Jordan, you had me at Za’atar!

By on February 17, 2018

Jordan has always been synonymous with historical intrigue. Jaw-dropping images of archeological riches found in the Nabataean city of Petra to its captivating desert canyons are like nothing else I have ever seen. It’s simply breathtaking!

Thanks to the Jordanian Tourism Board North America, I had the privilege of experiencing Jordan’s gracious and warm culture, and its mesmerizing ruins. However, it was the food and the people that really won me over.

The spectacular site of the Treasury in Petra, Jordan.

Surprisingly, I discovered that Jordan’s culinary flavours mostly derive from other Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, and that it is part of the Levantine cuisine with its main trait being meze. Basically, meze is an assortment of little dishes offered during a meal, such as tabbouleh, hummus and my favourite, baba ghanoush (an eggplant and tahini dip).

An assortment of traditional dishes in Jordan.

From the hustle and bustle of Amman to the tranquil oasis desert of Wadi Rum, dinners typically consist of colourfully seasoned dishes served with the warmest of hospitality.

I was told that the Jordanian culture was best understood through its food. From rustic gourmet dishes of grilled lamb chops with aromatic rice and sizzling spiced ridden chicken with roasted vegetables to the addictive clay-oven-baked bread and the array of meze, Jordanian culture was simply out of this world! These are just some of the many traditional dishes that will entice any sensible foodie! And, for those venturing into the desert, ‘Zarb’, a traditional Jordanian dish of lamb, chicken, and vegetables cooked in a hole over coals, is such a delicious cultural experience!

‘Zarb’, a traditional Jordanian dish of lamb, chicken and vegetables cooked in a hole over coals in the desert is definitely something to experience!

Visiting a souk (marketplace) in Jordan is quite an experience and a must-do. Spices, herbs, coffees and teas are plentiful in the quaint market stalls. It’s also customary for vendors to offer you a taste of their blend of coffee or tea as you peruse the goods on display. Interestingly, Jordanian coffee, also known as Arabic coffee, is predominantly mixed with cardamom and their delicious soothing tea is a typically a blend of black tea and sage.

As I meandered amongst the souks, I was particularly drawn to the spices – a beautiful collection of striking colours, aromas and flavours. One particular spice, Za’atar or Zahtar, which is a blend of dried thyme, oregano, sumac, salt and toasted sesame seeds, has become ubiquitous throughout Jordan. It is commonly used in restaurants, sold and traded in souks and savoured in local homes. When used on bread with olive oil, Za’atar transforms its simple vessel (the bread) into a delicacy.

Delicious bread with Za’atar spices on it…simply amazing!

And, to make my Jordanian trip even more spectacular, I unexpectedly came across a spice merchant as I was hiking through the rose-red rock cliffs of Petra. There I was standing on pebbles of sand set amongst the backdrop of one of the new Seven Wonders of the World completely enthralled by the historical flavours and traditions of Jordan’s culture. It just couldn’t have been staged any better!

Spice buying as I hiked through the rose-red rock cliffs of Petra.

The Jordan Tourism Board (www.myjordanjourney.com) provides travellers with a plethora of information regarding Jordan’s captivating culture and exceptional experiences.

**This article was first published in the lifestyle magazine Modern Mississauga and was given permission to post on the author’s site.

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