Our food and travel writer, Nadia El Ferdaoussi reveals the wonderful food scene in Jordan, the hidden gem of the Middle East.
Visiting the Middle East, you always know you’re going to be in for a treat when it comes to the food. However, I didn’t realise just quite how well I’d be fed on a recent trip to Jordan. I spent a week on G Adventures’ Multisport tour travelling around the country, visiting all of the major tourist hotspots and sampling local cuisine along the way. Here are a few highlights to whet your appetite if you’re thinking of visiting Jordan.
I started my trip as most will, in the capital city Amman. Café culture is great here. Rainbow Street is the place to be if you want to go for a stroll and pop into some of the local establishments for fresh juice or coffee. For lunch though, head downtown to Hashem Restaurant for a very casual vegetarian feast. There’s no menu here, just a very rustic tomato and onion ‘salad’, falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, bread and chips.
Best to order a bit of everything and share. Some of the falafels are stuffed with red onion and topped with sesame seeds and everything is expertly prepared to perfection. No menu means no prices, but trust me, it’s cheap as chips.
There’s a traditional way the Bedouin people have cooked for centuries in the desert and tourists can still sample it today. Zarb is a slow-cooked meal of meat and vegetables sealed in a pit in the sand – a type of Bedouin barbecue if you will.
Tender lamb and chicken give the vegetables their flavours, everything comes out juicy and steaming hot, perfect for chilly desert nights in Wadi Rum under the stars.
Originating in Saudi Arabia, but also popular in Jordan, Kabsa is another rice, meat and veg dish all cooked in one pot with lots of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and saffron.
When it’s time to serve, often it’s rather spectacularly tipped from the pot in one swift motion onto a massive plate for you to help yourself. Grab some bread and eat with your hands.
Since responsible tourism is such a big part of G Adventures’ ethos, there were a couple of local community restaurants on the itinerary that provided some of the tastiest meals of the trip.
Look out for family-run establishments and homestays for similar fare. First up, after hiking in the Ajloun Forest Reserve, we ate with a local family. Everything is harvested nearby and cooked with olive oil from the surrounding groves. Simple, fresh, unfussy ingredients sometimes make for the best dishes.
Pictured here (below), eggy potatoes with cheese, lima beans, tomatoes and labneh. As always, anywhere you go in Jordan, served with bread and mint tea.
En route back to Amman on the Jordan Valley Highway, we stopped off at community cafe, Al Numeira, where again I was able to share a meal with a local family.
This time, truly served family style, sitting cross-legged on the ground passing dishes to each other. The lima beans here had been cooked in a rich tomato sauce that begged to be mopped up with fresh bread.
No trip to Jordan would be complete without visiting the City of Mysteries that is Petra. The town itself is pretty touristy, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get a good meal. Hilariously named ‘My Mom’s Recipe’ Restaurant, it serves up Mansaf, a slow-cooked traditional Jordanian lamb dish cooked in yoghurt and served with rice. Wash it down with homemade Jordanian mint lemonade.
If you make it to the Monastery, take a well-earned break with fresh pomegranate and orange juice at the little stall with perhaps the best view on-site.
Keep your eyes peeled for Kanafeh (multiple spellings) on dessert menus. It’s a traditional Middle Eastern sweet dish made from honey-soaked pastry, melted cheese and pistachios. Sounds wrong, but it is so right and will keep both those with a sweet tooth and savoury fans alike satisfied.
You’ll also want to try your fair share of Turkish coffee while in town. Strong, spicy and served black and get your hands on some fresh almonds while you’re at it. I’ll be honest, this isn’t what I expected them to look like fresh off the tree, but you’ll pick them up at any local market.
Jordan is full of hearty, homemade food. There’s no problem pleasing both vegetarians and meat-eaters here either, everyone is catered for. Most restaurants don’t serve alcohol, some are BYO, but hotels should usually offer beer and wine.
Author: Nadia El Ferdaoussi
Dublin native, Nadia is a freelance travel writer whose plan is to wander the globe until the novelty wears off (if that ever happens). Despite travelling to exotic locations the world over, her favourite country is Ireland, “when the sun shines, there’s no better place.” Her dream job would be mystery shopping in hotels, since she has a keen eye for detail and already spends most of her time living out of a suitcase. Nadia has a new found passion for wine and is quickly moving up through the ranks in terms of wine education. Her bucket list destination? Antarctica.