The culture of Jordan is based in Arabic and Islamic elements with significant Western influence. Jordan stands at the intersection of the three continents of the ancient world, lending it geographic and population diversity.
Jordan gets its culinary influences from North Africa, the Middle East, Persia, and the Mediterranean. This region is commonly known as the Levant. Jordan’s cuisine shares many of its traits with the cuisine of Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. More generally, the cuisine is influenced by historical connections to the cuisine of Turkey and the former Ottoman Empire.
Internationally known foods which are common in Jordan include hummus, tahini, and falafel. A typical mezze (small dishes served at the beginning of multi-course meals) includes kibbeh (a dish made of bulgur, minced onions, and finely ground lean beef, lamb, goat, or camel meat shaped into balls or patties), labneh (strained yogurt), baba ghanoush (cooked eggplant mixed with tahina, olive oil, and various seasonings), tabbouleh (a vegetarian salad made of tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, bulgur, and onion, and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt), olives and pickles. Bread, rice, and bulgur all have a role in Jordanian cuisine. Jordan is one of the largest producers of olives in the world so olive oil is the main cooking oil. Herbs, garlic, onion, tomato sauce, and lemon are typical flavors.
Following is a short list of foods and flavors we discovered as we traveled through Jordan:
Za’atar is a spice blend of oregano, basil, thyme, and savory, traditionally dried and mixed with salt, sesame seeds, and sumac. It is commonly eaten with pita. Za’atar is also used as a seasoning for meats and vegetables. A traditional breakfast would have it eaten with labneh, a yogurt that has been strained to remove most of its whey, and bread and olive oil for breakfast.
The national dish of Jordan is Mansaf, a dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of Jameed (fermented dried yogurt) and served with rice or bulgar. The name of the dish comes from the term “large tray” or “large dish.” The original Bedouin mansaf was originally made with simple meat, broth or ghee, and bread. Following the popularization of rice in northern Jordan in the 1920’s, rice was gradually introduced into the dish, at first mixed with bulgar, and later on its own, until the dish reached its modern incarnation of being based on white rice.
Jameed is a hard, dry yogurt that is prepared by boiling milk, either sheep or goat, and then left to dry and ferment. The mixture is later kept in fine cheesecloth to make a thick yogurt. Salt is added daily, which continues to thicken the yogurt until it is very dense and shaped into round balls. It is then set in the sun to dry for a few days.
Falafel, is a combination of ground chickpeas, mixed with a variety of spices, shaped into mini patties, then deep-fried. It is one of the most common street foods or light meals in Jordan. It can be eaten as a snack, with bread, or stuffed into sandwiches.
Zarb is a Bedouin version of barbecue, made by roasting lamb, chicken, and vegetables over hot embers and stones in a sand pit.
Maqluba, meaning upside down, is a dish of spiced rice and chicken which is cooked in an earthen pot that is flipped upside down before being dished out. It will be found in most restaurants across the country and can be prepared with za’atar, cinnamon, or toasted almonds.
Hareeseh is a dessert made with semolina, coconut, cream, sugar, yogurt, and almonds, all baked in a bar form until golden brown. It is very sweet, and has a slight floral taste to go with the grainy texture of the semolina.
Kanefeh is a dessert popular throughout the Levant, especially known in Palestine and Jordan. Cheese is the most noticeable ingredient, which is paired with either noodles or semolina, drenched in a rose scented syrup, and topped with ground pistachios.
On our trip to Jordan we discovered the importance of generosity and hospitality and the significance of food in the Jordanian culture. Jordanians serve family, friends, and guests with great pride, no matter how modest their means.
We will be leading our premiere Culinary Tour to Jordan in 2018. And while this tour has since filled, please make sure to look for our next tour in 2019.