Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Mensef Story

This past Saturday, Heather and I were invited to Zerka for a traditional mensef iftar with a friend's family. After our longer-than-average first parents' meeting at the school, the guys picked us up in Jabal Amman, we hopped in the backseat like good little Jordanian girls, and we headed for Zerka, about a twenty minute drive outside of Amman if the traffic is good.

The traffic was not good. It took us maybe an hour. But it gave us plently of time to enjoy the scenery and sounds of Amman, such as the bumper to bumper cars, the honking of drivers crazed on road rage doubled by fasting all day, and masses of people snarling at each other as they rush around getting ready for iftar. Ah! The best time of day!

Zerka used to sit around a river, which made it the more popular city to live in. But once the river dried up, its citizens began fleeing to the slightly cooler Amman, and now the city is mostly industrial. When talking to people from Amman, they all betray the slightest bit of incredulity that there is anything to see in Zerka. They also mumble that it's slightly more dangerous than Amman, possibly because its the hometown of the notorious Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The people from Zerka retort that the Ammanians are just jealous. They didn't say what they were jealous of...

Regardless, we finally made it to the slightly grittier Zerka and pulled up at our friend's house. We met his mom, our fabulous chef for the evening, his two brothers, his brother's wife, his sister and her children. Once in the house, we settled into the living room, where our two friends laid a plastic sheet on the floor (got to put something to keep the rice out of the carpet), then set various plates of vegetables and drinks on it. Then we sat down to wait for sunset, my friend with a cigarette ready in hand.

Ding! At 7:01 p.m., we heard the call to prayer. We were four in the living room: our two friends, Heather and me. The guys said a quick "start of the iftar" prayer? chant? blessing? I'm not sure, but they said it; it was pretty; we started the feast.

Our friend poured a heavy yogurt sauce over the rice. Now, when eating mensef, the men usually use their hands. Women usually eat with spoons, but it is acceptable to eat with their hands as well. Heather and I immediately squished our fingers to the knuckle into the rice. We're classy like that. Heather, who has eaten traditional mensef before, began showing her prowess at rolling the rice into balls, then transferring the sticky bites into her mouth. Before too long, she was having a rice rolling contest with our friend. I was not so talented. Fortunately, my many years of eating Indian food with my hands came in handy, so I did not completely embarrass myself.

After washing up after the mensef, we retreated to the balcony, where we sat around and made our friend translate everything everyone said (our friend's family does not speak English. We do not speak Arabic. That makes for interesting conversations). Then we got the dessert.

Remember those pancakes Heather and I saw in early Ramadan? Getayaf. Well, tonight we got to find out what they are SUPPOSED to taste like. They were filled with a cream that tasted like chantille, topped with nuts and dipped in a sugar sauce. Delightful, and the perfect way to head straight into a sugar rush.

We ended the evening by smoking argile (shisha, hookah to you Americans) on the porch and then heading home. Ah. My first mensef. My fond memories of this night will last as long as the bits of rice stuck under my fingernails.

1 comment:

  1. For some reason we Jordanians feel a sense of pride when non-Jordanians make flattering comment about Mansaf or when they like it. I am not sure why but we do. We like Mansaf so much and we like to share it with the rest of the world. I am glad you liked it :) By the way, many Arab families in the US use pancakes to make qatayef.