Jordan is a country known for its spectacular food and Levantine flavors. Due to its geographical location, the Arab nation infuses culinary influences from North Africa, the Middle East, Persia, and the Mediterranean. But make no mistake — their culinary masterpieces are all their own.
Utilizing a variety of techniques such as baking, sautéeing, grilling, stuffing, and roasting, and pairing just about everything with a special sauce, Jordanians pride themselves on each dish they make. Perhaps that’s why there’s no real list of the “top” traditional dishes that the country is best known for.
With that said, there are definitely a few you can’t leave Jordan without trying.
Food is an extremely important aspect of Jordanian culture, and the experience of sitting down to enjoy a meal is one that reflects community, hospitality, and generosity. In fact, a typical “Jordanian invitation” means that you’re expected to bring nothing and eat everything. But whether you’re able to sit down and experience these dishes in a Jordanian home or have to settle for a restaurant, remember to take in the flavors and aromas in front of you and leave nothing untouched.
The first dish on our list is one that everyone has to try. Not only is it Jordan’s national dish, but I’m convinced that it can be used to bring about world peace. Mensaf is comprised of rice and lamb that is covered in re-hydrated yogurt and topped with fried pine nuts and fresh cilantro. As it takes an entire day to properly prepare, it’s typically made in rather large quantities and is traditionally served on a massive platter, where guests are encouraged to enjoy the meal with their hands. The yogurt serves as an adhesive to keep the rice and lamb together, making it easy to make small balls of food that you can toss into your mouth. Needless to say, it’s dangerously delectable.
Directly translating to “grape leaves,” Warak Dawali is a dish of rice and ground meat that’s wrapped in what its name suggests. Much like Mensaf, this meal is also made in large batches, as it takes several hours to prepare. Each piece must be individually prepped and wrapped, and it is often said that the tighter the wrap, the better the mother — since it takes more effort to make a tightly rolled piece. The dish is typically served with lamb, and sometimes alongside small, stuffed eggplants. Regardless of your relationship with your mother, you can be sure this dish will not disappoint.
Meaning “upside down” in Arabic, Meglubi is a simple meal of rice, chicken, and fried vegetables cooked in a big ol’ pot. The chicken is placed at the bottom to ensure a nice, crisp roast when it’s done cooking, but the pot is later flipped upside down (hence the name) and onto a platter when it’s ready to serve. If cooked correctly, the rice and chicken will maintain the pot-like shape, leaving all of the chicken on top and the rice to be uncovered after the meat is eaten. Fun fact: there’s an old Arabic superstition that says you aren’t supposed to eat Meglubi before getting on a plane or a boat for fear that it might flip over.
Whether or not your food coma has fully set in after trying out the above dishes, consider the Jordanian saying, “Even when you’re full, you can still always eat 40 more bites of food.” Although there are too many tasty treats to list, be sure to dig in to the following — they’re some of the Kingdom’s most delicious snacks.
If you’ve seen the first “Avengers” movie, then you’ll remember Tony Stark’s reference to Shawarma following the climax of the film. The reason he’s never heard of it is that it’s one of Jordan’s best-kept secrets. It’s even said that Jordanians are the only ones who know that they make the world’s best Shawarma. Essentially, this “snack” is a meat sandwich, made with either beef or chicken. Alongside your choice of meat, you’re dished up hummus, garlic sauce, and an assortment of pickled vegetables. While it sounds like a meal, most Jordanians refer to this popular street food as a snack because it takes two to four of them to get you nice and full.
Known as Jordan’s national dessert, Kanafeh is a traditional dessert made with thin, shredded dough soaked in homemade syrup and layered with roasted cheese and ground-up pistachios. While it sounds like an odd combination, you have to trust me when I say that it’s incredible and very addicting.
Directly translating to “bite,” Lokma is an appropriately named bite-sized snack that is often referred to as Jordan’s take on doughnut holes. Each piece of Lokma is fried dough that is prepared in a special kind of homemade syrup, which is dangerously sweet. If you eat them when they’re fresh, you’ll experience a nice crunchy texture, but if you choose to wait a couple of hours, the dough will absorb the syrup and result in a burst of sweet goodness upon your first bite. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
No matter where you go or how you choose to spend your time in Jordan, dive into the local delicacies, eat your heart out, and remember that although there may be similar dishes in the Arab world, it’s said that Jordan does them best.
Header image by Rachael Gorjestani