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Food in Jordan: love at first bite  - In2Jordan

Food in Jordan: love at first bite 

by Margherita Clerici

You may love hiking into nature, checking all historical sites, or relaxing in a luxurious spa, but there is one thing that all types of travelers have in common: looking for food! We bet it will be love at first sight with food in Jordan, or better, at the first bite!

Petra, Jordan. Sharing a delicious Bedouin meal.

In Jordanian tradition, meals are extremely important moments. It is a way to share quality time with family and friends. You may notice that people from most of the Arab countries eat with hands to symbolize the sacred value of food and sharing. Food in Jordan is simple and genuine, using as main ingredients fresh vegetables, rice, chicken, lamb and mutton with spices and nuts. Also, there are many influences and mixing with the cuisine of neighbouring countries. The fact that Jordan is a melting pot point among Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt and Gulf countries, gives even more taste to the variety of the food you can find here!

We would love to share with you some of the best food in Jordan that you should not miss during your trip.  Let’s start in order,  from breakfast to dinner, even if some of the dishes can be interchangeable between meals.

Disclaimer: don’t read the following if you are hungry!

Breakfast (Futur – فطور)

If your typical breakfast is sweet croissant and cappuccino, forget that in Jordan! Jordanian breakfast will make your day start with a healthy explosion of protein. Indeed, one of the best breakfasts you can have in Jordan is Falafel sandwich, one of the most famous kinds of food in Jordan.

Falafel are small deep-fried balls of ground chickpeas spiced with onion, garlic, sumac, cumin and coriander. Most of the people eat them inside the typical soft flatbread with sauces and, if you like, french fries!

Fresh made Falafel

You may also try the grilled or fried goat cheese, Halloumi, delicious and light!

Grilled Halloumi

Manakish: locals call it the “Arabian pizza”. This dish comes especially from Lebanon, and it is a sort of soft pita base topped usually with Za’atar spice mix, or fresh cheese or a spicy tomato sauce (mhammara).

Manakish, champions’ breakfast!

Za’atar spice mix is a slightly sour seasoning or spice which is a mixture of sumac berries (dry and in powder), thyme, sesame seeds and some salt. There are so many varieties you can find in the souqs depending on the area they come from or the type of thyme. We recommend it as a souvenir since you can use it everywhere to give a unique flavour to your dishes or simply dip it with the bread and raw olive oil. If you visit the north of Jordan where the production of olive oil is particularly famous, you may find the perfect match together with a new food addiction. Simply fresh oil, bread and za’atar is the typical morning snack or breakfast that moms of these regions prepare for their children to take with themselves to school.

Za’atar

Place to be

If your tour in Jordan will touch Amman, Hashem Restaurant in downtown (King Faisal Street, Amman) is one of the best and famous falafel places in Jordan, although one of our personal favourite places is Al Quds (Rainbow St. 41, Amman ), another legendary and antique falafel spot. To be on the right side of History, try both and let us know the winner! Whereas you can find Manakish in local bakeries. One of our favorites is at Paris Square in al Weibdeh (Amman), on the corner on the way down to downtown. The baker will prepare the dough in front of you, showering you with its perfume.

Lunch (in Arabic Ghada’ – غداء)

During your trip, you may have a break for lunch! This is the best opportunity to have a fast stop at some of the iconic places where you can get famous street food in Jordan, there is a great variety to try!

Shawerma: it is a sandwich filled with delicious meat roasted vertically in a cone-like shape. It can be somehow confusing as in most of the Western countries it is known as Kebab.

Shish Kebab: consists of minced lamb meat, seasoned with spices and parsley and moulded onto a sword and grilled.

Place to be

The most famous place in Amman for Shawerma is at the 2nd circle; “Reem” is a very very small place, but it has the best form marketing leaving no doubts: a long line of locals “patiently” waiting for their delicious sandwich.

Al Mousalli“, in Al Madina street, it is another place to not miss, proudly offering the authentic Syrian taste of Chicken Shawerma. The local touch: match it with the fresh fruit juice cocktail from the shop beside it. Ending your lunch with a dessert from delicious “Nafiseh shop near to it would be the cherry on top of your taste’s journey.

If you want to have a complete lunch in comfort, make a stop at “Najla’s Kitchen”, Jabal al Webdeh. It offers fresh homemade delicious food in a simple homy atmosphere and powerful Jordanian ladies staff.

Dinner (Esha’  عشاء)

Time for dinner! After a full day visiting the amazing sites of Jordan you deserve a special dinner to get back your energy!

Starters

The main dishes may be very meat-heavy, but the Mezze or Mqabbilat (starters) of Jordan can make vegetarian’s feast. Here are a few of the salads, dips and nibbles you may find.

Hummus: for sure the most famous Middle Eastern starters. It is a sort of salty dipping of chickpeas with salt, lemon juice and olive oil, garnished with Tahini sauce.

Hummus and falafel close up

Kubbeh: ground lamb and wheat meatballs stuffed with olives and pine-nuts. You may find them fried, or cooked with yoghurt, or more rarely, grilled.

Fried kubbeh

Tabbouleh: a traditional salad where finely chopped salad of Burghul (wheat) meets tomatoes, onions, mint & parsley, along with lemon and olive oil.

Mutabbal: a tasty roasted eggplant cream with smashed garlic, lemon juice, salt, yoghurt, tahini.  Pomegranate seeds, parsley, and olive oil on the top will make it amazing.

Warak Enab: rolled grape leaves filled with rice and sometimes with meat, then cooked. They are so tasty either cold or hot. If you are vegetarian, you can ask for the meat-free version, called Yalanji. The funny thing it’s that name literally means “the liar” in Turkish, precisely because without meat.

Baba Ghannoush: literally “Daddy’s favourite”, it’s chargrilled eggplant (aubergine), tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic blended into a dip.

Fattoush: a colourful salad of roasted pita croutons, cucumbers, tomatoes, onion & mint.

Fattoush

Loubieh: cooked French beans with tomatoes onion and garlic.

Main Dishes

Starters basically can be already a stomach filler. But the fun has just started! Even when you don’t expect it, here it comes the main dish out from the kitchen.

Mansaf: the king of any festive moment and the Jordanian national dish. It consists of lamb and rice mainly. Lamb meat will be cooked slowly until meltingly tender in Jameed, a traditional hard yoghurt made through boiling a goat or sheep’s milk, then left it drying and fermenting. It’s served on a huge bed of rice, topped with toasted almonds, pinenuts and nuts, and everyone scoops up a ball and pops it in – a great way to make friends. It’s traditionally served at weddings and if you’re presented with the goat’s head, you know you’re the honoured guest! To know more about the Jordanian national dish, a must try regarding food in Jordan, click here.

Maqloubah: in Arabic, it means ‘upsidedown’ and the name comes from the way the host will flip the dish at the end of preparation. You will find lamb or chicken with spices cooked with rice, fried potatoes and vegetables, along with yoghurt. Vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, onions, potatoes and sweet peppers are cut rounds and fried in oil. Rice will be steamed with spices, while the meat or chicken or lamb or beef will be cooked with olive oil, onions and garlic. Once everything it is ready, ingredients are placed in a large pot, layer by layer. First eggplants, then rice, then meat and back again vegetables and rice. The pot will be placed on the fire for more than 10 minutes and then covered with a large plate. Then the entire thing will be overturned upside-down, challenging the skills and muscles of the chef!

Curious? Check out the recipe on our In2Jordan YouTube channel!

Place to be

While in Amman, to have a special dinner head to “Fakhreldin Restaurant” (Taha Hussein St., Amman) or to “Sufra” (Rainbow street) which serve a wide variety of traditional food in Jordan, home-made dishes in elegant-traditional settings. If you want to discover how young Jordanians are revisiting traditional dishes in a creative way, head to “Jameeda Khanum” in downtown (Prince Mohammad st.), decorated and set up like you are sitting in someone’s living room. In Petra one of the best restaurants is for sure “My Mom’s Recipes” (Tourism Street، Petra – Wadi Musa), with tasty food and a traditional atmosphere welcoming you.

Bedouin Specialty

In your trip to Wadi Rum, you can’t miss a night under the stars in a Bedouin camp. From the most genuine to the most luxurious, don’t forget to try the Bedouin specialty of food in Jordan during your dinner. The “Zarb” is lamb stuffed with rice, spices and nuts cooked in an oven under the ground. Indeed, the magic starts from the preparation. A big hole will be dug into the sand. To set the fire, firstly pieces of wood will be put into the hole and once the flames are off, the coal will be ready to welcome a barbecue rack with layers. Each layer will be filled with meat and vegetables and the rack will be put over of the coal. The hole will be then closed with a lid, a blanket and sand, and dinner will be ready in about 2.5 hours.

Sweets and desserts

The Arab tooth is quite a sweet one and their range of pastries and puddings goes to prove this. Sweets play a big role in food in Jordan. There are a couple of good ‘sweet shops’ where you can go to try some of the local treats. Just ask and I can give you directions. Some of our favorites are:

Asabeeh: rolled phyllo pastry filled with pistachios, pine nuts, cashews and honey.
Ataif: small pancakes stuffed with nuts or cheese and doused in syrup
Barazak: crisp light biscuits sprinkled with sesame seeds
Halawa al-Jebneh: soft thick pastry stuffed with labneh cheese and steeped in syrup

Muhalabiyyeh: a fine semolina and milk pudding sometimes with pistachios, pine nuts and almonds.
Kunafee: Pastry stuffed with sweet white cheese, nuts and syrup in a big round tray placed on the fire. It’s typical from Palestine, that is why the first layer is made of Nabulsi cheese. Then you will get in which Kunefee team you belong. Meaning? You can choose between Kunefee Na’ama, covered with semolina dough, or Kunefee Khishnah, with long thin noodle threads. During the last ten minutes of cooking spreading sugar syrup with rose water will be the magic final touch together with a generous amount of pistachios.

Kunefee Khishnah

Place to be

The most famous place from where to get desserts and especially Kunefeh, it’s Habibeh, in the heart of downtown in Amman. Difficult to not notice the crowd of people chatting and eating inside and outside of it!

A few steps away, you may even taste the legendary Bekdash, the “Syrian Ice Cream”. One of the clues to find it is following the mesmerizing rhythm. Indeed, part of the experience is to watch the creation of this creamy treat. Wooden mallets pound the ice cream into a drum, making a rhythmic percussion song. Then stretched and pulled, thanks to the addition of sahlab, a flour made from orchid roots, and mastic, a tree resin that makes Arabic gum, giving it its particular consistency. Then they will scoop up your amazing dessert and top it with a generous portion of pistachios. They have a branch in downtown and in Swefieh (next to the 5th circle) as well.

Drinks

We could sum it up with tea, tea and more tea (closely followed by coffee)!

Indeed, if you are a guest of Jordanians, you will drink Shay (hot tea) as soon as you step at the door. Shay is generally black and with (a lot of) sugar, many loves to add fresh mint leaves too.  Sometimes sage tea is offered.  The tea traditionally offered to new mothers is cinnamon, garnished with walnuts!

Cinnamon tea and tea with mint.

Kahweh (coffee) is Arabic/Turkish coffee, the stronger the better. It’s boiled in a tiny pot and they will serve it in a tiny cup, complete with grounds. Sometimes you will see they add cardamon to give a delicate aromatic flavour, and Bedouins may add saffron too.

You can get also excellent fresh juices! A “must try” in Jordan is Lemon wa Na’na’, meaning lemon and mint. It’s a really refreshing drink, a sort of lemonade with minced mint and ice. A fantastic combination and great in the hot weather.

Another popular drink to fight the summer heat is to drink a cup of sugar cane juice (in Arabic ‘Asir qasab as-sukkar. Our favorite spots are in downtown of Amman, where the sellers love to list the many benefits of this juice while they insert the reed sticks into the machine in front of you!

If you are visiting Jordan during cold weather, try Sahlab; you can find it in cafes and also as a “street drink” from little shops on your way. The magic of this hot dense beverage happens by stirring the milk with some sugar and a whitish powder (the actual sahlab) from orchid roots and gives the drink its characteristic creaminess and fluffiness similar to a pudding. They may add also a tablespoon of rose water which will embrace you with its perfume. The topping with coconut and cinnamon will give you the right warm vibe to explore the city even in the winter.

Foody activities

Restaurants are not the only way to taste the Jordanian cuisine! If you are up to a special and deep experience, at in2Jordan we are happy to organize a dinner with a local family. You may also learn how to cook traditional Jordanian food, we are happy also to arrange for you unforgettable cooking lessons. Here are some of the options:

Beit Sitti cooking workshop in Jabal el Webdeh, Amman

Literally “my grandma’s house”, it came about by three sisters who were looking to keep their grandmothers legacy alive. They opened the doors for guests from all over the world to feel the same! After the cooking classes, you can join a 4-course meal with a main dish, side dish, a salad, and dessert.

Cooking and dinner with a local family in Amman

In the evening, be ready to have a fun cooking class with Osama and his family. You will learn how to cook a traditional Jordanian dish. You will have not only a generous and warm example of Jordanian hospitality but also an enjoyable loving family experience, along with your delicious creation.

Petra Kitchen cooking workshop

Perfect for sharing authentic local cuisine in a casual, family atmosphere. Visitors work alongside local chefs to prepare dishes coming from a typical family’s menu using fresh ingredients. By their recipes and flavors, they are presenting history and culture, encouraging the guests to return home to share the tastes of Jordan with friends and family. With the multi-night course, you can even join food sourcing at the local markets!

Petra kitchen cooking class

Cooking class at Petra Kitchen

Getting the secrets in Umm Qais

If you are up to a special experience you can go foraging while hiking in the north with our enthusiast professional guide Ahmad, then cook a traditional dish together at his lovely guesthouse in Umm Qais.

Ahmad up in Umm Qais, foraging local herbs

Food in Jordan & Diet Needs

For particular dietary restrictions, please let us know! We are happy to advise and organise in advance with your accommodations and guides.

If you are vegetarian

As you can see there is a big number of dishes you can have fun with, and the right amount of protein. Jordanians love their meat but the food choice naturally relies on lots of fresh vegetables, beans and pulses. Just in case, to say “I’m vegetarian” is “Ana nabati” for men and “Ana nabatiye” for women.

If you are under a gluten-free diet

Eating out gluten-free food in Jordan should not be a big problem within the variety of Jordanian cuisine; you can consider rice, legumes, vegetables, fruits and meats, and eggs to be on all restaurant menus. Lots of yoghurt in all markets, of various kinds, cheeses readily available. Lots of salads (but some of them contain bread croutons, so be careful) and simple meat-and-rice dishes. You can also find Falafel without the bread easily. Tabbouleh, Kibbeh, and Fattoush are three dishes that might look gluten free at first sight but are not. Unfortunately, what we can’t assure in general is about contamination regarding using the same tools in the restaurants. A good compromise could be taking with you GF pita bread. Enjoy hummus and fuul with it, which are both ubiquitous, GF and rich in protein.

The larger stores like Carrefour, Safeway and Cozmo are now adding gluten-free and healthy food sectors to their stock. Now have sections set aside for them, but always better to bring some with you. We can also provide you and short explanation in Arabic that you can print and bring with you to show to local people in case communication is difficult.

Are you already smelling the Mansaf? And the mint in your tea? We can combine food tours on your trip! Grab your fork, wear comfy pants, and get in touch with us!

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