5 unmissable foods that unlock Jordan’s culinary scene

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Jordanian culinary scene

Jordan boasts a rich culinary heritage that blends together Arabic, Mediterranean, North African, and Persian influences. This unique fusion has given rise to a diverse range of dishes that captivate the taste buds. While popular foods like tabbouleh, falafel, hummus, and baklava can be found throughout the country, some specialties like zarb, cooked deep in the desert sands of Wadi Rum, are more elusive.

The common thread in savory Jordanian cuisine is meat, typically lamb, complemented by generous use of yogurt, za’atar, lemon, and olive oil. When it comes to desserts, Jordanian sweets often feature a delightful combination of flaky pastry, crunchy nuts, and silky custard. Whether indulging in a spread of mezze plates or sharing a grand platter of mansaf, a traditional dish that brings people together, dining experiences in Jordan are abundant and ceremonial. Here are five dishes that should be on every traveler’s list.

  1. Mansaf

Considered Jordan’s national dish, mansaf is a tantalizing combination of lamb cooked in a sauce made from fermented dried yogurt. Served with rice or bulgur, this dish is a staple at important gatherings, from weddings to funerals. Eating mansaf is a communal experience, with diners using their right hand (although cutlery is optional) to partake in the shared platter. This culinary tradition embodies values of equality, generosity, and compassion.

Mansaf preparation is equally ceremonial. The dish is meticulously assembled with a layer of thin shrak bread forming the base, followed by golden rice intertwined with jameed, a tangy strained yogurt. Tender, boiled lamb is then arranged on top, and the plate is adorned with toasted pine nuts and creamy laban jameed sauce. On special occasions, a whole sheep’s head may crown the dish as a symbol of the freshness of the buried meat within.

  1. Zarb

Zarb, a technique of slow cooking in an earth oven, is a culinary tradition found in various cultures worldwide. In Jordan, it manifests as a generous dish of lamb, goat, or chicken accompanied by rice and a medley of root vegetables. This moveable feast requires minimal utensils and can be prepared in any location, reflecting the nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouins. Marinated meat and vegetables are stacked on a tiered metal frame, lowered into a pit, and left to cook over smoldering coals for up to four hours, imparting smoky flavors and tender textures.

Dubbed “Bedouin barbecue,” zarb shares similarities with one-pot meals. It is prepared in advance during the hottest part of the day when people traditionally rest, and then enjoyed under the starry night sky, freeing up precious sunset hours when livestock must be guided home.

  1. Falafel

While zarb and mansaf carry an air of grandeur, falafel represents the quintessential grab-and-go meal. This Middle Eastern staple is omnipresent in Jordan, particularly on the bustling streets of Amman, where countless eateries and stalls compete for the title of the city’s best falafel.

Falafel starts with a mixture of ground chickpeas and fava beans seasoned with cumin, paprika, black pepper, and various other spices. The interior should be light and airy, tinted with a vibrant green hue from fresh coriander and parsley. Once fried, the outer shell becomes crispy. Falafel is served as mezze bites or stuffed into whole wheat pita bread, accompanied by a dollop of tahini and a touch of hot sauce for those seeking a spicy kick.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Jordanian culinary scene

What is Jordanian cuisine known for?

Jordanian cuisine is known for its rich blend of flavors influenced by Arabic, Mediterranean, North African, and Persian culinary traditions. It features dishes like mansaf, zarb, falafel, and a variety of delicious Jordanian sweets.

What is mansaf?

Mansaf is Jordan’s national dish. It consists of lamb cooked in a sauce made from fermented dried yogurt, served with rice or bulgur. Mansaf is often enjoyed during significant gatherings and embodies values of equality and generosity.

What is zarb?

Zarb is a traditional Jordanian dish prepared by slow cooking lamb, goat, or chicken with a medley of root vegetables in an earth oven. This technique infuses the dish with smoky flavors and tender textures, making it a unique culinary experience.

What is falafel?

Falafel is a popular Middle Eastern dish and a staple in Jordanian cuisine. It is made from ground chickpeas and fava beans seasoned with various spices. The mixture is shaped into balls or patties and fried until crispy. Falafel is often served in pita bread with tahini sauce.

What are Jordanian sweets like?

Jordanian sweets are a delightful part of the culinary scene. They often feature flaky pastry, crunchy nuts, and silky custard. Popular treats include baklava, warbat (a triangle-shaped pastry with a creamy filling), and various halawiyat (Arabic patisseries) sweetened with syrup or honey.

Is Jordanian cuisine suitable for vegetarians?

While Jordanian cuisine heavily features meat, there are vegetarian options available. Dishes like falafel, tabbouleh (a parsley and bulgur salad), and various mezze plates offer flavorful choices for vegetarians. Additionally, Jordanian sweets often have vegetarian-friendly options.

How can I experience Jordanian cuisine?

To experience Jordanian cuisine, visit local restaurants and street food stalls in Jordan, particularly in cities like Amman. Look for traditional dishes like mansaf, zarb, falafel, and indulge in the diverse flavors and culinary traditions. Exploring local markets and engaging with locals can also enhance your culinary experience.

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