Arab Culture: The Art of Eating Mansaf

Gary Greer 3/22/2020
Arab Culture

If you ever have a chance to visit the Kingdom of Jordan, more than likely someone will invite you… wait. Let me rephrase that. If you don’t do anything else in this life, go to Jordan and eat mansaf. Put it on your bucket list, on your wish list, on your calendar – whatever you have to do! Just go to Jordan and eat mansaf!

Look, you don’t have to eat only mansaf if you go to Jordan because there are plenty of Jordanian food options available, but trust me on this one. Try it one time.

You’ll thank me later.

What is this Jordanian mansaf I speak about?

Mansaf is the pride of Jordan – after all, it is Jordan’s national dish – and a delicious dish of rice, lamb, a special dried and fermented goat yoghurt known as jameed, almonds, and a type of bread called shrak in the local Arab dialect. However, mansaf is about more than just its delicious taste. (“How does mansaf taste?” you might ask. Well, one critic actually said it tastes like Jordan); it’s also such an important part of Jordanian culture, that it has resolved conflicts and restored peace among the tribes in the Kingdom. Of course, you’ll also see it at Jordanian celebrations, parties, family gatherings, and festivals.

The yellow fragrant rice, topped with extremely tender pieces of lamb scattered on top, sprinkled with a good handful of fried pine nuts or sliced almonds is usually served on a large communal metal platter with bowls jameed on the side.

How to eat mansaf

Now it’s time to get serious because Jordanians take mansaf very seriously. Therefore, here are a few things you need to know before you dig in:

1. Stand

If you’ve been invited to someone’s house, you might have to stand when you eat. This way you make more space for other guests to fit around the table. If you’re eating mansaf alone in a restaurant, please don’t stand.

2. Mark your territory

Let the person standing on your left and on your right know which area you plan to eat from so they know their boundaries and don’t try to take some of your delicious mansaf when you’re not looking.

3. Use your hand

And make sure it’s your right hand. (Some people actually eat mansaf with their left hand behind their backs.) Do not ask for a fork or a spoon until you’ve at least tried number four, below.

4. Have a ball

With your right hand, grab some rice and meat, which by then would be drenched in the jameed sauce, and squeeze all the ingredients together until you can form a ball with your thumb and forefinger. Be patient. It takes time but once you’ve practiced it enough (and after you’ve tasted it, believe me, you’ll want to practice often), you’ll get the hang of it.

5. Keep it clean

Don’t go licking your fingers after every single ball. In fact, after you’ve learned to make a perfect ball, pop it in your mouth without letting your fingers touch your mouth.

6. Stop when you’re full

Remember – everything is better in moderation. Though you’ll want to continue eating and eating this delicious meal, if you don’t stop when you’re full you could suffer from sleepiness, bloating, button popping and forgetting names or even where you live as your friends roll you back home.

7. Use your head

If you’re invited as a guest of honor (and you’ll almost always be the guest of honor if you’re invited), chances are they will serve you the platter with the sheep’s head in the middle. Use YOUR head and don’t over-rect. At the very least, try some of it as you host has put you in a very high position of honor by offering you the head. It’s considered very rude to refuse it. If you don’t like your food staring back at you while you’re eating, try to eat the meat around it.

Now, if you tried eating mansaf while reading this article and are still awake while reading this, I’d say you’ve successfully enjoyed eating mansaf without eating too much (as if there were ever enough of something this good). Enjoy your meal, or as they say in Arabic, sahtayn!

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