan Passport, that you can order from their page and that states in the languages of over 93% of the world's population, what foods vegans can/cannot eat. In general, the internet has become a great resource for vegetarians and vegans alike, recipes are being shared, products are being evaluated and also travel tips and recommendations can be found in numerous forums and sites. Being a vegan myself and having lived and travelled in Palestine and Israel for quite a few years now, I would like to add my two cents to the discussion and hopefully help some vegetarian and vegan travellers to the Holy Land.


vegetarian - tzimkhonit (female) & tzimkhoni(male)
vegan - tivonit (female) & tivoni (male)
"without meat" - “bli basar”

Both vegetarianism and veganism are pretty known concepts within Israeli society and in most cases it will not take you too long to explain to people what you eat and what you don't eat.
As most of you know, the Jewish population of Israel is comprised of a whole mix of ethnicities, ranging from Russian immigrants to Jews originating from places like Yemen or Ethiopia, and although sharing the same beliefs, their traditions, including their food cultures, vary considerably. 
Very helpful for vegetarians and vegans are the Kashrut, the Jewish dietary rules. Although highly complex, this set of rules rests upon a few basic principles, one of which is the separation of meat and milk, which translates into the two not being consumed, served, cooked or stored together. 
On products, look for this or similar signs, reading "kosher, parve"
Most of the milky foods are therefore vegetarian, though some may contain fish. Foods that neither contain meat nor milk are categorised as “parve” (meaning "neutral), and although they may contain egg, a lot of them are actually vegan. 
Many restaurants, diners and snack bars in Israel are kosher, and a lot of food products are manufactured according to the Kashrut, and thus give very exact information about the ingredients and are often vegetarian or vegan. In addition to that, you may find products that are usually not suitable for vegans, such as ice cream, but in order to please the religious communities (in the sense of increasing sales) they are made parve, and hence vegan. 
When it comes to Israeli cuisine, as opposed to the foods that the different Jewish communities brought along with them, we may as well switch to the Palestine section, because, let's be honest, Israeli national dishes are in their essence the same as Arab ones.



vegetarian and vegan - nabatiyye (female) & nabati (male)
"without meat" - “biddun lahme”

The concepts of both vegetarianism and veganism are less common among Palestinians and yet, according to my experience, people usually understand right away what you mean. 
While in many other countries vegetarianism is a more known concept than veganism, in Arabic, the term “nabati” is used to refer to both, but literally actually means the latter, i.e. someone who eats only vegetables. 
Falafel in Ramallah
When it comes to snacks and small dishes, Palestine (and Israel as well, for that matter) is perfect for vegetarians and vegans alike. You don't only find tasty and cheap vegan snacks, such as Falafel, Hummus and Foul at every corner, those dishes, made mainly out of legumes, are also very rich in proteins and therefore very healthy for people who abstain from eating meat or animal products. 
In the bigger towns and cities, such as Ramallah and Bethlehem, it is by now also quite easy to find restaurants that serve vegetarian and/or vegan dishes, (at Sangria's in Ramallah you can even order vegan burgers!) and quite a few shops started selling vegan products, such as soy milk and tofu. 
In places that are less frequently visited by foreigners, and especially at people's homes, you may encounter more problems, as a lot of the dishes, especially when served to guests, frequently include meat, especially chicken. Then it's time for you to practice your Arabic and according to my experience, people usually understand. Very often, the meat, and also the yogurt sauces that go with dishes such as Maqluba (a very tasty and common rice dish with fried vegetables and usually chicken), are served on the side, and a vegetarian or vegan may still be able to have her/his share and taste those dishes.



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