Saturday, August 29, 2009

Waiter, there's an oil spill in my food

We’re well into the month of Ramadan now, and what’s on everyone’s mind? Smoking, most likely. I have never seen so many people who smoke in one county. Europe has nothing on the Jordanians. And there are no laws about smoking in public, so people smoke EVERYWHERE, including restaurants, taxis, hospitals, etc.

But actually, I was talking about food. Food is also on everyone’s mind. And in the spirit of helping others be hungry, here are some of the foody things I’ve noticed about Jordan.

First of all, I’ve already mentioned my diet here consists of about 80 percent labneh, za’atar and pita bread, which I just found out is called khubz. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing to eat (it’s the only thing to eat at my house, but that’s another story.).

A couple of days after coming in the country, I had possibly the most popular (or at least the most talked about) dish here: mensef. Mensef is basically spiced rice with almonds and or pine nuts, lamb or chicken and a yogurt sauce. For traditional mensef, which I have not experienced yet, a humongous tray of mensef is served to the guests. The women eat it with a spoon, and the men roll it into balls to eat with their hands. I, however, experienced mensef as our waiter brought it over on a plastic plate. So close. Apparently Heather got to try some mensef cooked by my dear, sweet cousin Melissa when she stayed with her for a couple of days. Lucky girl. Maybe, if I’m good, Melissa will cook for me sometime, too.

Other than mensef, I’ve had all kinds of other traditional Arabic dishes. You already heard about the oh-so-fabulous shwarmas, conveniently located on every street but the one we live on. You can also get all kinds of fresh, delicious hummus (or hommos) with olive oil pretty much everywhere. I’ve had kebabs; a fun dish called fuul, which is mashed beans with garlic in olive oil (it’s fun because who wants to try a dish that can be spelled ful, full, fool or foul respectively?); yogurt given to me in restaurants with olive oil; and olive oil. Did I mention the food is kind of oily here? You can also get any variety of meat or chicken and rice dishes with all kinds of yogurt sauces, spices and olive oil.

Within my first few days, I also got to try the dessert favorite here, kunafa. Kunafa is an exceedingly fattening dish that has a sweet cheese sandwiched in between fried sugar with about a literal ton of ghee (fatty butter) mixed in and melted on top. Very delicious, but fortunately for my daily calorie intake, it appears that I can’t eat more than about two bites of kunafa without spending the entire night in the bathroom, which mostly deters me from indulging too much.

If I’m not inclined to saturate myself with oil that night, I have any number of popular American restaurants I can go to for an oil break and a hint of home. We’ve got all the comforts, such as Papa John’s, Fuddruckers, Applebees, TGIFridays, Bennigans, and, most exciting of all, a new Ruby Tuesday in the City Mall.

We also have experimented with cooking American food in the house. A couple of weeks ago, Heather and I cooked up a rather fabulous dinner of tomato soup (made from scratch, thank you very much. Well, from tomato paste, milk and cream anyway) and grilled cheese sandwiches. Yesterday I also managed to make the ever-so-popular cheesy macaroni (with tomato soup) that my mom always made for me when I was little.

But one thing I am really missing is my Mexican food. I’m planning to make chicken enchiladas (if I can find sour cream that is) for an iftar we’re hosting on Sunday, and Lena and I spotted an advertisement with a giant hombre in a sombrero that we think indicates a Mexican restaurant here in Amman. Must try it soon! Hope they don’t douse my chimichanga in olive oil.

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