Eating local cuisine in any country is a delicious way to understand the culture of any region. For me, eating in Jordan was my first time trying traditional Middle Eastern dishes in its native homeland. I am a fan of various Middle Eastern dishes but in Jordan, I tried dishes that I had not been offered in the States. It had me even more food curious to visit other parts of this region and try more traditional Middle Eastern dishes. Partaking in meals made with local ingredients, while sitting amongst the people of these ancient lands made my visit more memorable.
I ate various dishes while visiting Jordan back in 2016, some where a hit and some where a miss. By the end of the trip, I could not even look at pita bread for months considering I ate it so much of it! Do not let that stop you from trying the incredible dishes that this country has to offer. Below is my personal food journal of what I ate in Jordan and what I thought about each dish.
~ Always be Food Curious ~
Kanafeh or Kunafa
This sweet number is a prized dessert in Jordan. If you are lactose intolerant or if you are allergic to nuts, you may have to step aside. Kunafa is a deliciously wicked dessert made with thinly shredded dough (think phyllo like), layered with cheese and topped with pistachios. Then to add more deliciousness, a sweet rose syrup is poured on top and is typically served warm. Sweet Cheezus this dessert was delicious! Sweet, nutty and cheesy. Life could not get any better.
I read about this delicious dessert online and was looking forward to trying it. I was very happy to see it on the table when we were dinner guests at my friend’s colleague’s home, such wonderful hospitality.
It goes without saying that falafel has been adopted into many countries cuisines as a vegan staple. I know there are a lot of people who have not tried falafel but to try it once might change your approach to Middle Eastern or vegan food. Falafel is a simple dish traditionally made of ground chickpeas and fried until golden brown. It is delicious and is typically served in a pita bread. There is another variation you should also try and it is falafel made with spring onions and topped with sesame seeds. The onion falafel was a favorite of mine because it added more flavor to those crispy little chickpea balls.
Some of the best Falafel can be enjoyed at the Oldest restaurant in Amman, Hashem Al-Amir (see below for information on their Hummus)
Hummus at the oldest restaurant in Amman
Eating hummus in Jordan was life altering or at least it was for me. It makes our hummus taste like wall spackle, although I have never tasted wall spackle. Made with local ingredients and as the people of Jordan say “The best olive oil in the world!”, hummus in Jordan is incredible. The texture is creamier, the taste is fresher and is over the top good when served with “The best olive oil in the world!”
You can find the best of the best hummus at Hashem Al-Amir in Old Town Amman. Hashem is not a white linen, fine dining establishment but an outdoor café with a view of the sidewalk. This is the oldest restaurant in Amman and is a favorite with everyone in the region including Royalty! Dining at Hashem is an excellent way to start off your Jordanian experience- sitting with locals, tourists and friends as you listen to sounds of the city.
Do not forget that you will be eating the best hummus in the… world. There I said it!
Whether this black caffeine elixir served in a brightly colored papered cup sitting on a handmade bench or a china white cup and saucer during a family dinner, you will find Turkish Coffee everywhere. For coffee drinkers who like it strong this will be a staple of yours while trekking through Jordan, I know it was for me.
In my opinion, the best part of drinking Turkish Coffee was the hospitality that went with it. I had it served to me in stores by local business owners curious about the country I am from. I had Turkish Coffee after a beautiful lunch at a local family’s home in Amman. I had it while chatting with a local café owner outside Kerek Castle, sitting on a stool after he told me to sit and have a smoke. Then as I sat in a hotel lobby with another traveler, a family pulled out their on-the-go Turkish Coffee kit and offered us a cup. The hospitality of Turkish Coffee in Jordan and the memories that went with each cup, I will forever cherish. I hope your cup of Turkish Coffee finds you with fond memories of Jordan.
A Hospitable Private Dinner
The people of Jordan are some of the most hospitable and welcoming that I have met while traveling. Where ever you go people say “Welcome to Jordan!” and they give you Turkish coffee or tea.
So it was not surprising that my friend’s former colleague asked us over for a family dinner. We were very fortunate to be invited to this lavish Jordanian meal with every food that I wanted to try! We were served our meals on their best china and crystal, a formality that I have not seen since I was young. My mother used to bring out the good china and silver when it was a special occasion. In this case, we were the special occasion- how beautiful and wonderful was that?
This Jordanian dish was one of my favorite meals in Jordan and is noted as their National Dish. We first tried this dish as a group when we spent a cold night in the Wadi Rum desert, sleeping in goat haired tents. This hot meal of chicken, lamb and root vegetables was so warming and comforting on that chilly desert night! We sat throughout the goat haired tent or around the fire and enjoyed this hearty meal that the Bedouins had cooked for us.
Zarb is cooked underground with flaming hot coals and is similar to the Hawaiin Imu or underground oven. The dish consists of of lamb or chicken, rice, onions and carrots. This style of cooking creates fall of the bone meat with moist and flavorful rice due to the juices and onions. I highly recommend this dish while in Jordan!
Apologies on not having photos of Zarb, it was a long day in the desert and the meal was already on the tent table!
A Jordanian special meal, Maqluba is a traditional dish that is served upside down! It is layered with meat, spices, rice and vegetables. The slow cooking of this dish allows the juices to absorb into the rice and vegetables creating a fully flavorful one pot meal.
The ‘show’ happens when the large heavy pot of warm and tender ingredients is turned over, upside down. Then there are all the “Oooohs” that are said and a possible applause could happen. It may take a couple of people to turn the pot upside down but the hard work is worth it! Especially when you watch the layers of rice and meat fall out onto the serving dish.
One of my favorite Middle Eastern dishes, even in the states! Shawarma is a traditional Middle Eastern street food comprising of thinly shaved lamb or other meats and wrapped in a pita.
I skipped the camel burger for shawarma, true story! My fellow travelers went out for camel burgers but I was not feeling it. A couple of days prior, I rode a camel at sunrise and felt that I had bonded with it. To me eating a camel would be like eating a horse, so shawarma it was. Another traveler that I had met accompanied me to the best shawarma stand in Amman. The German traveler I was with said he would get the first round and graciously paid for it.
Standing there, I heard numbers being read out it in Arabic and my hungry grin turned into a wide eyed sulk. I turned to the German guy and asked “Do you know how to say (whatever number) in ARABIC?”. We both stood there watching the men behind the counter shave off shawarma and call out numbers. I held the ticket hoping for a stranger to help and my sorrowful face paid off. A gentleman next to me looked at my receipt and told me when our order was ready. We then sat and ate our shawarma. Now I am not sure if this really was the best shawarma in Amman but it was the best shawarma I have eaten, to this date. If there is better shawarma somewhere in the world, I am so there!
The “Best Shawarma in Amman” is at the takeaway stand Shawerma Reem
- Address: Jabal Amman, Second Circle, Amman| Phone: (06) 464 5725
By the way, I never paid for a second round of shawarma! 😉
Tell that sweet tooth of yours that you love it and will find a local bakery in Jordan. There is a plethora of bakeries in Jordan serving up delicious sweets to bring back to your hotel, eat on the bus or my favorite- walking around eating it out of a plastic bag. In any country I visit, I cannot help but stop at a bakery window and smell the sweetness. On occasions my sweet tooth takes control and I walk in. I am sure you have found yourself in the same situation.
In Jordan, you will find your fill of baklava, kanafeh and sticky honey desserts. You cannot go wrong with what you choose. Ordering is not hard even if you do not know the name of what you are choosing. We just simply pointed and put up how many fingers of the sweets we wanted. If you are food curious, it is a fun surprise to taste what you chose from a Jordanian bakery.
Do not take this drink lightly as it is one of the strongest alcoholic drinks that I have encountered! I admit, there have been times that I have not been able to hold my liquor but that was after multiple glasses, lack of food, no water and basting in the hot sun. One drink of Arak had me wanting to go back to the hotel and pass out immediately. I wanted to pass out because I was tired of trying to hold myself together from this milky white concoction. If you have seen me try and hold it together, you know that it is better if I just pass out!
Arak is a hardcore alcoholic drink made from grapes and anise. I had to drink this watered down because the alcohol content is high, up to 63% alcohol volume. If you have not tried Arak and you are in Jordan, just make sure you are close to a bed or have a sober friend to take you back to your hotel!
Although I mentioned baklava in Jordanian Sweets, having it served warmed deserves its own entry. No lies, I love baklava and have eaten it more times than I care to admit but having it served warm was life changing. How could one simple task of serving it warm and drizzled with honey be such a shift in how I look at this delicious desert? I do not know but it was a definite shift in my baklava consciousness.
I tried it warm in Madaba at a local kebab place and shared it with a friend. I thought “Well this is fancy, served on a white plate with a fork.” I then understood why it was served plated with a fork. Warm baklava drizzled with honey is moist, sticky sweet and it melts in your mouth. To be truthful, this has spoiled my palate on room temperature baklava and I cry to myself wanting it warmed up.
This is not your ordinary tea as it is more of a communal experience than drinking the tea itself. Like my memories of Turkish Coffee, partaking in Bedouin Tea was about taking a break and socializing with those around you. Typically if you enter a house or tent, you will be served tea as a form of hospitality. While in Jordan, I had Beoduin Tea while visiting Qusair Amra and the local Bedouin brought us into his tent then made us tea. Other times I was in the middle of the dessert and had the tea served after being made over a little fire. Hopefully you will find yourself sharing Bedouin tea with friends and locals in the middle of the dessert or inside a goat haired tent.
Bedouin Tea is an herbal mix prepared with sugar and made over a little fire. Although it sounds as if Bedouin Tea may be similar to traditional tea served with sugar it is different. The process of the tea making and the smoke from the little fire givevs it that special flavor.
Kebab or Kebap
No matter how you spell it or pronounce it, this common dish is served in various styles around the world. Only because it is straight up delicious! For Westerners, it is like a flavorful minced meat hamburger, in an elongated shape and cooked over an open fire. Although the majority of us have tried kebab, eating it in Jordan takes on a whole new meaning. It comes down to the local ingredients of the fresh meat used and the country’s own spices. The kebabs in Jordan are juicy, the meat tastes very fresh and it is full of wonderful flavor.
You can have your kebab as street food wrapped in a flat bread or as a main dish with fries and a salad. Either way, kebab in Jordan is a must have.
Almost every country has their own version of pizza and Manakish is Jordan’s, but healthier! Okay, it does have carbs due to the pizza shaped bread but it is topped with thyme, sesame seeds and other spices.
To have a more cholesterol filling Manakish experience you can have it topped with meat and cheese. As for myself and a few of my table mates, the simple form of thyme and sesame seeds was a delicious choice.
Mamoul – Arabic Cookies
Although I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles with many ethnicities around me, it took a trip to Jordan to discover Mamoul! I am actually upset that my Middle Eastern friends never handed me a cookie over the years- JK (not really). These delicious cookies are filled with dates, nuts and sometimes figs. It sounds delicious, right? I think it would go wonderful with a cheese plate and wine! You do not have to travel to the Middle East to find Mamoul as they are sold at international or Arabic markets. You can also makek them at home with an online recipe.
So how I came upon Mamoul in Jordan is a cute story in itself! My friends and I hopped a taxi in Amman with me sitting in the front. The friendly driver started to hand out these packaged cookies after saying “Welcome to Jordan!”. All four of us really enjoyed them and he gave us more! We enthusiastically said “Shukran! Shukran!” in our American accents and he even took a selfie with us in the taxi! The hospitality of the Jordanians wanting to share their culture and food was everywhere. It was all very heart warming and memorable.
Arabic Bread and Laughing Cow Cheese
Helpful Tip: If you have access to a grocery store prior to your trek into Petra, purchase foods that you can easily pack for lunch/ snacks. Many of us bought deli meat, chips, granola bars, fruit, water and Laughing Cow Cheese!
We pulled up to a SAFEWAY and several of the Western Hemisphere travelers exclaimed in unison “SAFEWAY?” This was the last American brand retailer that I would expect in the Middle East but was grateful for it. We were there to purchase food for our Petra trip the next day because our hotel rooms had small refrigerators. Our guide gave us about 15 minutes to shop so many of us were running though the market like we were on a game show. We did not know where anything was, so I am sure it was funny to watch on the security cameras! I located the Arabic (pita) bread and instinctively found the cheese aisle. Low and behold, I saw something familiar, it was Laughing Cow cheese. I knew that I did not need a knife, I could just open each triangle and eat with my pita bread- perfect! Although the packaging was written in Arabic that laughing red cow was symbolically familiar, no translation needed.
A Bedouin Buffet
If you take a guided tour into Wadi Rum or decide to stay at a Bedouin campsite more than likely you will be fed a Bedouin style buffet. Depending on your group, your meal will be more or less of what we were served- Arabic Bread, hummus, vegetable stew, rice, vegetable salad and so on. Remember to say “Shukran” to your hosts and to those who cooked your meal!
During this meal, we had just arrived at the starting point of our Wadi Rum adventure. This would be our only meal until dinner time, unless we had private snacks (like me). Although this meal was basic it was warm and very tasty, it’s made to fill you up! There was not a lot of meat served, actually I do not even remember if meat was served. This would be a vegetarian’s dream, really! With all that said- bring snacks!
Wine and Sushi
I know, but why not? I was jonesing for it, like ‘Indiana Jones’ jonesing for it! We were in Jordan for over a week and I had an additional week prior in Romania. Our guide brought us to an international restaurant in Aqaba and I saw sushi on the menu, it was over. That is all I saw, plus the wine list!
The tuna roll was quite good as well as the arugula salad that I ordered. My friend bought the bottle of wine and it was okay, just okay. I was expecting something to happen but nothing did in taste. Even my friend was ‘waiting for it’. I will say that it did do the job on the alcohol content though. I ended up doing something that is now coined “The Aqaba Move”. Maybe I will tell you one day!
Hotel Boxed Breakfasts/ Lunches
A helpful hint when taking a day tour or leaving for an early flight, ask your hotel if they can make you a breakfast or lunch for takeaway. Most big hotels that serve breakfast (free or charged) should be able to prepare one with advanced notice. Just ask the front desk when you check in to schedule it.
This big boxed meal that came from the Marriott in Amman has a heart warming story attached to it. As you notice there was a lot of food, too much actually. When it came to the end of the day, the four of us put all the remainders into one box . My friend said that he would find a homeless person to give it to and sure enough a homeless man showed up. My friend gave this poor man a full box of food and he was brought to tears. This homeless man, who was full of gratitude, pulled out a few coins to pay my friend for the box but of course he would not take it. Now I do not know the poor man’s story but I do know that people will show up at the right time, no matter what the situation is or the location.
7-UP (I don’t drink soda)
I am not a soda drinker and I am not sure why I ordered one. I think I may have needed the carbs that water does not provide. We had quite a day already of visiting Jerash, the Dead Sea and Jesus’s Baptismal Site- so carbs were in order!
I will say this, I LOVED THE CAN. It was thin and very retro with the pull up top that we grew up with as a kid. Also, the retro wording of “1980s Feelin 7UP” and other words in Arabic- so rad! I wanted to take the can but I did not want to look weird. I really should have taken the can…
The first time I saw these fuzzy little green nuts was in the Old Market of Amman. I honestly did not know what they were but I took a photo of them because I thought they looked interesting. A few days into our trip, our guide pulls over to the side of the road and buys a bag of green almonds to share amongst the group.
He explained to us that these cute little fuzzy green things were young almonds and seasonal (Springtime). I pulled two almonds out of the bag just in case I liked them. I bit into one of them them, took a picture and swallowed it. Hmmm… Sorry but I am not a fan of green young almonds. I found them to be quite tart and not what I was expecting. People in Jordan do love them, so there must be something to these young almonds. Please do not take my word for it, you might enjoy them. If you happen to be in Jordan during the Springtime, grab a few and do try them out.
There are several International restaurants in Amman and I truly wish I could remember the name of the one we went to. My friend’s colleague took us to a lovely upscale restaurant before we left Amman and it was wonderful! I ordered the Fajitas which is funny because I rarely order them in America. I did see Chili Dog on the menu and considered ordering it just because I could- that didn’t happen. I am sure it was a very fancy Chili Dog though! The funny memory of this restaurant was when the electricity went out! Yes, upscale dining in Amman, the electricity went out and the candles went up. Voila! Candlelight dinner of fajitas, Jordanian wine and crème brulee.
Tip: When Westerners hear the word “International Restaurant” we automatically think something other than American. So keep that in mind Westerners that when we are in another region of the world, an International Restaurant may have what you are used to- alcohol, pasta, fajitas, hot dogs, burgers, crème brulee, etc
Petra’s Cave Bar – Cheesecake and Booze
Well you will have to read my post Indiana Jones and The Lost City of Petra to understand how my friend and I ended up at this touristy watering hole.
In many Islamic Middle Eastern Countries, alcohol is not typically sold in non tourist public places. In most of these countries you may be able to find alcohol in the tourist areas, larger cities or Western chain hotels. Please do not ask Bedouins for alcohol because they are very strict on “No alcohol”. Bedouins will not even physically touch alcohol, so please mind those manners!
BBQ and Sailing the Red Sea
One of our last meals in Jordan was along the Red Sea in Aqaba. The blue waters, fresh sea air, the smell of chicken grilling and me driving the boat down the Red Sea. Yeah, I did not see that coming! The captain asked if I wanted to steer and of course I said “Yes”. Mind you I did not have my driving glasses nor have I ever driven a boat before but that did not stop me. I just made sure that I turned left before I hit Saudi Arabia!
I think we can all agree that eating anything grilled by the sea or a lake is… magical. I believe a memorable meal includes all of your senses so it just is not the food itself but also the environment around you. So on this day of me steering clear from Saudi Arabia, I napped in the sun, watched dolphins swim the red sea, felt the Red Sea wind and ate delicious grilled chicken. It was delicious- I went for second and thirds!
Candy For a Photo
While photographing the Roman Amphitheatre in Jordan, I notice a group of young Islamic ladies, more than likely University students, attempting to take a group selfie. I saw them struggle to get four faces with the Amphitheatre in the back ground, I know the group selfie struggle! I asked them if I could take a photo for them and they were more than happy to hand their phone over to me, so I could take a variety of group photos. The girls were so lovely and sweet, they reminded me of my daughter who was about their ages.
They asked me where I was from and they all exclaimed “Welcome to Jordan!”. One of the girls then unzipped her backpack, took out a plastic bag and started to pull out different sweets to give to me. She was saying “For you- this and this.”, while the other girls were giggling. I said to the girls. “I like her! She carries sweets in her bag!” We all laughed, I thanked them and we said our good byes.
I have been very lucky in my travels to come across beautiful people like this. It is the little moments such as these that make my travels big memories.
We used the tour company GAdventures. Although I generally do not take full tours, I found GAdventures and our guide Ayman exceptional! The itinerary of the tour and the wonderful travelers that I met were incredible experiences. https://www.gadventures.com/
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