Don’t miss out on the ultimate food experience when travelling in Jordan. The kingdom’s national dish, Mansaf, should be a point on every traveller’s bucket list.
Photo by: WAELBQ
What is Mansaf?
It is a traditional Arabic dish, noticeably most popular in Jordan, which has made Mansaf its national dish. It is a dish made of rice, lamb, dried goat yoghurt (also called jameed), pine nuts and shrak (very flat bread, similar to crepes). Sometimes, the head of the lamb is placed on top as a symbol of good quality and fresh meat. In fairness, Mansaf is also popular in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Palestine, with slight variations in preparation.
In Jordan, it is usually served on a huge platter, with the shrak spread out on the bottom. Then, a gigantic mountain of rice is piled on top of it. The lamb meat is scattered on top, and pine nuts are sprinkled over the whole dish.
Mansaf is more than just delicious food, it is an experience in itself!
A bit of history
There is no better way of putting it: Mansaf is not only food, it is part of the Jordanian culture. In the past, the dish was known to resolve conflicts between Jordanian tribes. Nowadays, it is common to eat Mansaf at parties, family reunions or celebrations.
Mansaf was first prepared by Bedouins in the Arabian desert. Back then, it was made with camel or lamb meat, shrak bread and ghee or meat broth. Rice and jameed were included in the dish at a later stage. As Bedouins lived like nomads and moved around a lot, they spread their recipes throughout the region.
Photo by: Delphine Vincent
Etiquette around Mansaf
There is a certain Jordanian pride and significance that goes with eating Mansaf. The national dish is served on one big platter, with everyone eating from the same platter with their hands. Amongst locals, women and men sometimes have separate platters. Usually, Mansaf is eaten while standing around the table it’s served on.
In a very traditional setting, the host is always serving the guests. This shows appreciation, respect and good hospitality. The host is expected to continuously place pieces of lamb in front of all guests, and also keep pouring the jameed sauce. As a guest, you would not help yourself to the meat, but a good host will ensure that there is always some in front of you. You should also only eat from the “section” in front of you and not take food that is placed in front of other people. The host is not supposed to stop eating until the last guest has finished.
And finally: After your feast, you are allowed to lick your hands! Only if you don’t intend to dip your hands back into the platter, of course…
How to eat Mansaf
To really get the taste of Mansaf, you should eat it the traditional way: with your hands. It’s not as easy as it sounds, though. First and foremost, you should eat with your right hand and your left hand behind your back.
When aiming to catapult the first load into your mouth, take a good handful of rice and lamb, and form a ball in your hand. Avoid squeezing the rice too hard, as it will stick to your palm otherwise. Eat the entire ball in one bite and try not to touch your mouth or lips, if possible. Also, try to keep your face and the space around you tidy J
If you know how, Mansaf is not too difficult to prepare. Here is a good recipe: http://foodemag.com/recipe-mansaf/