1. Mensaf – You can’t have a Jordanian food list without Jordan’s national dish. Mensaf, (from the term meaning “large dish”), is a lamb dish cooked in a broth with jameed, also known as fermented, dried yogurt. It doesn’t sound so appetizing, but when topped with rice, almonds and spice, the result is mind-blowing. The dish is served on a massive platter in the center of the table with rounds of bread, which you use as both your silverware and your plate. Rip off a strip of bread and dig in. The chunks of lamb are so tender you’ll be able to scoop them up nicely with a heap of rice. Common in Jordan, the communal dining style is one of the best parts of eating Mensaf and a great way to bring you closer to your dining partners.
2. Maqluba – Maqluba Maqluba, (مقلوبة), means upside down in Arabic. A fitting name for a dish where meat, rice and fried vegetables are layered and cooked in a pot then turned over onto a platter. Ta-da! A bright heap of tomatoes, with eggplant, cauliflower, potatoes and chicken or lamb hiding underneath. Like many Jordanian dishes, it can be topped with almonds and is usually served with yogurt. Another communal dish, like mensaf, maqluba is best shared with a group of at least three or four people. (Photo courtesy of http://eeeeee.forumarabia.com)
3. Hummus – Hummus is well known around the world and some store brands have it down to a science. But if you think you know what good hummus is, you have no idea until you’ve tried it at Hashem’s, the tiny but famous restaurant in Amman. (Shown in photo). Maybe it’s because the masters at Hashem’s have found the perfect balance of chickpeas and olive oil. Or maybe it’s the fact that you only pay 1JD for an all-you-can-eat meal (all mezze included, not only hummus). Whatever the reason, Hashem’s hummus will change your life. From your first bite you will declare all other hummus not creamy enough, or claim they’re trying too hard with new flavors, or try in vain to recreate the exact flavor at home, (to no avail). It’s so good maybe you shouldn’t even try it at the risk of ruining the rest of your life… Or you could do as I have and sacrifice yourself to its tahini induced charm and resign yourself to a life of doing everything in your power to return once a year for a fix. Go with the latter, and visit Hashim’s at Al-Amir Mohammed St Downtown, Amman 11110, Jordan. They’re falafel is pretty fantastic too.
4. Falafel – Speaking of falafel, falafel sandwiches are a favorite in Jordan, and falafel shops are so proud of their goods they’ll invite you to taste before buying. (Anything that tastes too deep fried or crunchy is bad, light and fluffy is good). The sandwiches are made to order and make a quick, cheap, (about 1JD), lunch or dinner. Hummus is spread onto the pita, followed by plenty of falafel, which is then squished with a fork and topped with cucumbers and pickled vegetable relish. The optional red hot sauce mixed with the hummus creates the perfect amount of zing.
5. Labneh – Another mezze dish like hummus, labneh is interesting. It’s yogurt that’s strained through a cloth to remove the whey, resulting in a spread that’s almost the consistency of soft cheese, but with the tanginess of yogurt still intact. Eat it with hummus and other mezze for lunch or dinner, or even better spread it on bread with jam for breakfast. (This is seriously addicting, I promise). (Photo courtesy of Almarai)
6. Schwarma – This famous meat preparation has become a staple fast food dish at Kebab stands worldwide. But the Levantine Arab creation is best where it originated. Chicken, lamb or beef is grilled on a vertical spit for as long as a day before being shaved off for serving. Layering strips of fat and seasoned meat makes for optimum flavor. Shwarma can be served on a plate or it can refer to a sandwich, my favorite. Similar to döner kebap or gyros, the shaved meat is stuffed in a warm pita with hummus, salad, tahini and spice. Both versions are often served with french fries, or they can be incorporated into the sandwich, (obviously the better option). Some places even have cheese schwarma, which is delicious but a little much for every day. You’ve probably had something similar before, but try it in Jordan for the real (better) thing.
7. Zarb – Zarb, or Bedouin barbecue, is fantastic not only for the taste but for the process. Meat and vegetables are cooked in a large pit underground, and there is plenty of ritual to go along with it. When ready to feast, the meat is tender and smoky, with perfectly cooked vegetables. Try it under the stars in Wadi Rum (pictured above) for a full experience.
8. Fatyer Jenbeh – It’s lucky these cheese pastries are everywhere you go in Jordan, because they’re so addicting. Salty cheese sits inside the fluffy, golden dough, ready to melt in your mouth. Fatayer jebneh can be found almost everywhere. In bakeries, pastry shops, cafeterias and street stands. Perfectly acceptable to have for breakfast with your tea, or as an afternoon snack. You won’t be able to get enough of them!
9. Kanafeh – Ah dessert, the best part of any day. This sweet, sticky Arabic pastry is known around Jordan as the national dessert. (Which is saying something, because sweets and pastries are abundant). Layers of shredded phylo dough and a mix of mozzarella and ricotta cheeses are baked in a sweet cream butter. So rich, so delicious. Baked until golden, rose water and orange water turn the top layer a bright orange. Kanafeh is rich, and probably best in small quantities, but it is amazing.
10. Harissa – Admittedly, I have a massive sweet tooth, and a soft spot for my favorite Arabic pastry, but this really is one of the best things you’ll ever taste. Semolina flour drenched in honey with butter, yogurt and almonds or pistachios. Dense, gooey heaven in a cake. I could eat an entire pan of this, (and almost have). Though super sweet, the honey instead of sugar keeps it from being sickeningly so. Somehow harissa is almost light, (meaning even after mensaf, falafel, hummus and schwarma you’ll have room). Happy feasting!