Although it’s not a large country, Jordan is rich in both its history and culture. As I learned traveling around this exciting country, food is at the center of everything. Luckily for the budget traveler, there are plenty of inexpensive and delicious foods that will satisfy any appetite.
The Chickpea is very important in Jordanian cuisine and at the heart of its use is the everyday staple, hummus. For the uninitiated, hummus is made from cooked, mashed chickpeas, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. It is enjoyed with any of the wonderful types of bread for which Jordan is famous and is found on tables for every meal. A large bowl (we’re talking family size) will run 1 JD, or about $1.50 US.
Another vegetarian friendly snack or meal is falafel, a deep fried ball made from ground chickpeas. In Jordan, small falafel balls are typically part of a lunch comprised of several small plate dishes and cooked fresh and hot to order. One of the best places to enjoy these deep fried balls of goodness is at Hashem in Amman‘s Old City. Just ask for 1 JD worth and you’ll receive a heaping plateful.
Just as chickpeas are important in Jordan, so is bread. There is a rich variety of different Arabian bread types, the most common of which is a pita-style bread, but is much larger than an American pita. They pita rounds are cooked fresh every day for the consumer and are pretty cheap – one round costs about $0.30. To give you an idea of how important bread is in Jordan though, it’s not sold by the round, it’s sold by the kilo. They mean business here. Not as common a bread type is one with which I fell madly in love, shraak. Shraak is a very thin, whole-wheat bread that is best enjoyed still hot. It’s easily made though, and is a common household meal accompaniment. Given it’s thin, pliable consistency, it’s the perfect bread to enjoy with hummus or ful. The bread prices are shockingly low. 1 JD will get you five bags of bread, which is a lot!
Ful was completely new to me, I had never heard of it nor eaten anything remotely similar, yet it’s found throughout Jordan. In it’s most basic form, ful is a hummus-style dip made from fava beans, which are mashed with oil, pepper, cumin and perhaps an onion. It’s also delicious, and I soon found myself lapping it up every morning with my freshly made bread. Ful is also cheap, a large bowl of it is only 1 JD.
I don’t have a lot of confidence in world deserts – they’re usually not very sweet and, in some cases, stray too far into the land of the savory for my taste. That’s why I was a little reluctant when we stopped for some knafeh. Knafeh is made using very fine vermicelli-like pastry, which is heated with butter then a soft, white cheese is spread over it, more pastry added, and so on. The dessert is then topped with a sticky syrup and some crushed pistachios. I carefully bit into the sweet cheese and doughy concoction, and it was instant love. It was warm, filling and just delicious. That was the only time I had truly great knafeh in Jordan, and I think about it a lot. I may have to return for that alone. All this goodness is available for only 3.5 to 4 JD ($5 US) for a kilo.