Indiana Jones may have opened my eyes to Jordan, but it was the coverage from these travel bloggers—Matt Long of Landlopers, photographer Ken Kaminesky of KenKaminesky.com and Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads—that cemented the kingdom into my soul, and left me longing to visit. In recent years, I’ve become a bit of a foodie, coming to the conclusion that one of the best ways to delve into a country’s heart is by sampling its cuisine, even if it is only vicariously. Curious about Jordanian food, I asked the aforementioned bloggers about the country’s cuisine, and they served up some great tips for dining and traveling in Jordan.
What is a favorite dish or beverage you would recommend to someone
ML: While visiting Jordan I was lucky enough to have a great guide, Abed. He made it his personal mission to make sure I saw as much of his country as possible and that included its incredible culinary traditions. The highlight was the evening we enjoyed a dish called mansaf. It’s a traditional dish served at weddings and special occasions and is a large dish of lamb, rice and yogurt cooked in a thin bread shell. It was incredibly hearty but also heartwarming that my guests decided to share such an incredible meal with me.
KK: It’s the lemonade with mint in it (limon nana ليمون نعناع ). That was a real nice treat for me. I’m not a real big fan of sweets, as a rule, but with the hustle and bustle of running around all the time and being in the sun, it was really a nice refreshment every once in a while. As for good food, there is this really delicious lamb dish that’s made with rice and yogurt in a big pot. It cooks forever and ever, then the whole thing is dumped in front of you and you eat it with your hands. It’s absolutely yum.
JE: I love many of the dishes I ate in Jordan but two are particularly intricate and both are ones that I recommend as a result. One is maklouba, literally “upside down” dish. It’s a lot of fun to make at home, so it is always great to try it at the source too. With spirals of veggies and chicken and spiced rice, the dish is cooked down with lid on and then flipped upside down on the plate when done. Delicious.
The second is zerb, a traditionally Bedouin dish that consists of meat cooking on a wire tray, with rice on a second tier of the tray just beneath it. The tray is placed into a hole in the ground and covered with clay; as the meat cooks underground, the juices from it drop into the rice as it is cooking, making for a very rich and delicious meal. Once the clay covering the cooking hole is dried, the meat and rice are removed. Without a question, zerb has offered some of the best lamb I’ve ever tried.
In your opinion, what’s an important “do this” or “don’t do that” when
it comes to food or dining customs in Jordan?
ML: I’d say stay away from what’s safe and try to be adventurous. Try the
unusual juices, eat the unfamiliar breads and always take what is offered.
KK: I wouldn’t recommend ordering a steak, chicken breast or anything that I had at a “traditional type restaurant”—a western restaurant. They do their food extremely well; they do our food rather poorly.
JE: When drinking coffee with Bedouin, you will continue to get coffee refills until you shake your cup. When guests enter a Bedouin tent, they are invited to coffee. The tradition includes three cups: one for the guest (Daif), one for the soul (Kaif), and one for the sword (Saif). I learned quickly that the cup would be refilled time and time again until I shook it slightly to indicate that I was done.
Matt, looking back on your travels through Jordan, what’s one thing you would do different on a return trip?
ML: I really wish that I had spent more time in the Wadi Rum desert. This natural wonder is an amazing place not just for its beauty, but for the amazing adventure travel opportunities found there. You can sleep in a Bedouin camp, go abseiling down the massive canyons and even take a hot air balloon ride for amazing views. This place deserves more than the day I
Ken, this fall you’ll be returning to Jordan to host a photography workshop, so I’m curious, what was one of the biggest challenges you, as a photographer, encountered in Jordan?
KK: Some of the challenges I’d say would be working out in the desert or in high humidity situations. Before careful about the climate, it changes drastically and can sneak up on you. So stay well hydrated, use sunblock and stay in the shade when at all possible. Anything that’s going to make you feel ill is going to remove the joy of taking photos, and if you’re stuck in bed or in the bathroom because you are ill, then you’re not taking many pictures…I hope.
And finally, Jodi, in your upcoming book about food and travel, you’re going to be discussing how people can use food as a tool to learn about the countries they visit, so what would be your top tip for someone who wants to see Jordan through their plate?
JE: Part of what makes Jordan’s food culture so fascinating is the confluence of long-established rules (like the Bedouin coffee cup shaking above) and the spices and cooking traditions used in the country. To trace spices like za’atar and sumac from their use in the Middle East to how they have spread throughout the world makes for great learning. It also provides a foundation to understand how people eat in the country. In terms of day-to-day travel, I’d ask when you eat—people are very excited to talk about their food and share what makes one dish different from the next. With a plethora of meze (small plates) at the beginning of meals, there is no shortage of dishes to discuss!