Friday, 7 October 2011

Jordan on a Plate: The Cultural Smorgasbord

Mansaf: Traditional Jordanian Dish

This week I was on a business trip to Jordan. Having no time to see any sights, I would have to be entertained with trying out the local cuisine. Entertained I was.

Jordan is the almost landlocked country that has a rich variety of cultures. People that are originally Palestinian make up more than half of the population, and Saudi, Iraqi and Syrian influences can also be seen.

Tabbouleh and Rocca salad, eaten throughout Levant
The nomad or desert life is seen in the food which comprises mainly of rice and mutton. One of the only truly Jordanian dishes is Mansaf. Similar to the Kabsa of the Gulf region, this rice and meat meal is the pride and joy of the Jordanian kitchen. In Egypt, the closest dish would be Fettah, a meat and rice dish with a garlicky red sauce.

Now Mansaf is not for the light stomached. The mutton is cooked with the bone in a buttermilk-like dairy called locally “laban”*. It is then put on top of a pile of rice, and garnished with toasted almonds and pine nuts. A laban thin soup like sauce is served on the side, to be poured on top on the dish before eating. It is an acquired taste, but if you like mutton then you may want to try this exotic dish. I tried it at the “Reem Al Bawady” restaurant, a popular tourist spot.

This next dish, as simple as it is, was my favorite culinary adventure in Jordan. Msakhan is made of a piece of flat bread, covered with onions and sumac. On top of that is grilled chicken, usually whole or butterflied. Garnished with toasted almonds and pine nuts, this tasty concoction is a must try.   In the pictures you will see a more modern version of the dish with chicken cubes. There are claims that this dish came with the Palestinian culture and can be traced back to there.

Dessert in Jordan is similar to that of most of the Levant area that is mainly comprised of Oriental Sweets.  Konafa and baklava are known Turkish sweets which came along with the Ottoman rule of the whole area. The difference is in the way each country makes those sweets. 

Knafeih Naboulsiyeh
Knafeih, as pronounced by the Jordanians, is filled here with a goat cheese rather than the usual nuts like in Egypt. Knafeih Naameh, or Knafeih Naboulsiyeh is finely broken konafa which is somehow sautéed in butter with some saffron to color it yellow. It is then made in layers with the middle layer being the goat cheese, which is not a cream cheese but rather a hard mozzarella like cheese but with no stringy melting quality. It is garnished with crushed pistachios and doused in syrup, then served hot (to keep the cheese soft). This dessert is originally from Nablous, a city in Palestine.

I have to remember to travel with my camera charged to capture better pictures! My phone is not being good to me.

* Not to be confused with the Egyptian word Laban, which means milk. Laban in Jordan means yoghurt and also a type of buttermilk which is a bit sourer.

How do you feel about mutton or lamb?

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