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Traditional Food of Jordan: The 5 You Must Try in Jordan

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3 months ago

If you’ve travelled to Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan or Palestine (known as the Levant), you will know that the food of this region is broadly very similar. But there are always unique dishes among them – and some countries do certain dishes much better than others.

Traditional Jordanian food is quite similar to others in the region, but with some key differences.

The types of spices and ingredients used can be vastly different between countries (and even regions within countries). Sometimes you’ll try a dish with the same name elsewhere and it’ll be completely different. This is to be expected given different harvests and trends across the region.

Woman making saj in As-Salt in Jordan
Jordanians are very proud of their traditional foods, so expect to try some amazing new flavors

Jordan also has quite a few interesting Bedouin dishes like zarb, but it’s often very meat-heavy. You might want to keep that in mind if you’re going for a Bedouin stay.

You won’t find shawarma, falafel and hummus on this list. We’ve only included those traditional Jordanian dishes that are unique to Jordan (or made best in Jordan) and those that a trip to Jordan would be incomplete without trying. And we’ll tell you the best place to try them.

1. Mansaf: The national dish of Jordan

Mansaf is a bit of a beast (and there’s certainly bits of beast in it) because it’s grown into something that it wasn’t originally (which was just bread, lamb and yoghurt). Jordanians have become ever more creative about the ingredients that go into it, so the mansaf you try is probably not the mansaf that a Jordanian grew up on.

Having said that, I like the typical mansaf as it is usually made today for its wholesomeness. It’s on a bed of rice, with slivered almonds, bread, yoghurt and lamb. This is the traditional food of Jordan at its finest.

Make sure to choose a restaurant that prides itself on meat proportions and quality ingredients because otherwise it can feel very meaty. Most places will put too much meat in it which makes it a lot less enjoyable (unless you like that kind of thing).

Mural in Amman of a boy with an oxygen tank in the city
Make sure to keep an eye out for the beautiful murals which cover the buildings of the streets of Amman while you’re on your food journey

Mansaf is the undisputed national dish of Jordan. I’ll be honest: I don’t mind it, but there are definitely other dishes that are tastier which you should prioritize if you have limited mealtimes.

Where to try mansaf

You’ll find it everywhere, but we would recommend Jafra Restaurant. Make sure to get a seat on the balcony so you can soak up the atmosphere of the town center just below. The restaurant is also like an antiques museum so take a moment to walk around and see the very peculiar things hanging.

Spread of food at Jafra Restaurant in Jordan
The spread you can expect at Jafra Restaurant

2. Maqloube

Maqloube (sometimes romanized as makloubeh) literally translates to upside down, but you’ll only know why if you’re there to see it before it is served. The chef or waitperson will place the huge bowl (it’s always huge) on a flat surface and then flip it over quickly, forming a mound that quickly starts to crumble.

Traditionally, the flip starts on the top of someone’s head which is just way more fun. You will sometimes still see this done at weddings in Jordan. This really is traditional food of Jordan.

Traditional food of Jordan maqloube with chicken and vegetables
Maqloube (after it’s been flipped)

There’s logic to the flip. It keeps the rice on the bottom and the meat on the top. It’s often filled with nuts, parsley and lemon. The rice soaks up the flavor of the meat or chicken.

If you manage to get an invitation to a Jordanian’s home (as the guest of honor, no less), this is very likely the main dish that will be served.

This is one of those dishes that you’ll find all over the Levant, but we found that the Jordanians did it consistently better (I think because the Jordanians add eggplant and I love eggplant). It’s also much easier to find in Jordan than in other countries in the region.

Traditional food of Jordan saj bread with cheese
Make sure to try the different types of stuffed bread in Jordan found on street corner all over the country

Where to try maqloube

Maqloube is a fairly intricate dish to make so it isn’t common as you might think despite it being a traditional food in Jordan. You’ll be able to try it at Jafra Restaurant.

3. Yalanji

This is one for the vegetarians. Yalanji is vine leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables. The Jordanians tend to serve this one with potato and it’s usually cooked in olive oil. It’s a fairly basic dish but I think it’s super refreshing, especially given that it’s always served cold.

There is also a cabbage version called malfoof which is stuffed cabbage leaves. I don’t enjoy cabbage so I didn’t like this one, but most people prefer it.

Spread of food at a restaurant in Jordan with kibbeh and hummus
Food in Jordan is great for vegetarians as well

If you’re looking for another excellent vegetarian dish, there is a dish known as “khubeizeh” which has garlic, coriander and chopped onions. The base of the dish is a type of jute which is a plant leaf. We’ve found it made much better in other countries, but the Jordanians still do it quite well on the whole.

Jordanian flag in front of a building with a tree in front of it

Where to try yalanji

We would recommend Jafra Restaurant for yalanji as well. It’s also a common traditional food in Jordan so you’ll be able to find it in any good restaurant.

4. Arayes

My favorite part about this dish is that it means bride in Arabic. I can’t seem to get a good answer out of anyone as to why that is though.

It’s pita bread filled with minced lamb, parsley, onions and the famous-in-the-Middle-East allspice. Jordanians put it in a bit of olive oil and then grill it on the charcoal.

Where to try arayes

You will find this throughout the country being sold by street vendors. It’s part of the experience to get it from a street seller. If you’re looking to try it at a restaurant, Sakeyat Addaraweesh in Amman makes it excellently. It’s also great for a very diverse buffet breakfast in Amman. If you plan to go to Sakeyat Addaraweesh on a Friday or Saturday, you’ll need to make reservation.

Blue car with artwork on it on a street in Amman
You might not expect it, but Jordan is filled with street art

5. Musakhan

This is known in the Arab world as a Palestinian dish, but given that over 50% of Jordan’s population is Palestinian, it’s no surprise that Jordanians make musakhan very well. Personally, this is my absolute favorite of the bunch.

The dish consists of chicken served on bread, with onions, pine nuts and spices, all on a thick layer of sumac. I think this is the best way to have sumac which is really quite a strong flavor.

I first ate this at a restaurant in Petra (see below) which specialises in musakhan, and I’m glad I did because I had it afterward at other places because I enjoyed it so much the first time and I thought that restaurant was the best by far.

Musakhan is quite a heavy dish so you may want to pair it with some tabbouleh (parsley and lemon salad) just for some greens. Also, it’s served sort of like an open sandwich, and you should feel free to pick it up and eat it with your hands (like pretty much all Levantine food).

Saj bread with cheese and a side of fattoush salad
Make sure to get some bread with cheese with your musakhan

Where to try musakhan

That restaurant in Petra is called My Mom’s Recipe. It’s right next to the Movenpick in Petra which is one of the best hotels to stay in Petra.

Jordan has a lot of good food but you really need to know where to go for the best of it. The unfortunate reality is that most restaurants tourists will encounter (especially those with English menus) won’t put in the hard yards to make standout food – so make sure you go to the tried and tested places that we’ve recommended and read our travel tips for Jordan.

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