Vegetarians, vegans and Kosher kids who don't partake in Hemos or the Steak Queen don't have to miss out on Philly's wonderfully cheap food cart lunches. Magic Carpet operates two carts on campus -- one at 36th and Spruce and the other across from Fisher-Bennett Hall at 34th and Walnut.

Owner Dean Varvoutis has served all-vegetarian fare here for 21 years, and he's beloved by meat eaters, too. Varvoutis himself eats "fish and fowl," and even admits to a taste of his mom's Christmas lamb, "out of respect for her." A survey he conducted a few years ago found that over 80% of Magic Carpet customers were meat eaters, but Varvoutis thinks vegetarianism and veganism are now on the rise. 99% percent of his menu is vegan-friendly -- dishes may be ordered without cheese, and tasty-looking baked goods on display, including oatmeal coconut almond cookies, are surprisingly dairy- and egg-free.

Varvoutis' menu is heavy on meat-substitute soy proteins, which can raise questions from unfamiliar diners. Here he provides a little insight into the world of meat alternatives:

Tofu: soybean curd, served at Magic Carpet both simply baked on rice or salad, or in the cart's famous tofu meatballs -- Varvoutis' secret recipe known as "magic meatballs."

Seitan: wheat gluten that's nonfat and high in protein. Its meaty flavor and texture work well in Magic Carpet's "seitan peppersteak" sandwiches.

Tempeh: fermented soybeans pressed into a "soybean cake." High protein and slightly higher in fat than tofu and seitan, with a firm texture and nutty flavor.


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