Reflections on Jordan

My two weeks in Jordan gave me some significant insight into myself.  Jordanians are possibly the most food obsessed people on the planet.  And my father is Jordanian, so it’s no wonder then, that I go on and on about food; it’s in my genes.
Jordanians are either eating, talking about eating or thinking about what they are gong to eat.  To this end, the provenance of their food is very important.  Not in the conscious way that it is in Europe in the minds of the nutritionally educated but in an inherent instinctual way.

Most things are organic because the land is rich enough to produce unaided and because industrial farming is, for the most part, not present.

A lot of families have an olive grove somewhere, or maybe a few trees or perhaps know of a few trees that they can plunder so that they can take their olives to a communal press and have their own olive oil made.  (And here I thought my mother’s friend from Crete was extreme, eschewing supermarket olive oil because ‘they put stuff in it” in favour of giant cans she would bring back to Athens with her from her village in Chania).

I risked paying a fine for excess luggage and lugged back a 3kg bag of Terra Rossa, hand-picked, extra virgin olive oil (0.8 % acidity).

If you want chicken, you go to the butchers, point at the live specimen which is quickly and efficiently dispatched to chicken heaven.  

When we drove past a herd of goats, we rolled down the window and asked the shepherd if he had any cheese or yogurt from them.

On Sunday, we had a family barbecue.  I ran into the garden to pick oregano for the tomato salad.  The spring onions about to flower caught my eye, so I tore out half a dozen, knocked off the soil, peeled off the first layer of membranes and laid them on the barbecue.  The result was incredible, they were charred and sweet, not even a hint of biting acridity.  ‘What were these onions?’ I asked.  ‘Why were they so sweet?’  ‘Because you just tore them out of the ground and all their sugars are still intact’. was the explanation.

Every restaurant we visited was incredible, worthy of a post.  The service in general is fantastic, although the Jordanians and other Arab clients can seem unduly gruff by my European standards, the service staff seem to expect this and brush it off rather effectively.

All I kept thinking was “Why hasn’t Jaime Oliver come to Jordan?”.  They world at large needs to be turned on to the magic of Arabic food, traditions and hospitality.

But I think he needs to come over soon because like everywhere in the world, convenience food is rearing its ugly head and starting to obscure the traditional goodness.  The main restaurant drag in Amman has local success stories like Abu Jbara but they are outnumbered by horrible chains like Subway, Chili’s and Hardee’s.

Supermarkets like Costco and Carrefour are piled high with American Betty Crocker cake mixes, General Mils cereals in the most impossible hues, and insipid fresh vegetables.  They are still places, that should you find yourself in Jordan, you should pay a visit to.  If only to marvel at the airport style benches in front of the butcher counter so people can sit while they wait for their number to be called.  

I am back in Berlin now and will return to regular scheduled programing but in the meantime, I leave you with a few more photos of my two weeks in Jordan.

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