Jordan food & drink

Since antiquity, Jordan has been a highway between Europe, Asia and Africa. Many different civilisations have come and gone, and this constant influx and mixing of people over many centuries has led to an extraordinarily diverse cuisine, which you can explore on our Jordan food and drink holidays.

What is the main dish of Jordan?

The main dish of Jordan is mansaf and its preparation is taken very seriously. There are as many recipes as chefs, and secret flourishes are jealously guarded. Lamb, often seasoned with herbs and spices, is cooked with onion in yoghurt and served on heaps of rice with a bed of Bedouin bread. Almonds or pine nuts are sometimes sprinkled on top.

The result is a delicate and creamy sauce, and meat that is soft and highly flavoured. Mansaf is the dish of special occasions; weddings in particular would not be complete without over-generous servings on big platters that four or five people share.

Top 8 dishes to try in Jordan

1. Mansaf

Jordan’s national dish is found in many other parts of the Middle East as well, and is a regular feature at wedding feasts and other special occasions. Comprised of tender chunks of lamb cooked in a sauce made of fermented yoghurt with spices and nuts is served on rice, it’s a Bedouin speciality, and you’ll often be served it at one of their desert encampments. Traditionally, you eat with your right hand, rolling the rice into balls, while your left hand stays behind your back.

2. Zarb

Think of zarb as a Bedouin barbecue. A rack of meat such as chicken, goat or mutton, along with vegetables, is buried with smouldering wood and coals in a pit dug in the sand. After a few hours, the food is unearthed and served on communal plates. It’s a highlight of overnight stays at Bedouin encampments.

3. Moutabal

Moutabal is a spicy, smoky dip made of roasted eggplant and tahini, similar in some ways to baba ghanoush but simpler and lighter. You’ll often find it served as a side dish at meals, so get tearing off chunks of bread for dipping, as it’s delicious.

4. Mudjadara

If you’re lucky enough to be invited to eat in a Jordanian home, then you may well be served a plate of mudjadara, which is a tasty and filling everyday dish of rice, lentils and crispy fried onions seasoned with cumin, and often topped with pine nuts.

5. Maqluba

Maqluba means ‘upside down’. This centuries-old one-pot dish is made with the meat (usually chicken or lamb) at the bottom and the rice, vegetables such as cauliflower, eggplant or tomatoes, and spices on top. When it’s ready, the pot is flipped over so that the meal comes out in distinct layers, and usually garnished with parsley, lemon and pine nuts. Maqluba is absolutely delicious, the meat wonderfully tender with the rice absorbing its flavour.

6. Galayet bandora

This dish often features around the fire at the campsites in Jordan you’ll stay at on walking holidays, as it’s a simple one-pot affair. It’s one of the most popular Jordanian vegetarian foods too, the main ingredient being tomatoes, which are fried with hot peppers and onions over the fire, then scooped up with pita bread. Galayet bandora is an interesting dish in that there are lots of variations around – you might encounter meaty versions, or even fried eggs floating among the tomatoes.

7. Limonana

If mansaf is Jordan’s national dish, then limonana is the national drink. You’ll find it everywhere, and on a hot day there is nothing like it for refreshing a parched throat. Essentially, limonana is a slushy, with ice, sugar, spearmint and whole peeled lemons blended together for a tart and minty treat. Don’t slurp it down too fast though if you want to avoid a headache.

8. Kunafa

There are lots of traditional sweets in Jordan, but kunafa is a staple of special occasions, and is often enjoyed with a strong cup of coffee that perfectly complements the sweetness of the cheese or cream, which is topped with pastry.

What is traditional food in Jordan?

Fresh Jordanian ingredients

The most common ingredients in Jordan are grains, yoghurt, olives, cheese, spices, herbs, both dried and fresh fruit. Lamb and chicken are the meats of choice. In rural areas, particularly in the north, few of these ingredients will have travelled far, sometimes they’ll have come from the nearby fields, so the food mileage of what’s on your plate is tiny.

Middle Eastern classics

Traditional dishes in Jordanian cuisine include hummus, stuffed grape leaves, roasted nuts, baba ghanoush, tabouleh, falafel and shawarma kebabs – all Middle Eastern standards and regular features of street food in Jordan.

“I am the biggest fan of falafel, having tried it all over the world,” says our Travel Team specialist Alice Jewell. “The falafel in Jordan is the best I have ever had. My favourite was the falafel wraps from a small fast food place in Aqaba. You can have hummus for every meal of the day, while the tea was another highlight, whether it’s mint or cardamom, not only for the taste, but for the love and effort in which the Jordanians put into making it. “Our guide took us to a family-run sweet shop in Amman to sample a traditional dessert, knafeh, made with pastry soaked in a sugary syrup. The pastry is layered with cheese and other ingredients such as clotted cream and pistachio nuts.”

Communal meals

Mealtimes in Jordan are often a communal affair, with numerous plates served at once and people taking the portion of each dish closest to them. In traditional settings, eating with the right hand is the acceptable method, and men and women dine separately.
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Coffee etiquette in Jordan

A symbol of hospitality & trust

Jordanian coffee is more than merely a drink. It is surrounded with custom and treated with reverence, an important symbol of hospitality and trust. Offering someone a cup of coffee and having it accepted is an indication of mutual goodwill. So even if you’re not much of a coffee fan, if you’re offered a cup, at least take a few sips and worry about the caffeine jolt later.

Bedouin coffee ceremonies

A traditional Bedouin coffee ceremony involves three cups of coffee. Although it is polite to drink the first, it is acceptable to refuse the others. If you don’t want a refill, simply tilt your cup from side to side two or three times as you hand it back. If you do want a top-up, just hold your cup out for more.

Often when you’re travelling between places on a Jordan holiday, your driver will pull up at a roadside coffee stall. The coffee will be great, plus these breaks from the road are a chance to relax and chat with regular Jordanians.

Wine in Jordan

Even though it is largely a Muslim country, drinking alcohol in Jordan is not a social taboo; it is readily available in restaurants and hotels. There are also bars in tourist areas and some of the major cities, particularly those with a significant Christian community.

Jordan has one of the oldest winemaking histories in the world. There are several references to Holy Land wine in the Bible. The climate and soils here are well-suited to quality grape production, yet until recently there were no vineyards of international repute.

That changed with the emergence of Omar Zumot’s St George label, which brought Jordanian wine to the attention of experts. St George uses natural production techniques without pesticides or artificial fertilisers. Visits to their vineyard, near Amman, include a guided tour with an introduction to winemaking and a tasting session and can often be included on cultural tours.

Tea in Jordan

Contriving an invitation to tea in Jordan shouldn’t prove too difficult but will be highly rewarding. This is not simply a chance to sip coffee, or sweet black tea, possibly flavoured with a few sprigs of mint. For all its ancient history, peerless monuments, stunning scenery and natural treasures, Jordan's greatest attribute is its people.

Many visitors here move from site to site in air-conditioned tourist buses with little or no opportunity for contact with local people, but it is easy to meet people in Jordan with a little effort. Small group tours will often stop at wayside shops or coffee vendors, and holidays usually include plenty of free time when you can wander around the towns that surround the famous antiquities, or get out into the countryside and walk through villages. Strike up conversations. Many people speak English and even those who don’t may well take you home to sip tea.

“Local people will often ask you to have a cup of tea or a cup of coffee,” says Mahmoud Hawawreh, a guide on the Al Ayoun Trail. “It’s very easy. Just say, ‘Salaam alaikum’, they’ll reply, ‘Wa alaikum Salam’. They will start talking and the tea will come.”

Petra Kitchen

Petra Kitchen is a cooking classroom located a just few hundred metres from the main entrance to Petra. Many of our Jordan holidays feature short evening classes here, where guests can learn hands-on how to make traditional Jordanian dishes. Lessons are conducted by a team of professional chefs and local women, tapping into the rich expertise of both the restaurant kitchen and the home.

Ingredients are local and virtually all the utensils, table linen, furniture and crockery have been made nearby or by crafts cooperatives and workshops elsewhere in Jordan. The menu varies from session to session, but always involves an array of delicious dishes including a soup, mezze plates and a main course. The kitchen is well equipped and beautifully decorated. There are several high tables and the class is spread out so that everyone has a task: peeling, chopping, mixing or heating.

The local women and chefs wander between the tables keeping an expert eye on their charges and giving pointers and encouragement. The atmosphere is both interesting and fun. It’s a great way to learn and because each person has something to do, everyone leaves with an understanding of how to make at least one of the recipes served here. You’ll share a meal at the end and, since voluminous amounts of food are usually produced, leftovers are handed out to local people in need.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Aleteia Image Department] [Intro: flowcomm] [1. Mansaf: Saleem.q] [5. Maqluba: Fallaner] [Middle Eastern classics: Planet Magazine] [Coffee etiquette in Jordan: Mervat Salman] [Tea in Jordan: Jean Housen]