Vegetarian Jordanian Cuisine : Love at first bite
As I announced my Jordan trip, one of the friends teased me that I will not get anything vegetarian to eat in Jordan as it is an Arab Country and people only eat meat.
Guess what who had the last laugh? Your friendly neighborhood desi Traveler had never enjoyed more vegetarian delicacies outside of India than in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The whole Jordanian cuisine is a pleasant, colorful, and fragrant surprise for vegetarians and most of it is wonderful not just for your taste buds but also for your health.
As Jordan is an ancient and holy land appearing in Bible, many civilizations like Roman, Egyptian, Nabataean, Arab etc. have come and met here leading to a cuisine that is a happy blend of Mediterranean, Lebanese, Bedouin, Egyptian etc influences. Also depending on which part of Jordan you visit some local variation in the food is found but the basic theme of colors, textures flavors and ingredients remains constant. As I am a vegetarian by personal choice, most of my focus was on vegetarian food.
You see as a Vegetarian by choice one always wonder a few things
- Do we get vegetarian food easily in the country being visited ? Would I be struggling to get vegetarian food and put my hosts/ friends at a discomfort in finding it for me.
- Is the concept of vegetarian food same as mine, e.g. in some countries vegetarian food means food with lots of veggies along with meat and chicken. While in India Vegetarian food means nothing that ever walked, crawled, flew or swam should go in our food ?
- How safe is the vegetarian food in its raw form like fruits and salads ?
I must say Jordan scored 100 % marks in all the 3 tests for my vegetarian travel
The day I reached Amman, my love affair with Jordanian cuisine started and it was more than love at first bite. We had lunch at Kan Zaman, a restaurant that once was a stable for horses and now serves as a fine dining restaurant overlooking the suburbs of Amman.
As our hosts explained me dish after dish I asked same question again and again
“Great, but is it vegetarian? “
Yes, they will say, everything on the table is vegetarian; we will tell you once they start serving Non Vegetarian food. Now the vegetarian spread was enough to feed a marriage party, though I was the only vegetarian on the table. Everybody was enjoying the vegetarian food. Only then I deciphered that in Jordan it is a common practice to have a lot of vegetarian food and a lot of dishes are naturally prepared without any chicken, meat or fish added to it.
The starters in Jordan are called as Mezza and there are both cold and hot Mezza. Most of the vegetarian food in Jordan is based on
Seasonal greens and vegetables like
- Egg plant or Aborigines or also known as Brinjal, the local Arabic name is Baba ghanoush and in India mostly we call in Baingan, (Oh god this is a vegetable or a secret agent, with a different name in every country or the philanderer of vegetable world, who gives a new name to every new girl he meets ? )
- Olives in every possible form and olive oil
- Chick pea based sauce better known as Hummus
They also use a lot of milk based products like Yogurt or curd, cheese etc. in Jordanian recipes.
On my first day in Amman when we went for a walk around the Grand Hussieni Mosque in downtown Amman, we ventured into the open Souk in the narrow lanes and found that the shops are selling all kind of vegetables right from Spinach, turnip, potatoes, onions, garlic, chilies, olives, cabbage etc. The atmosphere was not very different from our own Bazaars in Chandni Chowk or Old Hyderabad during Ramazann. Only veggies were displayed in nice manner and the prices were displayed in Jordanian Dinar.
In India in local markets you will rarely find vendors displaying the prices of vegetables on a board.The Jordanian cuisine also uses lots of locally grown herbs like mint, basil, rosemary thyme etc. If you are visiting some Bedouin family your food may have some small amounts of exotic herbs that grow wild like Artemisia, that we found growing on the sideways of old Kings Road ( A road that was first paved during Roman times and connected various provincial capitals in Roman Empire). Artemisia has many uses like in fever, cold, diabetes and off course it smells divine and the locals use it to flavor food. Costanza our fellow traveler from Tuscany adopted one of the Artemisia plants and decided to take it with her. What happened to the little baby bush is another story may be I will publish it in another post.
It is not easy to click Jordanian food as everything is presented in such a beautiful manner that you just want to click pictures from every single angle while trying to resist the aroma trying to control your salivary glands. And if you are a food clicker you will know how difficult it is to click pictures when you are drooling. Not just in fancy restaurants but also even in small homely places and at Jordanian homes equal emphasis is given on presentation of food ( yes I did eat at the home of an Arab Farmer sitting in his front yard overlooking his small orchards with Olive trees dating back to Roman times i.e. more than 2000 year old Olive trees, that still bear fruits ( but that dear reader is another story – Care to subscribe to desi Traveler to get them in your mail box with a 100% no spam guarantee ? )
Ok so after that little marketing trick, let us move forward, not even once I had to struggle to find a vegetarian dish in Jordan, mostly I was spoilt for choice.
As typically we had breakfast in hotels we were staying, so we had a large spread to choose from in breakfast and every day I would try different things, from typical continental fare like Hash Browns with Baked beans (Rajma in tomato sauce with Aloo tikki British style yaar), or make myself a Sandwich with some of the freshest veggies and assorted cheese and gulp it down with fresh orange juice. My morning dessert typically was a bowl of yogurt either from a can or fresh yogurt that I will top with resins, fresh fruits and add some muesli and chocolate cornflakes.
In Jordan the major meal of the day is lunch and it can last for hours, now since most people cannot come back to home during work hours , lunch on weekends is a very elaborate affair and this is when families catch up. So if you have a Jordanian friend and he / she invites you for lunch then you know you are special as lunch is the most important meal in Jordan. And the most important dish for guests of honor is Mansaf the national dish of Jordan. Whether you are inviting your friends or a VVIP, in Jordan if you want to show your love and affection for the guest you need to serve Mansaf and then if you have served only one dish you have still shown your respect for the guest such is the place of honor that Mansaf occupies in the Jordanian cuisine. My only regret to Jordanian food was that there was no Mansaf in vegetarian form. But I am planning to make vegetable Biryani for my Jordanian friends next time I am in Jordan and I am sure they will have something to talk about. I am pretty sure Biryani and Mansaf are related may be a few generations ago as the look and feel of both is very similar, only the Mansaf is the more exotic Bedouin cousin of our own Hyderabad Biryani.
But to tell you the truth even if there is not a single special veg dish in Jordan I can survive on Hummus and Pita bread.The hummus made from chickpeas and olive oil has an addicting quality and once you start eating it you cannot stop. Now here in India we get the same in a few Lebanese restaurants, but only after eating the real Hummus and Pita bread in its various Avatars did I realized what I have missed so far. Just to name a few of the breads that I tried in Jordan: Abud, Ka’ak, Khubz or Pita bread, Shrak ( like a Rumali Roti ) and Taboon, and they all taste excellent with Hummus as well as with vegetables my personal favorite being Galaya Bandura. You can either Google what it is or do wait for a detailed post about my tryst with cooking Vegetarian Jordanian food !
My best vegetarian food experience in Jordan was at the Feynan Ecolodge, where they do not use electricity except in bathrooms. So I was trying to find out what all Veg dishes the chef has prepared. In walks in Lana, our host, from JTB and she looks at me and says
“Prasad, everything is vegetarian today”
I was like. “What?” unable to believe what she was saying, as how is it possible in Jordan that the complete dinner is vegetarian.
Lana- “the chef has made everything vegetarian for the dinner,”
I still could not believe what my eyes were seeing and what my ears were hearing
As I looked towards Lana, with my smile getting bigger with every passing second, in walked the Chef of Feynan Ecolodge and he confirmed what appeared like music emerging from the belly of a soulful Rebab
“Sir everything is vegetarian today, I have not cooked any meat or chicken ”
There was no reason neither given, nor asked. So there in the remote Feynan Ecolodge in The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan under the freckled sky overlooking the rugged mountains in candlelight, I had my first totally vegetarian only cooked and served dinner in a hotel. For nowhere it has happened that the complete dinner was made vegetarian in a hotel or resort.
So like I said your friendly neighborhood desi Traveler loved every single meal in Jordan and never once had to worry about vegetarian food.
Disclaimer: I am a vegetarian by choice so my focus was on vegetarian food only. Jordan has an awesome amount of choices for all kind of food both vegetarian, non vegetarian and everything in between.
I was in Jordan on invitation of Jordan Tourism Board, and loved every minute I was in Jordan.
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More food stories from Jordan are coming on desi Traveler, stay tuned.
I am pretty sure I have missed a lot of vegetarian dishes from Jordan ( Desserts ? Where are the desserts 🙂 ) so do mention in comments which vegetarian dish is your favorite among Jordanian food. Any ways before ending this post let me give you a picture of a mouth-watering desert from Jordan that I shared on desiGram earlier as no meal in Jordan is complete without a dessert 🙂
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