My Jordan Food Journey: Stuffed With Goodness, Three Meals A Day

Bruce Parkinson

It’s no secret I’m passionate about food. All you have to do is look at me.

I always cleaned my plate, but the spark that ignited my love of international flavours came back in high school in 1978 when I met Eddie Massoud. The son of Christian Arabs from Jerusalem became my best friend. When I was first invited for dinner, I groaned in ecstasy when I tasted his mother’s unbeatable kibbeh, savoury ‘upside-down’ magloubeh, sumptuous hummus and smoky baba ghanoush – just to name a few. Don’t even get me started on the honey-soaked, pistachio-topped desserts.

Jordan trip

At the home of Karen Asfour, mother of JTB North America leader Malia Asfour, we enjoyed mansef, the national dish of Jordan. (Photo Credit: Bruce Parkinson)

I loved my mother dearly, but cooking was not her strong suit. Our spice rack mostly consisted of salt and pepper, and boiled potatoes – with margarine no less – were a daily staple. I was more than ready to expand my horizons.

At the Massoud residence, eating was a celebration of family and love. My appreciation of her cuisine led Mrs. Massoud to treat me like a son. In response, Eddie pandered to my mom shamelessly. Despite the fact there were three boys in my family, Eddie described himself to my mother as “the son she never had.”

Jordan trip

An appetizer at restaurant, gallery and ‘social movement’ Jasmine House. (Photo Credit: Bruce Parkinson)

When I started writing about travel a decade later, I would visit local grocery stores wherever I went, bringing home spices, sauces and condiments that weren’t easily available in Canada. My potato-overdosed father cheered my cooking efforts. After visiting Jamaica in 1988, I gave him a bottle of fiery, tastebud-stimulating jerk seasoning, only to get a call from my mother a week later, complaining I had created a monster. “He put jerk in my scrambled eggs this morning,” she moaned.

My first Middle East destination was Egypt, where I loved the shish tawouk and the freshest of breads. It made me wonder why North America’s tasteless, nutritiously-challenged Wonder Bread was allowed to use the name. A second trip to the region was Israel, before the millennium, where breakfast spreads of Levantine yogurts, cheeses, olives and spreads had me jumping out of bed in the morning.

Today, I’m deeply privileged to be touring Jordan, the most welcoming country I’ve ever experienced. I’m loving the ancient ruins, diverse landscapes and soul-stirring calls to prayer. But mostly I’m eating – and eating, and eating.

Jordan trip

More delicious Jordanian food at the Princess Taghrid Institute for Development and Training, where female orphans are empowered.

Food is central to Jordanian culture. “It brings people closer together,’ said Majdi Kohof, our guide on the trip. He explains that it is tradition for families to gather on Fridays to share a lunch. When guests are invited, both the quantity and quality of food is increased.

Maya Ammarin, Trade Marketing & Communications Assistant for the Jordan Tourism Board, says that whether Jordanians are celebrating or mourning, a banquet is at the center of the event. “The hours of work that it takes to prepare the dishes is a sign of respect for the guests.”

The importance of sharing food cuts across all strata of Jordanian society. “It doesn’t matter if they’re wealthy or poor,” says Malia Asfour, Managing Director of the Jordan Tourism Board North America. “Even if people have very little, they will still share what they have.”

Jordan trip

Jordanian specialties at Amman’s Sufra. (Photo Credit: Bruce Parkinson)

Our Jordanian food journey began on arrival. The flight from Canada came in late, so we quickly dropped our bags at the St. Regis Amman and were whisked to join the rest of the group at Sufra, where Jordanian cuisine reigns supreme. We had barely sat down before a team of servers loaded the table with dishes. Bread straight out of the oven, salads and dips and vegetable dishes and juicy skewers of beef, lamb and chicken.

Jordan trip

Our group savoured home-cooked flavours at the home of a Druze family. (Photo Credit: Bruce Parkinson)

That set a high standard, but it has been met with each passing meal, whether the sprawling breakfast buffet at the St. Regis Amman, with delicious fresh squeezed juices, or the more humble settings of a Druze family home and at two social enterprise projects dedicated to empowering women.

Last night, a visit to farm-to-table, zero-waste restaurant Carob House took things to another level. The brainchild of Jordan adventure travel pioneer Rakan Mehyar, the restaurant sources its ingredients from his Carob Farm, as well as other local farmers and artisanal producers. A many-course meal created by Chef Sarah made those ingredients sing, and earned a standing ovation from our group.

Jordan trip

Fresh vegetables for sale in Jordan. (Photo Credit: Bruce Parkinson)

Fresh fruit and vegetables are available year-round in Jordan, thanks to the generous climate and soil of the Jordan Valley. Key seasonings include garlic, onion, bay leaf, sumac, cardamom, thyme, sesame and cilantro. Bread and rice deliver the carbs. Nuts are used frequently, especially pistachio and almonds. Yogurt, in many forms, is ubiquitous. Produce is organic, and there’s little sign of processed food. I’m stuffed after each meal, but digestion is enhanced by the quality of the ingredients.

One of the comments on a Facebook post I made with photos of Jordanian dishes was a dismissive “Food is food.” If only that person knew what they were missing. Food is love. Food is life. And Jordan is blessed.

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