“Ya3ni eih msh betakly lahma? Enty sayma tool el youm, lazem tetghazy ya benty!! Khody de bas w khalas” your aunt says as she puts half a chicken on your plate at the annual family Ramadan gathering.
If being vegan or vegetarian wasn’t hard enough to do while living in Egypt, the month of Ramadan, the heart and soul of family gatherings, sure makes it not an easy way of living.
That’s why we spoke to several vegans/ vegetarians in Cairo and asked for their tips and tricks on how to survive Ramadan while still staying true to your plant-based diet and getting through breaking your fast, Suhoor and family gatherings.
Zeinab Shafei (vegan for 3 years)
Breaking Fast at Family Gatherings:
- The first Ramadan is always the hardest because you’re still not used to the fact that your fasting all day and you might not find suitable food at that Iftar gathering you’re headed to later.
- Have a diplomatic answer ready for every question you can (and will be) asked about why, when what and why you are a vegan?!
- My biggest issue is that I don’t want to disappoint the host by choosing not to eat. I keep my responses pretty apologetic and simple, “Thank you so much, but I don’t eat meat.”
- Don’t make anyone feel like they could’ve had more vegan options, because you shouldn’t expect them to keep your dietary choices in mind.
- Sometimes all you can do is stick to the salad bar. I’ve learned to tolerate and understand that what I’m choosing to practice is very different and new to most people.
- I love having smoothies for Suhoor. A good big jug of 500 ml of pure natural plant-based goodness usually does it for me.
- If you do opt for a smoothie make sure it’s super nutrient dense, that means at least one leafy green like kale or spinach, seeds like flaxseeds (easiest to find in Egypt), fruit, and nut mylk. Just keep a jar of Glow in the fridge.
- I also like having traditional Suhoor food because it is all vegan and super filling. Dishes like Fool, Hummos, Lentils, Molasses with tahini keep you satisfied throughout the day.
- Always drink water along the day, keep a bottle next to you and make sure you sip the night away.
Romina Babek (vegetarian for 7 years):
- When we gather with my Egyptian fiance’s family and when we hang out with friends, everyone around me is trying to make me eat meat and chicken. I get asked this question every time I say I’m vegetarian “If you don’t eat meat what do you eat then?“, “Well, I eat everything else rather than meat and chicken ” is usually my answer, and if you look at it there is so much more food to eat.
- If you go to family/friends gathering at someone’s home, I suggest to tell them in advance that you are vegetarian, so they consider making a veggie dish, otherwise they will take it personally if you don’t eat from their meat dishes.
- My favorite vegetarian dishes include, Mahshi, Molokheya, Bameya, Basila, Lubiya, Lentils, and Potatoes all of these with the Egyptian rice and salad makes a good vegetarian and fulfilling meal.
- If you want to go a bit lighter for iftar, you can eat a salad with lots of colored veggies. You can also add chickpeas to your salad with maybe two boiled/fried eggs for protein on the side.
- Water for me is even more important than food during Ramadan, so I always go with a bottle of mineral water.
- Snacking between meals could be any fruit of your choice, I usually go for bananas, watermelon, and grapes or I can drink a freshly squeezed juice instead.
- The key to successfully following any of these diets is to learn how to cook healthy food at home.
- It’s very easy and pleasant as almost everywhere Suhoor is already vegetarian. Consisting of beans, eggs, mashed potatoes, cheese, bread, yogurt, and cheese/tomato salad
- They are not always prepared in the lightest and healthiest way, but they are filling, so I definitely go for the traditional Egyptian Suhoor.
Nada El Barshoumi (vegan for 7 years):
- I find the best way to counteract any negative commentary about my eating choices is to firstly ensure that I have a lot of options that I can eat from on the table. I have no issue bringing a dish (or 3!) with me. In the Arab world, veganism or vegetarianism is often seen as a deprivation diet, so ensuring that my plate is full of whole, plant-based, colorful and nourishing food tends to speak for itself.
- Also, when it comes to family specifically I refuse to engage on too serious of a level of conversation – if my cousins want to make fun of me, I laugh along with them and change the subject shortly thereafter.
- In fact, keeping a calm and cool demeanor when asked questions means that others will listen and absorb what you’re saying without retaliating.
- I ensure to demonstrate tolerance and respect for my family’s eating choices – that means no wrinkling my nose at the meat dishes, no passive aggressive comments about how everyone else is damaging their health and so on.
- The key, especially as we are fasting during the long days of summer now – is to ensure that you consume healthy, whole-food and plant-based foods in a balanced and sustainable manner.
- Do break your fast with something nutritious.
- I personally break my fast with a date stuffed with a raw walnut followed closely by some fresh juice and water.
- Don’t overdo it at Iftar: Have a light meal at iftar, for example, soup and salad, then have a more substantial dinner an hour later.
- Remember to eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and avoid drinking water during meals. This enables you to eat with your family at a large gathering and avoid the awkward “why are you only eating soup?” conversation.
- Opt for high quality (and high calorie) foods: Raw nuts and seeds, nut butter like tahini, hummus, and avocado are all great sources of healthy fats and protein which you should try to include in your diet on a regular basis, not just in Ramadan
- Balance your plate with whole grains, vegetables, and a protein source.
Yasmeen Abou Hashish (vegan for 1 year):
- For Iftar, I have a vegan burger that I do at home using chickpeas and quinoa or ready-made vegan burgers from Kaju, vegetables made in any form (okra or green string beans with tomato sauce) and a side of salad. I also eat lots of lentils which could be made in many different ways, my favorite is with tomato sauce with a side of rice or pasta.
- Later, I snack on lots of fruit and since I am a sweet-tooth, I opt for healthy desserts such as vegan ice-cream or vegan truffles that Kaju also makes or I do them at home using basically dates, peanut butter and oats (there are many recipes online that one can follow and are pretty easy for the simplicity of the ingredients)
- I go for either or a combination of these options: foul, falafel, green salad with kale, corn, red beans, oats made with almond or coconut milk.
Jennifer Osman, (vegetarian/ vegan for 10 Years):
Breaking Fast At Family Gatherings:
- I have to choose any food on the table that’s vegetarian and if there is not a lot of choices I usually fill my plates with a ton of salad and later during the night I snack again if I’m hungry.
- I always have water and a date, and one of the following options: a large bowl of any kind of vegetable
soup, lentil soup or a plate of watermelon to hydrate or a plate of salad but I make sure it’s filled with lots of dark greens, veggies, and quinoa (which helps sustain you). Then I have salad or nuts or fruit later on at night.
- For Suhoor, I have a plate of watermelon or grapes. I rarely have greek yogurt with cinnamon and banana (as I keep my dairy intake to minimal)
- I highly recommend filling your meals with as many veggies as possible and good carbohydrates such as quinoa, freekeh (high protein), brown rice, legumes, and beans. I don’t do foul at night as it’s not the best for my stomach but foul and falafel is always a great vegan staple however not always the healthiest when eaten outside.
- Hummus with beetroot is amazing with salad and very filling and yummy, it’s my fav dip for Ramadan.
Salma El Maghraby (vegetarian for 3 years, vegan for 1 year):
Breaking Fast at Family Gatherings:
- I don’t do my routine outside my home, I just try to eat as vegan as possible and it ends up being salad, tahini, baba ganoush, rice, and everything that’s as vegan as possible.
- I break my fast on a liter of water, one date, and English Breakfast Tea with just a little bit of almond mylk. By the time I’m done, I’m already very full and I cannot eat anymore.
- Two hours pass before I get hungry. That’s when I eat rice with red kidney or black beans or Brown pasta with vegan pesto sauce. I like a veggie pan consisting of garlic, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, and rice or couscous. I try to make it as nutritious as possible.
- I eat porridge with nuts and a spoon of agave or foul or drink tea with almond mylk again.
We now see how it’s totally doable to be a vegan, vegetarian and still fast in Ramadan. If you follow some of these tips and tricks throughout this month, it is going to hopefully be your easiest one yet.