Tuesday, May 16, 2006

book on jordanian food

In contrast to the cuisines of some other Middle Eastern countries - notably Lebanon, Morocco, Iran and Turkey - the food of Jordan remains little known internationally. According to Cecil Hourani, author of the fascinating book “Jordan: The Land and the Table” published recently in London by Elliott & Thompson, even Jordanians themselves are not always fully aware of their country’s distinctive cuisine. There is no ‘Jordanian Restaurant’ in Amman, and no ‘Jordanian Cookbook’.

Hourani’s book shows just what a varied cuisine is to be found in Jordan. Drawing on his travels, research and personal culinary encounters he explains the organic relationship between food and Jordan’s people, geography, history and seasons.

He aims to demonstrate that “there is indeed a Jordanian cuisine which mirrors a society composed of several ethnic and cultural communities which form a distinct national entity.”

There are two main components of the Jordanian kitchen. The first is the traditional Jordanian Arab cuisine based on the relationship between ‘the desert and the sown’. The second was introduced by migrants from the Caucasus and Anatolia from the second half of the 19th century onwards.

Hourani writes that his book is “not a cook book which instructs the reader how to cook, but rather a book about food, with some recipes to illustrate the text”. The recipe section is actually quite substantial, made up of intriguing recipes collected from friends and family, and from people encountered on his travels around Jordan.

The book highlights the ingredients and flavours that give Jordanian food its character. One key ingredient is jameed, dried buttermilk. Another is freeki, the ears of wheat or barley picked while green and smoked on wood. There are also more exotic items, such as the desert truffle.

Hourani looks in detail at characteristic sweet and sour ingredients, and at various combinations of spice and herb flavours. No fewer than 45 wild plants are used as food. The terms in the glossary include zerb, a lamb or kid roasted in a pit or sunken barrel. He gives an evocative account of a zerb feast in an orchard near Madaba.

The recipe section begins with national dishes, including the Jordanian Mansaf. From Palestine there is a national chicken dish Masakhen. The Circassian national dish Shipswabasta combines burghul, garlic, walnuts and hot paprika. The national dish of the Chechens is Galnish, and from the Armenians there is Manti, or Shishbarak, known in various versions from China to Turkey, which comprises dumplings filled with minced lamb and boiled in a broth.

“Jordan: The Land & the Table” appears at a time when in the West there is a turning away from mass-produced food towards healthier, more authentic products. Perhaps Hourani’s book will inspire the setting up of one or more restaurants specialising in Jordanian food.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, 16 May 2006

No comments: