I have such a huge passion for the Middle East, which is why it saddens me that so much of it is deemed unsafe to travel to. I have to be honest, I chose Jordan to visit for my book research because it felt like the visit; not because of the food. It’s barely on the food map; lost amongst its more famous neighbours Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.
But that’s how it started. By the end of my trip, I had completely fallen for Jordan and all it has to offer. Food is influenced by the many settlers that came to inhabit the country and the interpretations and spellings of the dishes vary according to which nationality are preparing them (makes translating recipes particularly challenging!) I was so fortunate to be able to eat in the home of locals, their generosity and kindness never more evident in their own kitchens where they took great passion in showing me how they prepare some of the country’s national treasures. From “Musakhan” chicken cooked with sumac and onions, to “Mansaf” the flagship dish of lamb cooked in yoghurt and eaten with the right hand; no cutlery permitted) From culinary schools, to the best local restaurants to hotel kitchens, I delved deeper than most to uncover its hidden food charms.
Many people reacted with surprise when I mentioned I was travelling to Jordan. Is it safe? Are you not worried by its proximity to Syria? As a seasoned traveller, I am rarely put off by trouble with the neighbours. There is as much of a threat in Europe as there is in the Middle East and if we all lived in fear of travelling, we would all be held hostage in our own homes. I felt very safe. Not only from political unrest, but for my own well-being. I never once worried about my bag being stolen, being hassled on the streets, hygiene concerns or any other kind of foreign matters in a country so culturally different from our own. In fact, I would go so far as to say I felt safer on their streets than many on a dark night in London.
It was a whistle-stop tour and pretty exhausting at times but worth the early starts and long journeys. We travelled from Amman to the north of the country; a place called Ajloun, a wonderful evergreen nature reserve. The weather was cold and rainy and much like our own but on that same morning we awoke to the sound of heavy rain pellets and zipped up our anoraks, we ended up in shorts and t-shirts by bedtime, such was the contrast in weather from north to south. We took in Jaresh, an ancient Roman village still standing magnificently after hundreds of years, only vaguely scarred by the Damascus earthquake in 847. Petra was the next stop, then Aqaba, Madaba and Ma’in area for the hot springs. I cooked (or mostly spectated) twice a day, each time an opportunity to better understand the beating heart of Jordan’s food culture.
I love the synergy between food and travel and feel very fortunate to be able to marry the two in my daily life. Wearing both hats on this trip opened my eyes even wider to all of Jordan’s many charms. The food was always served with a generous helping of warmth and eagerness to please.
Jordan is a destination for all guises of travellers. As well as those with a thirst for good food and culture, families will love the myriad of activities on offer. I could hear the echoes of my kids moaning at the thought of visiting ancient monuments, but I could equally hear them squealing with delight at a jeep safari through Wadi Rum and I could certainly hear no complaints at the idea of the waterslides at our hotel in Aqaba near the Dead Sea.
Here is a destination that has it all. A short distance to travel to feel a million miles away…….