Ever since we arrived in Jordan, we’ve repeated this expression almost everyday, so ‘why not turn it into a blog post?’ Hala said.
Well, here it is.
Eating and sharing food is a big part of Jordanian culture. That’s how they show hospitality and honour guests.
Even if you are visiting people who are part of the 14.4 per cent of the population living below the national poverty line, they would do everything in their power to make sure that you eat something before you leave their home.
In this developing country, people don’t seem to be starving. The fact that you find bags of pita bread like the one in the photo at almost every corner is very telling. Beyond that, studies by the Regional Food Security Analysis Network reveal that almost 80 per cent of the population has an “adequate food consumption level.”
(Note: @gknnn told me on Instagram that Muslims are not allowed to throw away good food, so that’s why people leave these bags of bread for others to take).
Like I mentioned in another blog post, even though we are here for work, our interviewees are always concerned about our nutritional well-being. Cardamom-flavoured coffee, tea, seeds, nuts and sometimes even huge pieces of cake are always offered to us. Saying ‘no’ is a big offense to them, so we try to balance our politeness with any ethical concerns that may arise out of this situation. We also need to be mindful of how much food our stomachs can bear.
Jordanian food and, by extension, Arabic food is nothing less than delicious. Clea and I are veggies-and-fruit-eaters and are amazed at how much flavour peaches, figs, apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, plums, zucchinis, tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, olives (yes, we’ve tried them all) have.
Then, you have the cooked dishes.
At small stands on almost every street you can get earthy falafel either in pita bread or in sesame bread for 0.55 dinars, roughly one dollar. And if you are invited to someone’s home, you’ll probably get fresh tabbouleh, meaty kubbeh (my favourite), shawarma, hummus, baba ghanouj, yogurt, and many-many-many fatayer or savoury pastries filled with fresh cheese, veggies, or spinach. You can also expect rice cooked with different spices and mixed with peanuts, and accompanied with some kind of meat.
By the end of the meal, don’t expect just one dessert. No, no…you better leave some space because you might get three or four different kinds of sweets or even two big pieces of the same one.
By now I’ve tried basbousa, a simple but tasty semolina and syrup cake; knafeh, also made from semolina and strings of phyllo pastry but filled with white soft cheese that resembles my beloved queso telita from Venezuela; ka’ak bi ma’mouls, addictive date filled soft cookies whose delicate dough is sometimes kneaded with rosewater; super sweet baklavas, with their layers of phyllo pastry filled with dates, and finally the special-occasions-dessert: Aish El-Saraya, a cake topped with cream and pistachios.
By the way, while all this food is being served, the flow of sweet tea doesn’t stop. Also, Arabic coffee, poured in little cups, is a must by the end of the meal.
Then you have spices. They are everywhere. Cumin, cardamom, turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, thyme, nutmeg, sumac, aniseed, and so many others that are sold by thousands of vendors in any commercial area in Amman.
Fun fact (literally, fun): Clea and I have gotten a few bags for free after we amuse the vendors by asking just for 10 gr. of pepper or 15 gr. of cinnamon. We don’t understand what they say, but it sounds like: “Really? Is that all you are buying? That’s on the house!” and a horse laugh follows. Some of them even look for a third person to show him or her how much we are buying and laugh together about it.
We also laugh. At not understanding. At the fact that we dared to go to a public market with only one word in our vocabulary: Shukran! (thanks). At how amazed we are by fruits and vegetables that actually taste like they are supposed to. At the culinary experience that this trip to Jordan has also been.