–a comprehensive guide of vegetarian foods you can eat in Jordan
The Indian vegetarian traveling abroad is of three kinds.
1. Someone who carries his/her entire food supplies from home. And sometimes, even the implements to cook their own food. Or, some who take the somewhat easier route with ready-to-cook packets of food.
2. Someone who makes a list of Indian restaurants to visit in the new destination so some basic Indian vegetarian food can be sourced and may be assuage that sense of homesickness.
3. A true lover of foods from around the world who is gung-ho to experience everything vegetarian the local cuisine has to offer.
If you belong to the third category, then you will feel completely at home in Jordan, like I did. This is surely not a place where you want to be looking for an Indian restaurant or carry ready-to-eat packets of food and miss out on the beautiful melange of vegetarian food Jordan has to offer.
- What Jordanians Eat
- Mezze – A Vegetarian’s Best Friend
- Main Course and Soups
- Jordanian Breakfast for Vegetarians
- Jordanian Desserts
- Index of restaurants and hotels
We were in Jordan for 6 days and I got to plough through a lot of vegetarian food, ranging from WOW to GOOD. There was no bad food. No matter where we ate, ingredients were always local and fresh, most restaurants sticking to their traditional cuisine, with slight variations. This is not just my opinion. I read quite a few reviews of the food and restaurants in Jordan, and this seems to be the general conclusion of most tourists who have visited Jordan.
What Jordanians Eat
Our trip started in Amman where we were staying at the Crowne Plaza hotel. Over lunch, we spoke to Chef Mohammad about what’s a regular meal in a Jordanian home. We also quizzed him on how often they eat mezze at home. He broke into a laugh, saying mezze is hardly an everyday meal for a Jordanian. Their staple main meal would be chicken or lamb, rice, yogurt and salad. With no vegetarian curries or main courses, the vegetables find their way into their plate mainly in the form of a salad, pickles or dips. The main course is always meat based. Bedouin cuisine is somewhat different – heartier, more barbecues, big portions. [I’ll write about some of these dishes in more detail in my next post.]
MEZZE – A Vegetarian’s Best Friend
Our first big meal in Jordan was dinner at Sufra, a restaurant showcasing Jordanian cuisine. Located at the hip and happening Rainbow St. in Amman, it had a charming visage. As soon as we took our seats, and our eyes took in the beauty of the decor, the food started coming in. The next few minutes felt like one of those fast-forwarded videos in which over two dozen dishes magically make an appearance on the table. Soon there was not an inch of free table real-estate. This, my dear friends, is how a real mezze feels like.
Mezze for a crowd means lots and lots of small plates, and here’s where vegetarians can really dig in. Mezze, similar to the Tapas in Spanish cuisine, comprises small plates for community sharing, dipping a piece of bread into the variety of dips, and generally having fun with food. Variety of fresh salads, dips like hummus, moutabel and labneh, stuffed vine leaves (dolma), mixed pickled vegetables are some of the popular cold mezze.
I need to make a mention here about how Jordanians love their pickles. It seems to be one of their favourite ways to consume vegetables. These are not our Indian style masaledaar pickles, but vegetables preserved in vinegar or brine. The one that was most fascinating was a pickle of baby aubergines stuffed with red bell peppers. My fellow food-blogger Anita and me, sitting at one corner of the lunch table, did a little dissection of this one for deeper understanding of the anatomy of this pickle. [What to do, we food-bloggers are like that only !!]
Hot mezze comprises dishes like stewed tomatoes (galayat bandura), crispy fried falafel, stuffed pastries (fatayer) and more! Long story short, the whole range of mezze is truly mind-boggling. You might well be stuffed to your gills with mezze, but you’ll be told that this was just the start of the meal and main course is on its way.
Soup and Main Course
Another vegetarian / vegan friendly dish is their lentil soup called Shourbat Adas, made using split pink lentils. You need to ask the restaurant if they have used chicken stock for the soup, because that is the standard recipe. They prepared this for us using vegetable stock at the Petra Kitchen, and it felt warm and comforting to dig into a bowl of our Indian shorba like soup after a long drive.
Like I explained earlier, there’s not much of a main course for vegetarians, but restaurants are happy to serve a dish of roasted/baked vegetables topped with olive oil along with a side of local bread – the khobz. To be honest, after the razzle dazzle of the mezze, the forced vegetarian main course will fail to impress as much. I’d highly recommend you fill up on the mezze and then go straight for dessert.
Breakfast for Vegetarians
There’s a fair bit of overlap between breakfast dishes and other meals. If there’s one place where it is perfectly acceptable to eat hummus for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it is in Jordan. There was always a smaller selection of mezze as a par
t of any breakfast buffet in the hotels we stayed at – local khobz bread, labneh, hummus, yogurt, salad, honey and olives. If you are an eggitarian, then most hotels have an eggs counter where you can get your eggs custom made. This was my favourite option, because I’m not a big hummus-for-breakfast person, you see! The breakfast always has a couple of local cheese – halloumi and another one they call white cheese. Both are hair-raisingly salty, so eat with care, or may be with an unsalted omelette.
There’s this other vegetarian breakfast option called the Ful Medames. The origin of this dish lies in Egyptian cuisine but it’s fairly common in Jordanian cuisine too. Well cooked fava means, mashed up with seasoning and topped with olive oil, sumac, tahini (sesame seed paste) and some finely chopped tomatoes. Some khobz or shrak to dig into this hot bowl of beans, will keep you filled well until lunchtime.
The other breakfast item I loved was the muslin thin shrak flatbread smothered with zataar (a spice mix), rolled up and cut into slices.
It was also interesting to note a whole honeycomb kept at the buffet counter. How could we not try it! I’m not sure if it qualifies as vegetarian, but we had a go at it anyway – it was chewy, mildly sweet and waxy, surely a food with an acquired taste.
Bring on the Desserts
Jordanians love their sweet tooth and there’s a whole gamut of desserts to prove it. As vegetarians, this is one course you can do full justice to. Let me see what my most memorable desserts were…There was the Umm-Ali which is the local version of a bread and butter pudding, intensely cinnamony in flavour. Warbat, served to us at the end of our cooking session at the Petra Kitchen, was a delicately sweet dish, made up of thin layers of filo pastry filled with custard, baked until golden and topped with chopped pistachios. We had a sugar syrup drenched soft Basbousa, the semolina cake, at the Bedouin camp at Wadi Rum. Kunafeh is another legendary dessert from Jordan that you must try, which I somehow missed trying! Anything made with Pistachio is a good choice, given how this region is rich in nuts and spices. The Pistachio ice cream at Sufra was a delight to end the meal with.
A few beverages that I must make a special mention of are the local drink called Limonana that I had the pleasure of learning from a local bartender at Haret Jdoudna restaurant at Madaba. It’s an intensely minty lemony ice slushy kind of drink, perfect for a hot afternoon.
Besides this, the locals are always up for a tea or coffee break, both had without milk. The tea is generously flavoured with fresh mint leaves and the coffee, thick, dark, black with a strong aroma of cardamom.
Jordanians also love their herbal teas made with sage or chamomile. Piles of herbal tea mixes were on sale in the local markets in Amman, indicating their popularity.
I have lots more to share about some special Jordanian dishes, for which you will have to wait for my Part 2 on Jordanian foods.
Index of restaurants / hotels mentioned in the post
Sufra restaurant, Amman
Captain’s Desert Camp, Wadi Rum
Petra Kitchen, Wadi Musa (Cooking classes followed by lunch)