In many parts of the world, people spend less and less time on food. In a world where everyone is always in a hurry, a sandwich, a hamburger or anything that one can swallow in a short time is the most practical, because, after all, eating is something that one does to fulfil a need. Fortunately, in other places, to sit for a meal is full of very different connotations and symbols. This is the case in Jordan, where the simplest meal can turn into a special event.
If there is one word that defines the Jordanian cuisine beyond its ingredients and flavours, that is hospitality. Kindness is expressed through what is served at the table and, more than fulfilling a biological function, to sit down to eat is a significant social moment that should be enjoyed. It can be easily said that Jordanian society is food-centred.
Origins and basic ingredients
Jordanian cuisine is very similar to those that belong to the same region. It is predominantly of Bedouin origin and, since the country was a crossing point of trade routes, influenced by cultures from very distant places such as India. As it happens, some spices come from that country and rice, another basis of Jordanian cuisine, was introduced from Egypt.
Jordanian cuisine is well known for being simple and unpretentious, which doesn’t prevent some of its best dishes from being very elaborate and tasty. It is also well known for being very healthy: its main ingredients are vegetables, legumes, fruits, yogurt, dried fruit and meat such as lamb and chicken.
Every Jordanian meal is preceded by a mezze, which is a more or less wide selection of small dishes. One of the most famous starters is the khobez, the so-called Jordanian bread, which is served with many really delicious dips. One of them is the renowned hummus, a thick paste made from chickpeas with tahini, olive oil and lemon juice. There is also the baba ganoush, similar to the hummus, but with aubergines instead.
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Salads are also often served before the main course. There is the ubiquitous tabbouleh, made with parsley, tomatoes and aromatic herbs. Mezze dishes also include fatayer, pasties stuffed with minced meat, and kibbeh, fried bulgur wheat meatballs. All the starters are served in a single platter placed in the middle of the table, within the reach of everyone.
Photo: Unai Guerra
Main courses are usually based on chicken or lamb, but in coastal areas such as the city of Aqaba, they use seafood instead. Kofta, a baked lamb preparation with tomatoes, parsley and onions, is one of the most popular dishes. Then, you have the musakhan, made of grilled chicken, pine nuts, onions served over pitta bread and the shish kebab, a dish that consists of marinated lamb and chicken. I cannot fail to mention the traditional kebab and the fasoliyeh, a bean stew.
Photo: Frédérique Voisin-Demery
The national dish: mansaf
If Jordan has a national dish, that is undoubtedly mansaf. It is served on the most important occasions, for example, to honour a guest, in weddings, in special social events or on public holidays, on a tray placed in the middle of the table.
This Bedouin specialty consists of a lamb stew with jameed (a kind of dry yogurt) and aromatic herbs slowly cooked during many hours. Once mansaf is ready, it is served over a bed of rice and pine nuts sprayed with the remainder of jameed.
How to eat mansaf
Obviously, you can use cutlery to eat mansaf, but the right way to do it using your hands. Thus, eating it turns into an enjoyable experience where the important thing is to share. Mansaf is served on a round platter placed in the middle of the table, not in individual plates. In this way, each guest eats directly from the same plate. It is said that mansaf is a dish that ties people together and is used to make peace with someone.
Each mouthful should always be taken with the right hand, since in the Muslim tradition, the right side symbolises all that is noble and sacred, whereas the left hand symbolises what is worldly and related to personal hygiene. Lamb should then be shredded and mixed with rice, always with the right hand. Bedouins reportedly eat it standing up and with the left hand put behind their back.
What’s for dessert?
If you still have room left for dessert, you had better like sweet, because Jordan desserts are usually as sweet as delicious. Baklava is one of the most traditional desserts and consists of puff pastry stuffed with walnuts and covered with honey. Knafeh is a goat cheesecake with pistachio nuts cooked in syrup. Halawet el jibn are cheese rolls dipped in ice cream. As a rule, dessert is served with a good tea (generally mint tea), one of the most popular drinks in Jordan.
Photo: Colin Tsoi
Apart from these goodies, Jordanians eat massively dates, too, which can be stuffed with almonds, walnuts, and even dipped in chocolate.
Photo: Catherine Sharman
If you are planning a trip to Jordan, I recommend that you visit Global Exchange website.
Cover image: lablascovegmenu.