From its rolling green hills on the Syrian border in the north to the sandy beaches of the Red Sea in the south, Jordan has been a cultural crossroads since at least the heydays of Petra back around 300 B.C. But don’t take our word for it; listen to the stories told by Jordan’s ancient sites – stories of Nabataean kings and Crusader’s castles that still dot the land. Listen to the desert tales of the fiercely proud nomadic Bedouins. Hear the languages heard on the streets of Amman – conversations spoken in the tongues of people from nearly every one of the Arabic speaking countries that call themselves Jordan’s neighbors – Egyptian, Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians or Saudis. Listen at the tables of restaurants where Jordanian foods speak of the country’s rich culture and diverse culinary history. Here are 10 of those dishes that will be calling you back to Jordan:
The national dish – and surely the most popular food in Jordan – mansaf is a traditional Arab dish consisting of lamb cooked in jameed (a type of fermented dried yogurt) sauce and served with rice. Traditionally, mansaf is eaten collectively from a very large platter (in fact, mansaf means “a large dish”). Usually, people eat it “Bedouin style” meaning standing around the platter with other guests, your left hand behind your back. Your right hand creates balls and then place them in the mouth through the use of three fingers. Do not blow on the ball, as this is considered impolite, no matter how hot it is. Though these traditions are still followed by most Jordanian families, if you have a hard time eating mansaf, you can ask for a spoon. Though it’s traditionally cooked with lamb, you will find it comes in chicken and camel versions as well.
A staple street food found all across the kingdom, falafel Jordanian-style are deep fried, crispy on the outside, buttery soft on the inside, balls of ground chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) and spices deep fried and often stuffed into warm flatbread with a good dollop of hummus spread across it for a quick sandwich at breakfast time or anytime, really.
If you’re planning on visiting places like Petra or Wadi Rum, also plan on sitting with a Bedouin and sharing sweetened tea steeped with aromatic sage and served in tiny tea cups. Bedouins, known for their grand hospitality, will refill your glasses over and over with the sweet tea while weaving interesting stories of their families and the surrounding areas. Place your hand over your glass when you’ve had your fill, politely signaling that you’ve had enough.
Sweet cheese layered between crushed noodles or semolina, knafeh is served piping hot and covered in sugary sweet syrup and a sprinkling of Jordanian almonds or other nuts. Originally from Palestine, knafeh Jordan-style is now a favorite for marking special occasions like weddings, engagements, and even job promotions; however, it’s equally good for no reason whatsoever but to savor its syrupy, mouthwatering goodness. In fact, any time of the year you’ll find Jordanians lining up in a downtown Amman side-street waiting to get their hands (and mouths) on this legendary Jordanian treat.
Because Jordanians share their population with a high number of Palestinians, you’ll see Jordan has also adopted some of their traditional cuisine like knafeh and maqlubeh as well. With the hearty flavors of the classic Palestinian maqlubeh, Jordan maqlubeh has become a classic Friday afternoon fare. After a long, slow simmer over a low fire, this dish of rice, chicken, potatoes and cauliflower is inverted tableside (hence its name – maqlubeh means “upside down”) with all of that deliciously seasoned rice hiding savory lumps of meat and chunks of hearty vegetables underneath.
Juice shops abound on Jordanian streets serving freshly-made juice made from seasonal fruits with real sugar cane to sweeten it. Year-round you’ll find people lined up for freshly concocted fruit drinks of nearly every fruit imaginable from ripe avocados to mouth-watering watermelon. A common drink found in Jordan is lemonade mixed with ground mint. It’s so cool and refreshing on a hot summer’s day!
Okay, now will take you from summer to winter because there is nothing like the warm, wholesome aroma of almonds and other nuts being roasted filling the winter air as you walk the bustling city streets at night. Sweet, savory or fresh out of the roaster, eat them with fresh, locally-grown dates for a real palate pleasing delight anytime of the year.
Another import borrowed from the Turkish and perfected by Jordanians. These restaurants with their slowly-rotating spits of sliced lamb, chicken or beef can be found within a stone’s throw of nearly every Jordanian house in Amman. The rich, fatty meat is sliced thin and served in warm Arab bread that’s usually topped with garlic mayonnaise and other toppings that vary with the restaurant. Although one shawarma place looks much like any other, it’s the sandwich that homesick Jordanians (and Iron Men everywhere) yearn for.
With their rich, nomadic history, Jordan’s Bedouins have perfected the art of cooking over desert campfires and zaarb is the prime example of just how perfect it is. A hearty meal that is slow-cooked in a hand-dug pit lined with hot coals then covered over in sand, zaarb is a savory dish of marinated meat that comes out of its earthen oven fall-off-the-bones tender.
Soups in Jordan are as diverse as its culture and history. The spring greens soup, as the name suggests, is chock full of spring greens like arugula, watercress, sorrel, young beet or turnip greens and spinach, or the popular Ramadan breakfast soup, adis soup, made with red lentils. As in America and other Western countries, soup is served before the beginning of the main course meal, and may be clear broths with some freshly boiled vegetables and meat pieces or thick broths that form into stews. As you get closer to the coastal city of Aqaba in the south, you’ll even find soup with big chunks of seafood added to it. Our favorite however, has to be Jordanian tomato soup, a lovely buttery and slightly sweet tasting soup with an exotic touch of cinnamon that’s served with rice or bread. You’ll love it just as much as the Jordanians do.
Boy, all this talk of Jordanian foods has sure made us hungry, so yalla! Let’s go eat. Until next time, sahtayn!
By the way, before we go, we just want to say that if you liked this article and would like to know more about Jordanian culture or Arab culture in general, or if you’re interested to learn Arabic language skills in the Levantine Arabic dialect, why not head over to our website and download the Kaleela Arabic learning app? As you may already know, researchers have proven that the best way to learn Arabic is through Arabic learning apps. So, start learning Palestinian-Jordanian Arabic now by downloading the Kaleela Arabic learning app to your IOS or Android device today.