How many kilos can you add to your waistline eating in Jordan? Plenty. The food is fantastic and there is a common expression from locals ‘if you haven’t had enough to eat, you’ve clearly done something wrong’. Travel for me is about the people and the food and when I say food, I mean the local cuisine not high-end restaurants at five-star hotels.
At the outset, if you don’t like chick peas or bread you may struggle a little. Chickpeas are incorporated into most meals and prepared in a dozen different ways. Same with bread. You’ll often see men on bikes balancing 100’s of pittas on their way to a vendor. If you want to buy just one pitta beware that they are sold by the kilogram not the single item. If you are able to convince someone to sell you just one, you’ll pay around 20c Australia.
Jordanian food is similar to other middle eastern countries but does have its own flavours and presentation.
Tip: If you want to be like a local, then eat with your fingers – particularly if you are sampling local food such as hummus with bread. In budget cafes they don’t even give you cutlery apart from maybe a spoon which is more for the soupy stews. Tear your bread, mop up the sauces, tear meat of the bone, dab the dips, stuff your pitta and enjoy. There is no real order or sequence – just eat. Do remember to only use your right hand (left is for toileting purposes). You may seem some eye brows raised if you start to use your left hand on a communal platter!
Shawarma and falafel was my snack on the run but after a couple of weeks I was craving a simple toasted cheese and tomato sandwich. A falafel is made up of spiced chickpea paste which is formed into balls and deep-fried and put into pitta with some salad and tahini. A shawarma is mostly lamb (rarely chicken) compressed into an inverted cone shape topped with chunks of fat. Similar to a doner kebab, they are extremely popular with locals. They come in a variety of sizes and can cost from as little as Jdo.50 up to JD1.50. Now that I’m back home, I wish I could find a good Shawarma please here in Australia.
Breakfast in my three star hotel looked like this photo (above) – simple local food and plenty of it. There were sometimes breakfast cereal, toast and jam but mostly local food is presented to you which is always tasty. Buffet style can vary from day-to-day. One morning in Petra we had margarine with pitta, processed cheese, sliced tomato and cucumber. The next day was a full buffet with omelettes, sausage, pancakes and croissants. Jordanians eat breakfast around 7am and finished by 8am.
Some say lunch is the main meal for the day, others say dinner. Can’t say either way but certainly there are plenty of options. For lunch, I would have shawarma, falafel, kebabs, chickpeas or bread, other times I’d score a delicious mansaf at a cafe. Lunch is usually around 1pm – 3pm.
6pm is time for coffee and sweet pastries. Dinner is rarely eaten before 8pm and I certainly noticed in the larger towns of Madaba, Amman and Aqaba that the restaurants were empty at 6pm but bustling around 9pm. If you’re looking for some ham or bacon, you won’t find it on the menu as it’s forbidden under Islam. Seafood is not commonly found in Jordan and can be expensive if you do find it.
Sometimes dinner was similar to lunch and this is where some people find Jordanian food repetitious. By going to a restaurant you’ll discover a larger variety of meat and vegetables to eat. Jordan is known for its mansaf a Bedouin feast of lamb sliced into cubes boiled and served on a bed of gloopy rice and roasted pine nuts on top. Another version is called musakhan which is steamed chicken with onions and rice. For vegetarians there are some treats with plenty of pulses, vegetables, grains, rice and bread all of which costs considerably less than meat dishes.
As a group we would buy wine at the local convenience stores for around $15 Australian. The red is much better than the white. Alcohol has a low profile in Jordan and outside of Aqaba which has duty-free alcohol it’s hard to find and can be very expensive. Being drunk in unacceptable.
Buying food from a store is easy enough but of course, you may not recognise much of the contents. Some brands, logos and packaging is universal while others are very different. This little store (above) at the entrance to Wadi Rum stocked great dips and breads but you can also see the food placed next to the fuel and hardware items.
Whenever I’d try to seek out a place to sit and enjoy a cup of tea, the little coffee (or tea) houses were the domain of men. I’m not easily intimidated but it’s not comfortable to be stared at while sipping on your loose leaf tea with a little mint and lots of sugar. The coffee I tried was mostly Turkish and undrinkable for my palette Bedouin coffee (Arabic coffee) was more to my taste but I’m not a big caffeine drinker so could take it or leave it.
Many of the coffee houses have shisha (also known as sheesha) or as we called it ‘hubbly-bubbly’. Women don’t often smoke the shisha and smoking one shisha is approximately the same as having 5 – 6 cigarettes. Yowsers! Stand-up juice bars are becoming more popular and with fresh fruit plentiful it’s a good alternative to water, wine or beer. A small glass costs around JDo.50.
In summary, Jordanian food is fresh, tasty and delicious but can be a little repetitive but there is more to the food than bread, hummus and falafeal so get out there and explore.
Now it’s your turn. Share your experiences of travelling and food. Have you been to Jordan? Share your thoughts. Leave a comment below.