Food in the Land of Jordan | Riot of Flavours
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Food in the Land of Jordan

July 23, 2015

http://ohanama.com/category/latest-news/page/5/ Historically, the climate and culture of a place have influenced its lifestyle, food habits and even cuisine. In the Middle East, the local cuisine across the Arabian land has been infused with Bedouin culture. Bedouins were travellers that moved from one place to another in search of food, shelter, water across the desert land. The habits of the traditional Bedouins have given Arabian food a language of its own through the ingredients, spices and even cooking methods used. Local cuisine in modernised countries – especially in the GCC region – like Qatar, UAE, etc., is masked by the lure of other cuisines and cultures, given their increasing expatriate population. Although many of these countries are struggling to break through the haze of Western cuisine and culture, a lot is missed in the glamour of the latter.

What would probably be a window to the real cuisine is the rural areas – the areas not coloured by the greyness of concrete buildings or masked by the scents of over population. These places still hold on to their traditional practices and beliefs and remain rich in their culture. Today, while Bedouins do exist across the Arab land, those who have resisted the lure of the modern life continue to live in rural areas, desert land. Yes, there are people who still live in tents of made of hide, in caves roughed by the climate, while enjoying modern-day amenities.

Some beautiful Hummus at Azkadenya – a must order at any Arabic restaurant

And you can’t help but be privy to their life when in Jordan. Jordan as a country is absolutely beautiful. Wide landscapes, sandstone mountains, brilliant colours and long-winding roads are a road traveller’s dream. Located between some extremely strong Arabian countries – Saudi Arabia, Israel, Palestine and Syria, this small little country that boasts of the beautiful Petra from 600 BC and the Dead Sea that it shares with Israel, has not been spared the influence of the Levantine cuisine that has made its name in the traditional cuisine of countries like Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, etc. Ingredients are similar, so are dishes like the mezze, arayes, basbousa, knafeh, etc. But at the same time, Jordan boasts of its own, quintessential dishes like the Mensef, Shraak, Fukhaare, Sawani or Zarb.

The mezze platter at Oriental Kitchen, Petra, Jordan

Beautiful sweet and crunchy Basbousa

The dishes I am going to talk about in this post include some that I coincidentally had at a Jordanian restaurant in Dubai (Azkadenya, which, if I’m not mistaken is a branch of the original one in Amman) before my trip and the few dishes I had in Jordan itself.

http://ceec.ca/the-green-feed/ Mezze & grills

No Middle Eastern meal is complete without its Mezze and grill. Hummus, muttabbal, fattoush, grilled meats like mutton and chicken (and sometimes beef) are healthy starters to any meal.

At Azkadenya in Dubai, I tried the Jordanian Fukhaara – grilled meat cooking in a clay pot with an array of spices. This one was the Fukharet Kaftaleta – Marinated Lamb Chops Slow Cooked with Seasonal Vegetables in the traditional clay pot. I loved the fact that the waitress asked me how I would like my vegetables cooked – al dente or soft. The lamb chops were delicious – sweet, spicy, tangy and savoury.

Fukharet Kaftaleta at Azkadenya, Dubai

We also had a plate of grilled meats at the Oriental Kitchen in Petra, Jordan. The chicken was a bit tough, but the mutton seekh was moist and delicious.

http://fjd.com/faq/ Mains

This is the star of this article and the national dish of Jordan –Mensef. A generous preparation of rice, chunks of mutton with dried yoghurt made of goat’s milk, a few spices and fried almonds with a thin, whole-wheat roti like preparation called shraak. The method of cooking the shraak is much like that of a rumali roti. Paper thin rounds of dough made of wheat are cooked on the bowl side of a wok till it is brown and bubbles up. The mensef itself shows the bedouini culture of the dish – goat’s milk and meat are what would be more abundant in the desert than vegetables. Generally, the preparation is a bit dry and lack lustre, but the garnish of almonds and raisins brings the entire dish to life. It actually showcases the brilliance of a garnish in any dish. I had the Mensef at the Oriental Kitchen at Petra. It was served with a fragrant, nourishing mutton soup.

Mensef – a contrast of flavours and textures

Lamb soup

Another preparation is the Sawani – a preparation of food in small tin trays that are baked in the oven till tender. I’m sure that traditionally, these were cooked in a makeshift wood fire oven infused with the smokey flavours of the wood. I had the vegetarian one with tomatoes and potatoes in Petra at the Oriental Kitchen. The tomato gravy was zingy and the vegetables were just cooked. It was like an Indian bhaji without the usual spices!

Vegetarian sawani at Oriental Kitchen, Petra

The non-veg sawaniSiniyet Kofta Bil Tahiniyeh – made of lamb mince topped with tomatoes and potatoes and lathered with a rice tahini sauce and baked is a beautiful dish at Azkadenya in Dubai. The delicate meat from the lamb with the creamy tahini topped with fried almonds is absolutely delicious – in terms of both textures and flavor. This is definitely one of my favourite dishes!

My favourite – Siniyet Kofta Bil Tahiniyeh at Azkadenya, Dubai

Apart from this, I had the Kibbeh Labaneyah (not really quintessentially Jordanian, but more Levantine) – a preparation of lamb and bulghur wheat meatballs fried with spices and then dunked into a gravy of labanor buttermilk and cooked till tender. I called it the Arabic version of Kadhi Pakode. This was served with rice at the Dahab restaurant in Amman. While the gravy is a bit bland for the Indian palate, the meatballs more than make up for it with the flavor of lamb and spices and their textural contribution.

Kibbeh Labaneyah

One Jordanian experience that I missed out on was the Zarb. It is a local barbeque preparation (made only in the rural, desert areas) by the Bedouins in Wadi Rum. It’s a combination of meat, herbs and spices that are piled on top of each other and cooked in a large underground pit! If I go another time, I will ensure that I experience this!

Jordanian cuisine Jordan is familiar yet new. And definitely, something to experience while you visit. I would have loved to have many more dishes at Jordan but maybe Azkadenya is waiting for me now!

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3 Comments

  • Reply Tiger Vamshi September 26, 2015 at 04:42

    Wish I can take them off the screen and finish them 🙂

  • Reply Fatema Bohra September 5, 2017 at 00:45

    Such a wonderfully written piece. I wonder how I haven’t read this one before. Anyways makes me want to go back to Jordan and this time concentrate on the food. I loved that basbousa, I can still savor it’s taste in my memories. Also I learned something new today, about the levantine cuisine. I think we should go to azkadenya soon.

    • Reply riotofflavours September 5, 2017 at 09:53

      Thanks Fatty! I can’t believe you haven’t read it! Oh yes, we have to visit Azkadenya! I don’t know why we didn’t go before!

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