Know the difference between mezze and mansaf? Our foodie expert guides you through the Middle Eastern dishes you really must try.
From the smells of the souks to the sugary-sweet desserts, in Jordan you’re never far from a conversation about food; it tells the history of the country. Sahtain wa Afiyah is a term used by Jordanians when a meal is served. It literally means “I wish you health and wellbeing” and is used to encourage guests to heartily enjoy their food. Enjoy the wholesome cuisine of the Middle Eastern country by seeking key dishes – then recreating them at home.
Don’t leave Jordan without trying…
A spread to defy all other spreads, mezze is a delicious combination of hummus, mutabbal, mohammarra, and other foods that can be dipped with bread. Not only is it suitable for vegetarians, it’s healthy, delicious, and gives you a wide variety of options, meaning you probably won’t need a main dish (but you’ll have it anyway!). You won’t go to an Arabic restaurant in Jordan without starting your meal with it, and you wouldn’t want to!
Try making your own… Mezze
Jordan is multicultural, but if there’s one thing that unites everybody, it is mansaf – a rich and plentiful mix of rice, lamb and rehydrated yoghurt that’s served at every special occasion. To really experience the magic of mansaf, you must head for the desert. The Bedouins traditionally eat the hearty dish standing up around a large platter, using the right hand and keeping the left hand firmly behind the back.
As ancient and traditional cooking practices go, zarb is perhaps the most dramatic. It consists of lamb or chicken, and sometimes herbs and vegetables, which have been buried in an oven with hot coals beneath the desert sands. When it’s time for the meat to resurface, the sand is brushed away, the lid comes off, and the glorious slow-roasted fragrances billow into the air. While a few things have changed in the preparation of this delicious dish, the meat still falls off the bone just as it would have hundreds of years ago.
Olives and dates
The thousands of palm trees around the desert areas of Jordan yield endless varieties of dates, from blonde to dark, to the almighty Majdool date, considered the king of all dates.
Geographically speaking, Jordan’s environment gives its olives a well-balanced chemical and sensual taste, which makes them a perfect addition to so many otherwise ordinary dishes. You can sprinkle some olive oil to your salad, blend it in with hummus, labaneh, or keep it simple by dipping your lovely peace of pitta bread in a bowl of delicious olive oil.
It would be unthinkable to end a meal in Jordan without some kind of syrupy dessert. Peek through a sweetshop window and you’ll see mountains of baklava beautifully arranged on steel platters. Diamond-shaped pastries and tiny vermicelli bird’s nests stuffed with roasted pistachio and drizzled with syrup. Huge orange disks of knafeh – a dessert made from baked cheese and semolina – are sprinkled with rosewater before being sliced up and packed to go with ‘warbat bil ishta’ pastries filled with clotted cream.