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Whether you travel for food or just wonder what to eat when on vacation, food is something any traveler will have to deal with at some point of their trip. If you’re a foodie and enjoy trying out local specialities when traveling, you’re going to love Jordanian food!
In this article, I’ll share with you some interesting insights on Jordanian food and a list of the best 12 dishes that you must try when in Jordan.
What is Jordanian Food?
Jordanian food is rich in flavors, very versatile and abundant.
What’s important to know is that most dishes that you’ll find in Jordan have a long history. They emerged in the Middle East over the past centuries, long before today’s state borders divided the ancient Ottoman empire into countries like Jordan, Syria or Lebanon. For this reason, traditional Jordanian food is part of the world-famous Middle Eastern cuisine.
You have surely heard about falafel and hummus before, right? These are part of Middle Eastern cuisine and can be found at almost every restaurant in Jordan. Get ready to try out the traditional version.
Besides world-famous dishes, there are a few specialties unique to Jordan, such as the country’s national dish mansaf or the bedouin dish za’arb.
Last not but least, keep in mind that food is an important part of Jordanian culture. As such, eating (especially in large groups) is a valuable cultural experience for any Jordan traveler.
Hungry? Let’s move on to the actual list!
What would life be without hummus? Hummus isn’t just a temporary food trend in Western countries. It’s been an integral part of Jordanian cuisine for centuries.
Hummus is made from chickpeas. The chickpeas are cooked before being blended into a spreadable consistency together with sesame paste and a few condiments.
It’s traditionally eaten as a spread for breakfast, along with pita bread, falafel, olives and cheese. However, you can also perfectly order it for lunch or dinner.
You can find hummus in almost every restaurant across the country. There are regional variations of hummus in Jordan. The hummus you can find in the capital city Amman is nutty and has a smooth and spreadable consistency. In the desert region (e.g. in Wadi Rum), you’ll find the bedouin-style hummus which has a completely different taste.
Besides, you’ll also find several variations of hummus such as fattet hummus (with bread) or hummus bil lahme (hummus with minced meat). Make sure to try them all, as no hummus is the same.
Another signature dish you’ll find in Jordan is falafel. Even if you have tried falafel before, it’s a dish that you should absolutely eat when in Jordan.
Same as with hummus, falafel is made from chickpeas. For falafel, the chickpeas are blended along with herbs (usually parsley and/or cilantro) and seasoned with a few condiments. The mixture is then shaped into balls or patties and deep-fried in oil. Depending on the amount of herbs used, falafel can be more or less green inside.
Falafel is definitely one of the most popular street foods you’ll find in Jordan. You’ll get it in most restaurants and hotels. However, my recommendation is to head to one of the falafel restaurants. Two popular options are Hashem and Al Quds Falafel in Amman. Both have outstanding falafel which are famous with locals and tourists alike!
Bread is a staple in Jordan. In Jordanian culture, bread is typically used instead of cutlery. Don’t be afraid to eat with your hands instead of using a fork. Use bread to grab your food, dip it into your hummus or create a falafel wrap (or whatever you like).
While pita bread is the most common bread type, there are a few more bread types that you shouldn’t miss out on.
In many local restaurants, you’ll find tannour bread prepared the traditional way! It’s essentially leavened bread made of regular flour, baked into perfection in a clay oven. Tannour bread is similar to Indian naan bread. It’s an amazingly delicious and savory bread that tastes great with (almost) all main dishes.
If you love flatbread, make sure to try out manakish or fatayer. It’s a flatbread topped with cheese, meat or za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice blend) and baked in the oven, similar to pizza. This type of flatbread is commonly eaten for breakfast, but again, you can also find it for lunch or dinner.
Jordanian cuisine is famous for its excellent meat dishes. Because pork is forbidden in Islam (and Jordan is predominantly muslim), you won’t find pork meat dishes in most restaurants and homes. The main types of meat eaten in Jordan (and the Middle East in general) are lamb, chicken and beef. Depending on the region, you’ll also find goat or camel meat.
Mashawi simply translates to “grilled meat” in Arabic. Charcoal grilled meat is a traditional way of preparing meat in the Middle East which has been practiced for centuries. Even today, grilling remains the preferred way to prepare meat.
Mashawi incorporates various types of meat. The most popular are shish kebab (marinated chicken skewers), kofta kebab (minced lamb meat skewers) or kebab (marinated lamb skewers). If you’re traveling alone, it makes sense to order one or two skewers. Groups are usually served a selection of meat skewers to be shared by everyone. Served with rice or fries (and of course bread), mashawi is a mouthwatering Jordanian dish for those who like grilled meat.
Rice is a staple food in Jordan. However, you won’t only find rice as a side dish to meat. There is also a variety of one-pot rice dishes.
A delicious rice dish with a long history is maqloubeh. It originated in neighboring Palestine and is very popular in Jordan (in fact, a large part of the Jordanian population has Palestinian roots). Maqloubeh is special for the way it’s prepared and served.
It consists of vegetables, sometimes meat (chicken), and rice stacked in multiple layers and cooked in one pot. For serving, the pot is flipped “upside down” on a large serving plate. It’s tossed with chopped parsley and traditionally served with yoghurt.
Maqloubah is definitely one of the most delicious rice dishes you’ll find in Jordan.
Another eyecatcher when it comes to food in Jordan are stuffed grape leaves. There are two variations of stuffed grape leaves in Jordanian cuisine. Warak enab is most commonly served in Jordan. It consists of grape leaves stuffed with rice and minced meat. If you’re a vegetarian, you can opt for yalanji, which is basically the vegetarian equivalent of warak enab. Yalanji are stuffed with a mixture of rice and herbs. Either one you chose, you can’t go wrong. Both are absolutely delicious!
If you’re traveling to Jordan during Ramadan, chances are the highest that you’ll get to try warak enab. Most families prepare stuffed grape leaves at least once for iftar (the evening meal during Ramadan). If you’re lucky, you might get invited to iftar during your stay in Jordan. Jordanians are very hospitable!
However, even if you don’t travel during Ramadan, you’ll find warak enab and yalanji in many local restaurants.
Mansaf is the national dish of Jordan that you won’t find anywhere else other than in Jordan. So if you’d like to try something unique to Jordan, you have to try mansaf!
It consists of lamb slowly cooked in fermented dried goat’s yoghurt (known as jameed). The lamb is served on top of bread covered with boiled while rice and tossed with roasted nuts and chopped parsley.
Mansaf truly represents the cultural values of Jordan. The dish is always served on a large tray and eaten collectively from the communal platter. Even today, most people will still eat mansaf the traditional way: with the (right!) hand. Don’t be shy to eat mansaf (or any other dish) the traditional Jordanian way. However, if you feel more comfortable using a spoon, that’s totally fine.
Being the national dish of Jordan, mansaf is traditionally served on Jordan’s Independence Day as well as other public holidays, weddings and special occasions. You can also find mansaf in many restaurants across the country.
Food in Jordan isn’t always fancy. If you’re looking for a quick food option for lunch or dinner, try shawarma.
Shawarma is available with lamb or chicken. The seasoned meat is traditionally slow-roasted on a vertical skewer and cut into thin slices as it rotates. It’s wrapped into bread, sometimes with salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber). In Jordan, shawarma is served with fries, pickled vegetables and garlic sauce.
An absolute must-try when in Jordan is zaarb.
The dish zaarb is one of the amazing cultural treasures of the bedouins. The unique feature about zaarb is that it’s cooked underground. This dish has a long history and is still being prepared the traditional way by many bedouins today. If you’re visiting the Wadi Rum desert, you’ll most likely get zaarb when staying the night.
A large hole is dug into the sand, then filled with wood and coals to create a fire. Meat and vegetables are stacked on a multistorey metal rack. Typical ingredients include chicken or goat meat, paired with rice and vegetables like potatoes, courgette, eggplant, carrots and of course onions. The rack is inserted into the “oven” and covered with a lid, blanket and sand to ensure heat is conserved.
After a few hours, the metal rack is removed from the underground oven, filling the air with a delicious scent. The meat and vegetables are transferred to a serving platter and enjoyed alongside mezze like tabbouleh, hummus or moutabal.
Zaarb is not only delicious, but it’s a truly unique experience when in Jordan.
Tea is most likely the most widespread beverage in Jordan. Serving tea is a sign of hospitality, an important value in Jordanian culture. It’s served at any time of the day.
Jordanians usually prefer black tea, which is most commonly made with mint and sugar. Tea in Jordan is prepared differently than black tea in Western countries. The water is heated in a teapot, on the stove in modern households or on firewood outdoors. Tea tastes best when made with loose black tea leaves instead of tea bags.
By the way, you’ll find the best tea in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan. Bedouins often add herbs such as thyme, sage, cardamom or cinnamon to their tea which makes it so delicious.
Another tasty type of tea in Jordan is Karak tea. Unlike its name might imply, it’s actually not related to the city Karak in central Jordan. Karak tea is basically the Arabic version of the famous Indian chai (spiced tea with milk). It’s hugely popular in the gulf countries but you can also find it in Jordan.
If you’re not into tea, you might like Arabic coffee instead.
If I have to pick my favorite dessert in Jordan, it’s definitely kunafa! And I’m sure I’m not the only one to say so.
Kunafa is a hugely popular food in Jordan which is widely unknown outside the Middle East. Kunafa is made of phyllo dough filled with sweet cheese and soaked in sugar-syrup.
In Jordan, you’ll find two types of kunafa: khishneh and na’ameh. Khishneh is made of crunchy pieces of pastry while na’ameh kunafa is typically made from ground semolina and therefore much smoother. Both are good, but if you have to pick one, I’d recommend kunafa na’ameh.
The most popular place for kunafa in Jordan is Habibah Sweets in downtown Amman. The small shop is located in a side street and can be easily recognized by the blue logo and of course the queue in front of the popular store.
Amman is well known for its great selection of sweets. Same as with kunafa, Habibah Sweets is the best place for baklava.
There are countless types of baklava (and related types of pastry) that you can try. What I’d recommend is that you head to a sweets store in Amman on your last day in Jordan. You can buy a box filled with a selection of baklava (and other sweets) of your choice to take home. That’s a great way to bring some Jordanian food home to share with your family and friends!