The food in Jordan is very different from food in the US, although they have many fast food places such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Papa John’s, and Pizza Hut. Normal Jordanians eat some variation of bread, rice and meat. The meat is usually beef, lamb or chicken. Can you guess why pork and bacon aren’t popular here? The majority of people here are Muslim, and it is against their religious law to eat anything from a pig. Three dishes that are really popular are hummus, falafel and shawarma. Hummus is made from chickpeas and is a paste that you dip your bread in. Falafel is also made from chickpeas, except in this dish they are mushed together and fried into small balls. Quite yummy. Finally, shawarma, is a sandwich of meat that is wrapped in a tortilla. All three of these dishes are very cheap here and you can find them anywhere. I can get a falafel sandwich for 40 qirsh, about 60 cents!
A couple weeks ago, I had my first experience with Mansaf, one of Jordan’s most popular dishes. It is a large meal meant for at least six to eight people. Imagine a large pizza pan with pita bread on the bottom, covered in large amounts of rice, with pine nuts and almonds sprinkled on top and finally large pieces of lamb to round out the meal. That’s mansaf.
I had some mixed feelings when I tried it. To begin, other students and I made this dish while on our retreat in northern Jordan. Since we were experiencing how life was for Bedouins, the people who live in the countryside of Jordan, we had to kill a goat for the meat. Just like living on a farm, we got to witness the circle of life because the goat was killed for us to have food. I was hesitant to eat the meal because of that fact, but the meat was delicious. The sauce that goes on top, called jameed, is unlike anything I have ever tasted before. It is good, but very different from any sauce I have ever hasted. It is a little bitter, but very flavorful. Imagine it being similar to watery yogurt. That’s the closest I can get to describe how it tasted.
The dish is also very messy. Everyone eats with their hands by rolling the rice, bread and meat together in small balls. My hands were very messy afterwards. It was a fun experience and definitely unique. Although apprehensive at first because of the goat, I was glad I was able to experience something so important to Jordanian culture. If you had to pick one dish to describe the United States, what would it be?
The recipe below is from Meredith Huston. I found her recipe to be very close to the actual dish, since most foods in Jordan are made without recipes.
Mansaf by Meredith Huston
2 Kilos lamb (we used goat), preferably with bones, cut into thick pieces
2 cups yogurt
1 large onion, chopped
1 egg white, beaten with a fork until frothy
2 teaspoons corn flour
¼ cup clarified butter
¼ cup pine nuts
¼cup slivered almonds
freshly ground pepper
1½ teaspoons turmeric
½ teaspoon allspice
1 small piece cinnamon bark
3 cups basmati rice, rinsed
4-6 loaves pita bread (or khubz – Arab bread)
Place yogurt in a heavy-based pan.
Add yogurt, frothy egg white, corn flour and 2-teaspoon salt to pan and stir gently just enough to blend. It is very important to use a wooden ladle and to stir in the same direction. So, if you stir to the left, you must continue stirring the yogurt mixture to the left throughout the whole cooking process. Otherwise, the yogurt will curdle.
Place pan over medium heat and stir constantly with wooden ladle. Heat the yogurt mixture until it begins to boil, stirring continuously in the same direction. Lower the heat and leave to boil gently, uncovered, for 3-5 minutes until thick.
Place lamb in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring slowly to boil. Skim the surface to remove particles. When well skimmed and boiling, add salt and paper to taste. Cover and boil gently for 30 minutes.
Heat butter in frying pan and add pine nuts and almonds. Fry until golden and remove pine nuts to a plate, draining butter back into the pan.
Add onion to pan and fry gently until transparent. Stir in turmeric, allspice and cinnamon bark and cook for another 2 minutes. Add this mixture to the boiling lamb.
After lamb has been cooking for 1 hour, remove lid and let liquid reduce until it only half-covers lamb.
When reduced, add yogurt sauce, shaking pan to blend it with liquid. Let the mixture boil gently on low heat until lamb is tender and sauce is thick.
In the meantime, prepare the rice as directed on package.
Once rice is cooked, remove it from pot and place it in a large round serving platter that is already covered with pita bread, then spread half of the nuts on top of rice.
When lamb is done, remove the meat chunks with a slotted spoon and place on top of rice and nuts platter. Then sprinkle the remaining nuts over entire platter.
Place the cooked yogurt in a large serving bowl.
The traditional way to serve mansaf is on one dish with individual bowls of yogurt sauce and no utensils. Each person would have a dedicated space on the dish from which to eat with his or her right fingers. When you eat it, you take a bit of rice, bread and lamb and roll it into a ball. Enjoy!
Is this food connected to the local environment? How?:
As I noted earlier, the meat came from a goat we killed that morning. The goat was from a nearby farm, as we were living in an EcoPark in northern Jordan. The bread, or first layer, is typically khubz, Arab bread unique to the area. It is made by rolling out dough very thin, as if you’re making a New York Style Thin Crust Pizza and cooking it on a large round stone. The sauce comes from goat’s milk before it is made into yogurt. The Bedouins still make the yogurt today, which is an essential part of the dish.
Jordan is part of the Fertile Crescent, an area in the Middle East known for its agriculture. Rice is one of the foods grown in Jordan and is a large staple of the Jordanian diet. The majority of my dinners cooked by my host mother have rice in them. It is inexpensive because it is local and very convenient for Jordanians.