Before visiting Jordan, I’d only seen pictures of desert and the ancient archeological site of Petra. Did any vegetables grow there? As a vegetarian, what would I eat? Turns out, through the wonders of irrigation and greenhouses, Jordan has tons of fresh food. Here are a few of my favorite Jordan culinary moments.
Eat a Jordanian Feast
Many of my favorite Jordan culinary moments included feasts. To be honest, almost every meal was laid out, feast-like, with a dozen or more dishes covering the table. And lucky for vegan me, many of them were salads. My favorite feast was at Lebanese House in Jerash.
Like many restaurants in Jordan, it takes advantage of the pleasant climate by offering lots of covered outdoor seating. In the distance we could see the ancient columns of the Jerash archeological site. But the food was so good, we weren’t in a hurry to explore beyond our plates.
Stopping for Roadside Coffee
While it’s possible to find Starbucks in Jordan, Arabic coffee—and coffee culture—are way more interesting than my native Northwest company. Coffee is involved in every important occasion for Bedouins, from negotiating wedding engagements to settling disputes between tribes.
It’s also useful for keeping long-haul drivers awake. And Arabic coffee stands are much more picturesque than American truck stops.
My second day in Jordan, my tour bus was high up on a mountain road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, when we came across this adorable coffee shack overlooking a valley. The tiny coffee was strong! A touch of sugar tamed it enough to drink.
Visit a Spice Shop
Jordanians love their spices, so the country is full of spice shops. I visited one in Aqaba, a beach town by the Red Sea. Uncovered bowls of spices fill the counter. The sales guys urge shoppers to reach in and try the spices.
I tried zataar and sesame and chilies. The prices were excellent. I bought a bag of sage tea, a bag of Jordanian coffee ground with cardamom and a sack of toasted sesame seeds for less than $10 USD.
Take a Cooking Class
I took two cooking classes in Jordan, one in a commercial establishment in Petra and one in a woman’s home in Umm Qais, by the Syrian border. They were both fun in different ways, and each ended in a major feast.
About 30 people attended class at Petra Kitchen, which is set up perfectly to accommodate a mob cooking together. After the chef gave us a rundown on the night’s courses, we split up to work at six-person tables. My group chopped green peppers for salad, and topped rounds of flatbread with cheese. Staff rushed around, making sure we diced and chopped correctly. After a couple of hours, our joint efforts produced a full Jordanian feast. I liked the fattoush salad best—greens, cucumbers, tomatoes and toasted pita chips.
My experience at Galsoum’s Kitchen in Umm Qais was more intimate. Cooking in somebody’s home kitchen was very special, and Galsoum is charming. She was shy about speaking English, still a new language for her. I tried to put her at ease by massacring a few Arabic words.
Our group of a half dozen wannabe cooks produced olive salad and some delicious olive-oil-laden bread traditionally made at harvest time.
If you visit Umm Qais in October, you can participate in the olive harvest. Luckily, my visit was timed just right. It was fun to go out to an orchard and see the trees heavy with olives. I had a great time picking olives and sorting twigs and leaves for about 15 minutes. But I’m not quitting my day job. It is hard work!
At the orchard I visited, everything was done by hand. The highest-tech equipment I noticed was a ladder.
Visiting Jordan vastly increased my olive appreciation, and my interest in the region. It was my first trip to the Middle East. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but now I cannot wait to return.
Be sure to click here for all of my other articles about my visit to Jordan. If you want to visit Jordan, get more info from the Visit Jordan website.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals, tours and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.