Of bread, cheese, and Jordanian meats

Of bread, cheese, and Jordanian meats
A land known for its generosity and hospitality, Jordan has always been open in receiving cultural as well as culinary influences from neighbours and guests.

Strategically located at the meeting point of Asia, Africa and Europe, Jordan is popular for its exquisite cuisine and this has been a fact for over several centuries. Jordan's flavours are closely linked with those of Palestine and Syria. A land known for its generosity and hospitality, Jordan has always been open in receiving cultural as well as culinary influences from neighbours and guests.

Cultural incursions

As its history records, Jordan being subjected to conquests and invasions over the centuries, has for its cultural history, the unmistakable influences of Europe and Arabia. At a period in time when spices were more precious than gold, Jordan was a paradise for their trade and was an economic powerhouse. Jordan's geographical location too at the confluence of Asia, Africa, and Europe stood to its advantage in its trade with spices. The famous town of Petra earned a name for itself as one of the most popular centres for spices trade. Rice and poultry found their way to Petra through this spices route.

With Alexander The Great riding victoriously into Jordan, the Greek influence too came in. However, with Alexander's death in 169 BC, the entire trade in spices went to the control of Jordan's traditional Nabataean tribe and the region from the Red sea to Damascus came under their control with Petra being the capital.

In AD 106, the tribe was conquered by Rome. The reason why the Ottoman Turks invaded Jordan in 1516 was to wrest control of the spices trade. Jordan witnessed extreme unrest with the Arabs rising against the Turks. This brought the British coming in and bringing Jordan under its control during its period of distress. In AD 629, Jordan had to endure Saudia Arabian conquest of its territories as well as a Mongolian invasion in the 13the century.

Rich flavours

Rich in olive oil output, Jordan is perhaps the largest producer of olive oil. Almost all the cooking is done in olive oil. The masalas, used in most of the dishes, are a mix of cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, sumac, thyme, sesame, and salt. Ginger, cardamom, pepper, turmeric, and cassia were already in use several centuries ago. Though coffee was introduced to Jordan in the 13th century, it became a popular drink only by the 16th century. The British brought in and popularized tea by the 19th century. Jordan's tea today is a brew of cinnamon, cardamom, pudina, and thyme.

Traditional serves

The Arbood bread was the traditional food of the Bedouin tribes. A simple combination of flour, salt and water, it was basically unleavened bread cooked in ashes. The Bedouins were nomadic shepherds and their long days in the desert taught them to cook this bread. They would pat the dough into dishes and cook them over ash or at times over embers. It was usually eaten along with ghee churned out of goat’s milk.

Hammas is another extremely popular serve. Chickpea is boiled, mashed and turned into a gooey pulp to which is added ground sesame, garlic, olive oil, lime extract, and parsley.

Serb is an exclusive traditional tribal dish. A pit is dug and coal laid at the bottom and lit up. Later, food is layered and placed in a cooking vessel called taboon. Lamb and chicken are marinated with a mix of lime extract, salt and garlic. They are then placed in layers in the taboon. Over these are again layers of onions, potatoes, carrots, green pepper, parsley and brinjal. This is then lowered into the pit over the burning coal. The vessel is closed with a solid thick lid and the pit sealed with earth on top and the sides. The top is closed tightly with thick cloth. The taboon is brought up two hours later and is served best with rice or bread.

Popular dishes

Mansaf is termed the national dish of Jordan. Made of lamb, it's cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice and bulgur. The dish is topped with roasted almonds and pine nuts.

Another dish, Maqlooba literally means upside down. Brinjal, cauliflower, rice, chicken, cinnamon, turmeric, pepper, paprika and ghee are placed in layers in a wide bottomed dish. The ingredients are washed with meat stock, covered and cooked for 40 minutes over a low flame. Rice is cooked dry with no trace of water and it's served upside down.

Warak Enab is an exclusive Middle Eastern dish made with stuffed grape leaves. Rice, finely chopped meat, onions, spices and salt are wrapped in grape leaves and cooked. Very much like rolls, the leaves too can be eaten. The same ingredients can be wrapped in zucchini leaves.

Muttabel is another dish with brinjal. Brinjal is lightly roasted and its skin removed. It's then mixed with curds, ground sesame, garlic, and lime extract. It's as good as a pickle and is a side dish.

Galayet bandora is a simple and delicious dish from the Jordanian kitchen. Pine nut is fried in olive oil and set aside. Garlic, tomato and green chilly pepper are sautéed and cooked well with the required measure of water and made into a thick pulp. The fried nuts are added and served along with bread or rice.

The Tabouli is a popular salad. Finely chopped parsley, garlic, tomato, and burger wheat are mixed and dressed with lemon extract, olive oil, and salt. The Arab salad is made with delicately chopped cucumber, tomato, and capsicum mixed with lemon extract and olive oil.

Manakish Arabic pista is another delicacy. A round dough-base is made and topped with za'atar, olive oil, white cheese, egg or meat. This is then baked in a chulha or clay oven.

What the Jordanians call cake is in reality bread sandwich. Cheese, boiled egg, za'atar and chilly sauce are stuffed inside loaves. Sesame is also spread on to the crust of the loaves.

Rice, tur dal, and cumin are boiled and cooked to make a vegetable dish called mujadara topped with sautéed onions and pine nuts.

Musakhan is a dish served alike in Jordan and Palestine. Bread slices, chicken, onions, cinnamon, olives, and all spices are cooked in olive oil till tender and soft. Kabsa, Shawarma, Kunafa and kebab are other popular serves here. As anar (pomegranate), lemon, dater, olives and sugarcane are widely cultivated; there are juices aplenty at every turn.

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