Meat isn’t missed at Bayt Sara

Owner Sara Banna outside her restaurant in Jabal Amman on Wednesday May 19, 2021. (Photo: Zoe Sottile/Jordan News)
AMMAN — Jordan is famous for its meat-based meals: mansaf is the national dish and shawarma a street food staple. But one small local restaurant is going against the grain with its fully vegan menu. اضافة اعلان

The menu outside Bayt Sara on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (Photo: Zoe Sottile/Jordan News)

Everything at Bayt Sara is fully animal-product-free, from the meatballs to the milkshakes. When I arrived at the location, just a stone’s throw from Rainbow Street in Jabal Amman, I was struck by how cozy and intimate it felt. The interior is decidedly casual: guests sit either on long pillows on the floor or at low-set tables. Colorful and unique art covers the walls. 

Entering the space feels like visiting your most creative friend’s house for a meal. 

When I arrived, there were several cats lounging outside the door; one orange-and-white stray poked its head inside the restaurant until Sara Banna, the proprietor of the restaurant, filled their bowls with water and food. She is a dedicated animal lover and feeds eighty stray cats, she told me, and spays and neuters some of them. Tables inside are plastered with photos advocating for animals, such as one I noticed for the Basboos Project, which helps trap, sterilize, and release stray cats to control their populations. 

Banna herself is a fundamental part of the Bayt Sara experience: she cooked and served all the food and engaged in lively conversation, telling us about the different ingredients she uses to craft her meat substitutes throughout the meal. I opted for the vegan lasagna and shawarma, got comfortable on the floor, and learned more about the owner’s life as she prepared the dishes. 

The half-Palestinian, half-Romanian chef came to Jordan five years ago. Three years ago, she opened Bayt Sara, which was originally just a vegetarian restaurant. But a year later, Banna converted to veganism and took the restaurant alongside her. The menu includes classic Jordanian street food, like zinger sandwiches, reinvented without the meat and other animal products. 

A professed cheese lover possessing a distant Italian heritage, I was cautious about trying a dairy-free lasagna. But I was pleasantly surprised. The homemade red sauce is delicious and the pasta was layered with corn, mushrooms, and other vegetables. The portion was large and filling. 

Next came the shawarma, two enormous wraps served with ketchup, homemade pickles, and a standout vegan mayonnaise made out of soy oil, garlic, lemon juice, and mustard. The “meat” in the wrap is soy-based, and is deliciously juicy, textured, and filling. As a lifelong vegetarian, I usually don’t seek out meat alternatives. But the vegetarian shawarma pieces are addictive and I can already see myself going back for more. They might not mimic the taste of meat exactly: they are something different entirely and mouth-watering in their own way.

Vegan shawarma at Bayt Sara on Wednesday May 19, 2021. (Photo: Zoe Sottile/Jordan News)

Her clientele, Banna told me, is 70 percent foreigners and 30 percent locals. But, laughing, she told me she hopes to “convert” more and more local guests to at least try vegan food. 

The first year operating the business was challenging, but slowly she began to grow a customer base. Guests may be apprehensive at first, she said, but after trying the vegan meals at Bayt Sara they warm up to the idea of eating without animal products. 

As a vegetarian trying to consume as few animal products as I can, I found it comforting to know that there is a tasty and convenient nearby option for vegan food; while I might not give up my cheese any time soon, I will definitely be stopping by again to try the vegan zingers. And Banna has more meat-free recipes in the works, she told me, such as vegan sausages and hot dogs. 

The allure of Bayt Sara shouldn’t be limited to vegans or vegetarians. The food is delicious and the atmosphere is warm and inviting — perfect for anyone who wants to feel at home while expanding their palate. 

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