In our 6 days in Jordan, we ate at popular restaurants, in Bedouin camps, on a cruise boat and even takeaway sandwiches. Being a vegetarian, there was plenty to chow down and I wrote about it in my post – A Vegetarian’s Food Guide to Jordan. But I had to compile a list of what I think T.E. Lawrence would have enjoyed chilling with during his Machiavellian pursuits around this part of the world.
Jokes aside, this is my short list of dishes and drinks you absolutely MUST try when in Jordan.
A mint-lemon drink like no other, Limonana is the national drink of Jordan. Served at most restaurants, this refreshing drink is found is most Middle Eastern countries. A fat bunch of spearmint, whole peeled lemons, sugar and tons of ice are blended for a good length of time until it turns into an icy slush. It is intensely minty, like a lemonade with 500x the zing.
Pardon me, fellow vegetarians, but this dish deserves a special mention in this list. If you love your meat, you cannot come back from Jordan without digging into this hearty plate of shrak (a thin Bedouin roti) topped with rice, lamb cooked in yogurt and topped with a lamb yogurt stew, which is the National Dish of Jordan. To assemble the Mansaf, like our guide Salah showed us, you start by laying out a warm-from-the-wok Shrak (a kind of roomali roti). It is topped by a ladle of the meat-yogurt sauce and a few spoonfuls of rice. A large piece of lamb on the bone is placed on top of this rice bed. A couple of ladles of sauce go over this to make it all juicy, adding more of the meaty flavour to the dish. Surely a dish for community sharing, it reflects the culture and the generous spirit of the people of this country.
If you get a chance to stay in a Bedouin camp, don’t miss this experience. Yes, that’s what I’d call the Zarb, an experience and not a dish. A zarb is a metallic rack filled with meat, vegetables and rice. Fire is burned in a pit, dug in the sand. The rack filled with food is buried in this bit over the hot wood/coals and is sealed with a lid + foil and then sand. It is then dug out after a few hours and the food is ready to be served. We got a chance to experience this rather dramatic form of cooking in a Bedouin camp.
4. KHOBZ OR KHUBZ BREAD
These fluffed up golden breads are the perfect foil to everything that is laid out as part of a mezze platter. Tear pieces of warm khobz and use them like edible spoons to scoop out the various mezze. The toasted sesame seeds dotting the surface of the bread are so nutty and delicious, that you will excused for picking them out just to nibble on them.
5. FUL MEDAMES
The origin of this dish lies in Egyptian cuisine but it’s fairly common in Jordanian cuisine too. Fava beans cooked until mushy, served with a variety of toppings like finely chopped tomatoes, tahini, sumac, olive oil and served with local khobz or shrak bread is a breakfast that will keep you filled up well past lunch time. If you are one for a warm / hot breakfast, this is your best best in Jordan! Given how suited it is to the Indian palate, I’m surprised it has not attained popularity in India yet.
Mutabal (recipe) is often confused with Baba Ganoush as both are Middle Eastern roasted eggplant dips, but the similarity ends there. Mutabal is creamier with the use of tahini and yogurt, while Baba ganoush is lighter and tarter from the use of pomegranate molasses, tomatoes and lemon juice. Both these dips were my favourites in the Mezze platter served across various restaurants in Jordan.
Not really a ‘Jordanian food’, but if you go to Wadi Rum, you MUST buy a watermelon along the highway just to experience what a really delicious watermelon should taste like. Each one is around 7-8 kilos, incredibly sweet and juicy, that you must make space for this watermelon on your ‘must eat list’.
A local liquor made from aniseed, similar to Absinthe, is the local liquor in Jordan. It has a strong, sweet aroma. To drink arak, one part of liquor is mixed with 2 parts of water. The clear liquor turns milky white on mixing with water. If you go easy and go slow with the Arak, you are in for a restful sleep and you wake up feeling fresh as a daisy. The key words being ‘easy’ and ‘slow’ . I also recommend this as a souvenir to bring back home and you don’t find it outside of the Middle Eastern countries.
There are a lot of traditional sweets you can end your meal with. One of them is Warbat made of thin layers of phyllo pastry stuffed with custard, topped with a sugar syrup and a sprinkling of pistachios. Their version of the bread pudding Umm Ali is also a must try especially if you are one who loves cinnamon flavoured desserts.
Apart from this, there are many other dishes, both vegetarian and meat based that deserve to be tasted on your trip. But these are my picks for someone who plans to visit Jordan. Have you visited Jordan?
If I have missed your favourite dish, do add it in the comments for sake of my readers 🙂