Like much of the food in the Middle East, meals in Jordan are generally made up of an array of different dishes — mezze. Mezze are small plates of appetizers usually part of a much larger meal. Falafel, fatoosh (a cucumber & tomato salad), yoghurt, bread and fresh vegetables are typical of a basic Jordan meal.
If you're looking for a more formal meal in Jordan, the food will still include plenty of mezze. But maybe in smaller portions and combined with a lamb or chicken dish. And of course the meal wouldn't be complete without desert. Jordanians know how to make a good dessert (as they should, there's a sweet shop on every street)! Everything from honey-covered sweets to baklava and dried fruits (also usually covered in honey).
On my most recent visit to Jordan I decided to explore more than the cheap falafel sandwiches and instead try more traditional Jordanian meals. Everything from lentil soups to lamb barbeques and chicken & rice dishes. But it didn't matter what or where I ate, every meal in Jordan seemed to come with a healthy serving of mezze: hummus, olives and other small salads.
Mezze Makes the Meal
Personally I'm a fan of simple foods — those that are easy to prepare and just as easy to eat. Hummus with a sprinkling of the popular Middle Eastern spice za'atar or maybe just a salad of fresh vegetables. Add in some fresh pita bread and other mezze and you've got a feast!
(Oh, and if you haven't had za'atar before, I highly recommend it! It's a completely versatile spice. It's just a mixture of olive oil, sumac, salt & sesame and can be used on just about anything. In Jordan, it's popular to add it to your hummus and other mezze. But it's also added on top of a few baked desserts to give a bit of flavor.)
Below are a few staples of Jordanian mezze dishes. Many of these have already made it outside of Jordan and have become quite trendy in Middle Eastern restaurants around the world. They're fairly easy to make which means they're usually popular as pre-made dishes in grocery stores. But like most mezzo dishes which are simple to prepare, they taste so much better when you make it yourself.
And to top it all off, I recommend adding tahina to just about everything you eat in Jordan. It's a popular topping for salads, but I like it just as much with pita bread or rice.
This dish is as much fun to say as it is to eat. Cooking it yourself is another matter. It's messy and kind of gross-looking, but that's half the fun. What is it? Roasted eggplant (aubergine) all mushed up into a nice paste which you can then mix with your other mezzo or dip your bread in. Yum!
- 2 tabelspoons lemon juice
1. Roast the eggplants on a baking dish in medium heat for approximately one hour, until the skin is charred and begins to split.
2. When eggplants are cool enough to handle, break open and scoop out the pulp.
3. Mash the pulp with a fork to smooth it into a puree. Add olive oil & lemon juice.
4. Chop tomato, pepper and onion very finely. Add them to the eggplant puree and stir.
5. Crush the garlic in a pestle with salt. Stir into juice and olive oil.
6. Add liquid to vegetables and mix together well. Stir in mint.
7. Serve in a shallow bowl with garnish (tomatoes or parsley)
Tabbouleh, another mezze dish, is essentially a refreshing mix of vegetables and spice. I say refreshing because the heavy amount of mint and parsley really freshens up your breath. Add tabbouleh to a falafel sandwich or just pick at it while watching a football match. It works with just about anything.
- 3 ¾ cups of finely chopped parsley
- 1 cup burghul (also called bulgur…it's a cereal)
- 3 ¾ cups finely chopped mint leaves
1. Remove any stones from the burghul. Wash & drain it well by squeezing it with your hands.
2. Chop tomatoes very fine and sprinkle with salt.
3. Chop onions very fine and add to tomatoes.
4. Add parsley and mint leaves.
5. Stir together with the burghul.
6. Add lemon juice and olive oil. Mix well.
7. Serve on a bed of lettuce or cabbage leaves.
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About the Author
Adam, a twenty-something from Boston via Texas, traveled around the world for 15+ months and now currently lives in Europe's coolest city — Berlin. Check out his blog, Travels of Adam, for hipster travel stories & tips from around the world or read about his gay travel adventures at My Gay Travel Guide. Follow Adam on Twitter, Like his Facebook page or add him to one of your Google+ circles.
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