At NY times Travel section, an article posted on Jan. 13 featuring Amman food, culture, and restaurants. The writer wrote about politics more than eating in Amman. In the article you can feel the personal frustration from Amman, it's food, people and most important to her culture and heritage. I didn't expect this to be on the travel section at the well know and read newspaper like the NY times.
Shouldn't we react? How can an owner of a Famous restaurant show his dislike to the Jordanian food being Oily and lack of flavors compared to the Iraqi food? Trying to sell his own meals?
Amman is like most other modern cities. It contains many cultures from different origins and they all participate in shaping the culture of the city. We don't call Hummus, Falafel, shawerma etc a lebanese, palestinian, Syrian or Jordanian. I call it Belad El-Cham food, or the region.
Why should someone do this?
Israelis are heavily promoting for their culture by taking from other cultures. Many restaurants in NY city sells: Falafel, Humus, Salad, Tabouleh, Shawermah and many other cultural elements as being part of the Israeli heritage. They even branded them and opened retail chains with names like: Humus, or Pita. Even the Belly dancing, which was first introduced in NY city by an Israeli couples is considered an Israeli culture.
I once entered a restaurant in NYC called Nefertiti, an Egyptian queen, and wasn't surprised to see everything being Arabic from: food, music, interior design, and Argelleah ( Called with it's Hebron name: Hookah). I was shocked to see the logo of the store with the pyramids and David Star on the top. Moreover, the menu have names like: Israeli Salad, Israeli Hummus, etc. The owner was Israeli, while the waiters were Egyptians.
Food, and culture is part of our identity and heritage. The challenges of existence that we face is not only within the rights of Lands, it includes the Culture and Heritage.
The challengies we face in the global world are more than political or geographic. Art and Cultural sustainability are important to our development and Identity that requires from us to maintain and preserve.
Jason Florio for The New York Times
All the Foods of the Mideast at Its Stable Center
By DANIELLE PERGAMENT
Published: January 13, 2008
In Amman, you’ll find the bright vegetables from Lebanon, crunchy falafels from Syria, juicy kebabs from Egypt and, most recently, spicy meat dishes from Jordan’s southern neighbor, Iraq.
All the Foods of the Mideast at Its Stable Center
By DANIELLE PERGAMENT
ON a warm evening last fall, a handful of old men shuffled into Al Quds, a big, overly lit restaurant on a bustling stretch of King Hussein Street in downtown Amman. Platters of syrupy pastries, crispy phyllo shells and fried dough were artfully stacked in the windows. But the men were there for the house specialty: mansaf.
Mansaf, a lamb shank served on a heap of yellow rice with chopped, blanched almonds and warm yogurt sauce, is the national dish of Jordan. But over the past few years, as other cultures and nationalities have moved in, the menu has expanded beyond mansaf and Jordan’s culinary borders.
Call it a product of political turmoil. Jordan is smack in the center of the Middle East. In Amman, its capital, you’ll find the bright vegetables from Lebanon, crunchy falafels from Syria, juicy kebabs from Egypt and, most recently, spicy meat dishes from Jordan’s southern neighbor, Iraq.
It’s known as the food of the Levant — an ancient word for the area bounded by the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian peninsula. But the food here isn’t just the sum of its calories. In this politically, religiously and ethnically fraught corner of the world, it is a symbol of bloodlines and identity.
At the bottom of the Jordanian food chain is street fare — fast, greasy, cheap. There are dozens of roadside stands in town, serving everything from lamb kebabs to hot falafel, but only one has had a line 10 people deep for, more or less, 30 years.
Reem Cafeteria (Jabal Amman, Second Circle; 962-6-464-5725) is a tiny wooden shack next to a traffic circle in the neighborhood known as Jabal Amman. It’s open 24 hours a day and commonly regarded as the best street food in maybe the whole country. Six men in curiously neat, pressed red jackets and matching baseball caps stand shoulder to shoulder in an assembly line making Reem’s only dish: warm roast beef sandwiches.
The beef is charred, sliced off a rotating spit, layered into a fresh pita, topped with slices of tomato and sweet onion, and sprinkled with salt and sumac, the tart, ubiquitous spice of the Middle East. Then it’s wrapped in foil and handed over drippy and warm.
The chefs will accommodate special orders — meaning, hold the tomato — but not when they’re busy, which was the case on a recent Monday, when a dozen people were waiting at 1 a.m. for their late-night snack. In front of me was a family of four, the father holding his sleeping daughter on his shoulder. Behind me was a group of teenage boys with gelled hair and bright, cuff-linked shirts, smoking cigarettes and leaning against a shiny Mercedes.
As an enterprise, Reem is legendary. “The owner makes a few million a year,” said one of the young cuff links. But the sandwiches are only the equivalent of 45 cents I told him. “You see?” he said. “That’s many, many sandwiches.”
A click above street food is Hashem — a culinary institution that hasn’t changed its menu or its décor since it opened in 1952. The outdoor cafe (962-6-463-6440), painted robin’s egg blue, is on an alley off Al-Amir Mohammed Street in downtown Amman, where three men take turns mashing chickpeas, molding them into golf ball-size rounds, and dunking them in vats of bubbling oil.
The alley, known simply as Hashem Alley, is lined with strings of light bulbs and flimsy plastic tables. Seated in the middle, in front of an old wooden cash register, is the owner, Hashem Turk, a heavyset, bald man with a trim white beard and a voice of gravel. “The king came here last year,” he said. “He paid for everyone in the restaurant and said, ‘Whatever you serve the people, serve me.’ ”
Lucky thing, because Hashem only serves one main dish: falafel. Every country in the region claims falafel as its own, but according to Mr. Turk it was invented in Jordan, more specifically in his kitchen. Hashem has no menus, napkins or utensils. And dinner, 1.25 Jordanian dinars per person (about $1.80 at $1.45 to the dinar), is served only one way — all at once.
Soon after my Jordanian friend Sahm and I sat down, our waiter brought us a plate of steaming, bite-size falafel and another plate of large falafel stuffed with onions and peppers. Then came the sides: pita bread, hot pepper sauce, fuul (an earthy fava bean paste with olive oil), garlicky hummus with pickles and ground pepper and, finally, a plate of raw onion wedges and a pile of mint leaves (for tea). It’s just what he served the king, Mr. Turk proudly told me.
I did what the men around me (there were no women) were doing: tear pita, dunk falafel in hot sauce, chew, tear pita, dunk in hummus, chew, tear pita, dunk in fuul, chew, and so on.
At the end of the meal, the men leaned back in their chairs, patted their bellies and bit into the raw, sweet onion. They yelled out compliments, which Mr. Turk accepted with a short, unsmiling nod. He’d heard it all before. Did he mention the king was here?
A meal at Fakhr el-Din is a starched tablecloth affair in an elegant Lebanese restaurant with flickering tabletop candles and speakers hidden in courtyard trees. It’s the kind of place where the reservation book is bound in leather, waiters move silently, and dishes arrive with sprigs of greenery that aren’t for eating (40 Taha Hussein Street, Jabal Amman; www.fakhreldin.com; 962-6-465-2399). Even Jordanians will reluctantly agree that Lebanese food is the most refined in the Middle East.
My dinner companions were friends from Amman and New York. We sat outside under a large canopy umbrella, surrounded by tables of local families, couples on dates and European diplomats. We started with mezze, small plates of food that might be called tapas, antipasto or hors d’oeuvres in other countries.
First, the cold mezze: grape leaves stuffed with rice and mint, creamy hummus, mashed eggplant with pomegranate seeds, crunchy green olives in spicy pepper sauce, crumbled mild goat cheese with tomato and various spices, tabbouleh and burghul, a cracked wheat. Everything tastes green and faintly spicy, as if it were all just dug up from the soil, rinsed and served. Almost all the vegetables in the region are organic and macrobiotic by default.
Next came the hot mezze; this is where the chef shows off his gastronomic acumen. The hot mezze started mild with the traditional crispy fried slivers of hallum, or goat cheese, and savory phyllo pastries of spinach and cheese. Then the dishes graduated to the exotic: sautéed sheep testicles, which looked and tasted like sausage, served in olive oil with a wedge of lemon. And finally, fried baby sparrows — bones and all — served with lemon and olive oil.
“Be careful of the beaks,” said the waiter. It was an idle warning — fried bird was a Lebanese specialty in which I wouldn’t indulge.
An estimated 750,000 Iraqis have arrived in Jordan since the start of the war. And like every diaspora in history, this one has brought a culinary tradition. Dozens of Iraqi restaurants have opened in Amman in the past few years, serving Kurdish dishes like shredded chicken or beef served with vegetables and rice, and another Iraqi favorite similar to a quesadilla: shredded beef, raisins, onions, pine nuts, tomatoes, beet root and peppers stuffed between two cornmeal flatbreads.
The most popular of the Iraqi restaurants is Zad el-Khair (Um Uzayna Main Street; 962-6-554-0057, www.zadelkhair.com), where etchings of famous Iraqi musicians line the walls and the ceiling is covered in colorful tapestries. On the night we arrived, the two large dining rooms were filled with men in business suits and women in hijabs, though none at the same table.
After the waiters returned from a brief moment of prayer in the corner, we ordered the house specialty: grilled fish. The chef retrieved a big, gray Syrian river fish from a large tiled pool. Then the brutal part: he laid the fish next to the massive grill and beat it soundly with a small wooden club. He proceeded to slice the fish open with a small knife, and propped it in front of the fire using two wooden stakes.
When the fish was slightly charred, he slapped it on a dinner plate, drizzled it with olive oil and squirted it with lemon. The whole affair took about 10 minutes and, despite the savage preparation, the result was delicious — the fish was delicate, flaky and faintly briny.
At the end of our dinner, the owner, Yosef Aku Obiyn, came over to welcome us, the only non-Iraqis in his restaurant. I asked him how Iraqi food compared with the food of his adopted country. “To me, well, Iraqi food is much better,” he said. “We like our food full of flavor and the Jordanians like their food full of oil.”
Will he ever go back? “I had two restaurants in Baghdad, but I had to leave,” he said. “But I am not a political man. I don’t follow war. I follow food.”