The coffee seller advertised his wares with a flourish of a brass pot, catching the glint of the desert sun as he poured the fragrant liquid into a Lilliputian-sized cup. The guest drank the steaming liquid, asked for another, then finished it with a side to side shake of the cup, indicating no refill was needed.
Coffee, a symbol of Arabic hospitality, is seen throughout the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Often flavored with the heady taste of cardamom, coffee is strong and tasty (and often filled with grounds–so leave that last mouthful!)
Jordanian cuisine is as flavorful as its favorite drink. Most meals begin with mezze, an assortment of appetizers that could be a meal in themselves. Every mezze includes flat Arabic bread, hummus (a tasty dip of pureed chickpeas with tahini or sesame seed paste, garlic and lemon juice), baba ghanoush (dip made from smoked eggplant and tahini), kibbe maqliya (deep fried meat balls) and tabouleh (a chopped salad that includes mint and bulgar wheat).
Many of Jordan’s residents trace their heritage to Bedouin roots so it’s not surprising that the national dish is a Bedouin specialty. Mansaf is a special dish often prepared as a sign of honor for guests. Made from lamb served atop a bed of rice and yogurt sauce, the dish is served family style. Although travelers will find this dish served (with forks and plates) in many restaurants, the traditional way to enjoy mansaf is from a communal plate. Diners use their right hand only, taking food directly from in front of them. The food is formed into a small ball and, using the thumb, moved from palm to mouth. Traditionally mansaf is served with rashoof soup, made from lentils, yogurt and onions.
Other traditional dishes appear on restaurant menus as well, especially kebabs. Pick from shish kebab (beef), shish taouk (chicken) or kofta kebab (lamb).
Although Jordan is an Islamic country, alcoholic beverages are served in most restaurants. Jordanian wines are good and available for as little as 8JD (US$12) per bottle; Amstel beer is bottled locally as well. The local liqueur is araq, a drink similar to ouzo but with a strong anise taste. Enjoy the cloudy drink on ice and with water.
Dessert is an Arabic specialty and most restaurants have an extensive spread. Baklawa (baklava) is a favorite, made with delicate layers of phyllo dough covered in nuts and honey. Konafa is a shredded dough filled with goat cheese or nuts then baked in syrup. During Ramadan, a special dessert called ataif is prepared. These small, deep-fried pancakes are stuffed with nuts or cheese.
After a meal, it’s traditional to order a nargileh, a waterpipe or hubble bubble. Shared between several smokers, the pipes burn a mild, aromatic tobacco, often apple flavored.
An excellent restaurant to sample Jordanian food is Kan Zaman, located outside Amman. The restaurant is located in a former fortress; today guests are greeted by photos of the eatery’s most famous diners including the late King Hussein. After a meal, guests can watch performances of traditional Arabic music and dances or stroll through the complex to shop for handicrafts, silver jewelry, embroidered jackets, brass knives, antiques (including antique brass coffeepots), and mirrors with Arabesque designs.
In the city of Madaba, Haret Jdoudna (Ancestor’s Court) is an excellent choice for traditional food served in a former home. Diners can begin with labaneh, a soft goat cheese topped with hot pepper and olive oil and then move on to kifta, minced meat with sesame, tomato or yogurt sauce. For dessert, save room for fig compote served with walnuts or the El-Hara Special, pastry flakes and walnuts served with Arabic pistachio ice cream.
Mansaf is Jordan’s most traditional dish. Here’s a recipe compliments of the Mövenpick Dead Sea Resort:
4 kilograms lamb
Dry yogurt (or see recipe for yogurt, below)
2 kilograms rice (Egyptian or Oriental rice preferred)
One onion, chopped
Put the dried yogurt in hot water for five hours. (If you don’t have dry yogurt, use one kilogram whey and soak in water for one hour. After an hour, put the mixture in a blender. Set aside.)
Boil the lamb with onion and spices until done. Remove the lamb but keep the water. Add the yogurt or the whey to the water. This can be thickened with cornstarch if desired.
Cook the rice. When the rice is finished, return the lamb to the soup and cook for five minutes. Pour lamb and soup mixture over the rice on a large platter. Decorate with pine nuts.
Paris Permenter & John Bigley are founders of www.LoveTripper.com – a romantic travel site featuring getaways of special interest to lovers in search of a honeymoon, a destination wedding, or a weekend away.
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