Saturday, January 7, 2012


أكل - "eat"*

*Is this correct, The Canadian/Lebanese?

Herbs at a street market, downtown Amman

The food. Was. Exquisite.

Simple. Fresh. Flavorful.

The primary basis of our week-long food affair was hummus. And not like American hummus, which has a weak consistency too often jazzed up with oily canned vegetables like garlic and peppers. This hummus is thick, creamy, and intensely flavorful. There is an herb called zatar, which is sort of like an Arabic oregano, which gets sprinkled on the hummus with a drizzle of olive oil. Eat that shit with some fresh veggies or pita, and that's a meal in and of itself. I did not purchase any of the zatar while abroad because, well, it looks suspiciously like a certain illegal substance, but I lucked into a find at an international grocery in New York. I bought half a pound of it for three bucks, and I will still use it sparingly until I can locate a supply in Baltimore. (I also scored a bottle of white truffle olive oil there, but this is more a general jones of mine as opposed to anything Middle Eastern.)

Herbs at a street market, downtown Amman

Turkish coffee at a cafe on Rainbow Road
 And the coffee...Turkish coffee, rich and black, so strong that your spoon will stand straight up in it, anchored by the quarter inch of bean sludge at the bottom of the cup. Do not drink the bean sludge, by the way. Nobody has a good time.

Arabic coffee is strong too, but thinner, and spicier. The primary taste is of cardamom, which makes it unique to any other coffee in the world. You boil up a big pot of Arabic coffee, and let it stand for days, bringing it to a boil each time you reheat. I'm pretty sure we drank from the same pot of coffee on The Gentleman's brother's stove the entire week we were there, and it only got richer as the week went on.

Note: Jordanians; and, so I'm told, most Middle Easterners; like things sweet. We spent the week insisting we didn't want sugar in our coffee. If you consent to having sugar in your coffee, you're getting seven spoonfuls of the big-ass brown sugar crystals, and you will wind up with a sickly sweet concoction. Ask for no sugar. Add some yourself if it's too strong, but both Turkish and Arabic coffee are so flavorful by themselves, you really don't need any additions.

Melons, oranges, lettuce, and dried fruit at a produce market, downtown Amman
We made entire meals of hummus, veggies, and fruit. And it's completely filling. Sounds healthy, no? Not really - when you consider the amount of sugar in all of the dates and baklava we ate. Diabetes is a very real problem there. But antioxidants? Check. Vitamins? Check. Dizzying array of fresh colors and flavors? Check.

First snack time: hummus, peanut butter, apples, dates, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, pomegranate. And wine, naturally.

 Of course, one of the most interesting things about traveling abroad is the dizzying array of odd snack foods that one can find in another world's version of a 7-11. Europe is famed for its eclectic selection of crisp flavors, and that seems to have extended east as well.

Yogurt and herbs. Mmmm.

Anyone want some crack?

The candy bar for the most discerning of tastes.
The sassy, lady snack food. 
Because every wonder of the world needs it's own malt beverage with 10% alcohol.
Breakfast was, by far, my most favorite meal of the day. This is true in any country - I live for brunch in America just as much as I jones desperately for a full English. Because we spent the entire time staying in hotels, we were treated to astounding breakfast buffets every morning. Hummus, thick breads, breakfast cold cuts (German style!), dried fruits, fresh juices, and, of course, the best coffee in the world. I don't think I could recreate the effects even with the finest Whole Foods has to offer....

And let's not forget the tea...another delicacy that requires no addition of sugar, honey, or any sweetener. I particularly liked the sage tea they served in little stands along the trails in Petra.
Sage tea in Petra. Also, I want this mug.
 Some things, however, were not so good. The Arabic version of Red Bull (Bison) being one of them. Imagine a can of electrolytes, B vitamins, caffeine, ginseng, neon yellow coloring, and gasoline. Party time!
Bison. No.

We found this at the liquor store. The liquor store, located at the Christian end of one of the neighborhoods in Amman, was called "Babel" and apparently serves as the haven for all things forbidden by Muslim law. Specifically - Arbor Mist, Petra beer, and Pork Shoulder Picnic. All of which were on sale!
I got sick once. And while it was probably the result of a week of no sleep, jet lag, constant travel, and stupidly drinking tap water out of some potentially sketchy locations, my stomach still cringes at the thought of this:

Nothing says "pizza" like "mayonnaise."
This is Lebanese pizza. Deliciously light crust, flavorful mozzarella cheese, and a dumpfest of toppings including shaved ham, olives, jalapenos, hot sauce, and mayonnaise. I have an adventurous palate, and an iron stomach given all of the raw meat I eat on a regular basis, but something about this concoction did not sit right. The Gentleman proved himself again as Best Boyfriend in the World by running all over the hotel on Christmas morning in his sweatpants trying to locate anything resembling Pepto Bismol. Thankfully, the coup occurring in my innards lasted less than 24 hours, and I was alert and well enough for the rest of the trip, and for our Christmas night feast. Which I'll delve into in a moment. But first:  

 This also might have had something to do with my gastrointestinal distress. We made some delicious Christmas Eve sangria with this, to go with the Lebanese pizza, but once the sangria was gone we took to swigging this Produce of the Holy Land straight from the bottle. Possibly not a great idea.

The Christmas dinner, at an upscale Lebanese restaurant in Amman called Fakhir Ad-Din, was the meal to end all meals. It was a three-course prix fixe meal with cold appetizers, hot appetizers, and the meat course which included mansaf (lamb cooked in fermented dried yogurt and served with rice - absolutely delicious). My favorites: hummus as light and rich as cream, lamb tartare served with sweet onions and a whipped garlicky butter, and the hot pitas that were brought over and over again by servers with baskets full of them, fresh from the oven.

Lamb tartare and hummus - two things I now cannot live without, and are thankfully both available, and just as delicious, at Lebanese Taverna in Baltimore.

Dessert was a platter of fresh fruit, and figs and apricots drowned in honey. And, naturally, Turkish coffee. 

I'm hungry.

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