Jordan is famous for its ancient history, excellent hospitality, world wonders like the Dead Sea and Petra and its magnificent desert scenery, but what if we told you Jordan is also one of the Middle East’s finest culinary centres? Experience a foodie awakening while on your holidays in Jordan. Indulge in lip-smacking traditional cuisine made with fantastically fresh ingredients – a cuisine that dates back thousands of years. If you enjoy sampling new flavours while you travel, Jordan might be the perfect place for you.
Whether you embark on a tasting tour of Amman’s street food, try out new skills in the kitchen during a cooking lesson or learn about the country’s wine production at a vineyard, there are plenty of opportunities to explore Jordan’s varied gastronomy. Combined with sightseeing and a dose of adventure, sampling the food of Jordan is sure to feature favourably on your holiday highlight reel. From the humble chickpea to rich meat stews, read on to discover our favourite Jordan food and drink.
The best way to get to know a country’s traditional cuisine is often to head to a street market, and sample the wares alongside the resident population. You may have already heard of kofta and kebabs, but there’s much more than traditional fast food to Jordan’s quick street eats. Amman is a fantastic place to try Jordan street food. Stalls are piled high with bread and falafel, sweet roasted nuts. The many shawarma dens give off an intoxicating aroma that permeates the tangle of streets. Mezze is a key part of street eating. Pick up sizzling flatbreads stuffed with falafel, bowls of fava beans swimming in olive oil and tender kebabs. These are best all enjoyed together to sample the variety of flavours.
No holidays in Jordan would be complete without sampling the world famous falafel. In fact, many Jordanians will attest that their falafel is the best in the Middle East. We can heartily agree: light and fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside, with mouth-watering flavours of cumin, garlic and parsley. Jordan is also one of the largest producers of olives in the world. An excellent snack or side dish as well as providing flavour to many main dishes. All meals are completed with a little something sweet. You can grab a slice of baklava or sugar-syrup drenched kanafeh, a soft cheese with a crumbly orange-scented semolina crust.
Unearthing Zarb cuisine
Zarb cuisine is the food of the Bedouin, the nomadic people of the Middle East; the cooking practice is full of drama and can definitely be classed as ‘slow food’ – it can take as long as several hours to cook, but it’s definitely worth the wait. Because of their roaming lifestyle the Bedouin people keep cooking equipment to a minimum, so every item is precious: using the land, they are able to cook their meals underground in a hot oven using embers from the campfire. During Zarb cooking, lamb or chicken with a mix of vegetables and herbs wrapped in palm leaves and cooked in an iron pot with a heavy lid, and then buried in the sand. The low, slow cooking process means the meat falls off the bone; it’s succulent and delicious. You can sample traditional Zarb cooking while on your holidays in Jordan, with the Bedouin in and around Wadi Rum.
Mansaf: the national dish
Mansaf is celebrated as Jordan’s national dish. Traditionally served on a large platter, it’s designed for communal eating among families and friends. Tender chunks of meat are layered between thin flatbreads and served alongside piles of aromatic rice, toasted nuts and a tangy yogurt sauce called jameed. The dish also originates in the Bedouin kitchen, so the recipe varies across the Middle East, appearing in home cooking from Israel to Iraq. Restaurants usually serve mansaf made with lamb or chicken, but you might also find it made with camel meat. Another classic Jordanian dish is maqluba. Often made at home, it’s a jumble of chicken, rice and vegetables inverted on the plate like a cake (the word maqluba means ‘upside down’).
While alcohol is available across Jordan the variety is not huge. However, beer is brewed in the country and equally fruit juices are deliciously fresh. But Levantine wines are growing in popularity and Jordan’s fledgling wine production is the best accompaniment to its cuisine. So don’t fear, you’ll still be able enjoy a tipple while on your holidays in Jordan. There are also choices from slightly further afield. Many restaurants now offering labels from the mature wineries of the nearby Lebanon. While staying in Amman, make a trip north of the city to the St George Winery. Here, you can take a tour of the vineyards and learn about the production process.
Vegetarians will find plenty to satisfy their taste buds while on their holidays in Jordan; the foundation of many beloved Jordanian dishes begins with the humble chickpea. Whether deep fried into delicious balls of crunchy falafel (best stuffed into a flatbread with spicy dressing) or whipped into a creamy hummus, probably one of the best know Levantine dishes. Wherever you order it you’ll find the taste subtly varies depending on the ratio of lemon juice and olive oil – and just about every restaurant in the country offers it. For a different texture, give fattet hummus a try, which is made with white bread. It has a deliciously whipped texture and is lighter than the regular version.
Another Jordanian favourite ingredient is Aubergine, which are widely used in Jordanian cooking too. Why not try muttabal (garlic-roasted aubergines) or a bowl of thick, smooth baba ghanoush with slices of bread for a light lunch, or with a side of herby tabbouleh.
Tea, particular of the mint variety, is drunk in astounding quantities across Jordan. Traditionally, the beverage is very sweet and often flavoured with aromatic sage. When visiting a Bedouin camp, you may be invited to share a drink with the people. This is traditionally served in tiny ornate glasses, but beware – you may find yourself receiving infinite refills, unless you signal your satisfaction by placing your hand over the glass. If coffee is more your cup of, well, tea, you may find it to be considerably more aromatic than it is at home. Syrupy sweet, Jordanian coffee is rich and made with ground cardamom.
If you delight in trying new flavours or are wanting to be more adventurous with your palate, Jordan’s fresh and tasty cuisine is the perfect place to start. Whether you opt to take a cooking class while on your holidays in Jordan or decide to embark on a full-on tour of the country’s culinary landscape, our experts can help.
Contact our resident expert Catherine who will be more than happy to share her favourite dishes and places to eat. She’ll also be able to help you build your perfect holiday to Jordan.