When you think of Jordan, food probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind, but you will be surprised. Jordan cuisine has so much to offer. It has many delicious and fascinating dishes influenced by Arab, Levantine, and Bedouin cuisine.
In this article, we will analyze the different typical dishes and explore what to eat in Jordan. Plus, explain everything you need to know about Jordan Cuisine, its main dishes, and desserts that you have to try. But first, a few general tips about Jordanian food.
What should you know about Jordan Food?
Based on Arab, Levantine, and Bedouin cuisine, Jordan cuisine is a mixture of different influences. The country itself is a mixing pot of other cultures. One of the things Jordan is famous for is for accepting millions of refugees over the years from multiple countries in conflict. So it is expected that you will find dishes from Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt. There are only a few dishes that we could say are really from Jordan, like Mansaf and Zarb. But, this mixture of influences makes Jordan’s cuisine so interesting. And more importantly, delicious.
Most of Jordan’s dishes have lamb, they use it frequently as a protein source, but you will also find chicken, beef, and even camel. As for fish, Jordan isn’t the best place to eat fish, although in Aqaba, by the Red Sea, you will find plenty of restaurants selling grilled or fried fish. But if you prefer vegetables or are vegetarian, Jordan has so many good plant-based dishes that you won’t even miss the meat.
Jordan is also the ideal place to buy and eat Olives and Olive oil, as it is a significant producer. The olive oil is of extreme quality, as you will have the opportunity to confirm with several dishes.
When eating in Jordan, you must consider their traditions, customs, and religion. As a Muslim country, some foods are Halal (allowed), and others are Haram (forbidden) according to Islamic law. Haram Foods include pork, blood, alcoholic beverages, and foods prepared with alcohol. Halal foods include selfish and seafood, vegetarian cuisine, and halal meat. Halal meat must come from a supplier that uses halal practices as a method of slaughter for all meat sources.
Spices and condiments
Jordanian cuisine, like Arab and Levantine cuisine, uses and abuses spice. Spices are used in every dish, making the food fragrant and aromatic. They even use it in coffee. Some of the essential herbs and condiments are:
- Za’atar: is a wild herb known in English as hyssop, though za’atar is also known as a spice mix of dried hyssop leaves, ground sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and salt. This herb mix is used in nearly everything. It is put on top of hummus, or simply with olive oil drizzled on bread, and anything in between.
- Sumac: is a reddish-purple powder used as a spice. It is made with the dried fruit of the plant and has a tart, lemony taste. It is used in salads and on top of spreads/dips like Moutabel.
- Tahini: is one of the star ingredients in Arabic and Levantine cuisine. It is made from toasted ground sesame seeds. And it is used in many dishes… as a spread in a shoarma, in hummus, as a salad dressing, and even in desserts.
Jordan is a Muslim country, and drinking alcohol isn’t allowed for Muslims. That said, it is acceptable for foreign visitors to drink alcohol as long as in moderation and not display public drunkenness. It is illegal to drink on the streets in Jordan.
You can purchase wine or beer in restaurants, bars, and hotels. Jordan’s local beer is Amstel. Jordan is also a wine producer, with a few vineyards you can visit. But be aware that beer and wine are pretty expensive in Jordan.
Food and hospitality
Jordan people are one of the most friendly and hospitable people we have met. They often offered tea or other food and made us feel welcome. Food in Jordan is a communal act, something to do with family and friends.
There are even several dishes that are supposed to be eaten on a big communal plate, like Mansaf and Maqluba. So eating in Jordan is more than the tasty food per se but an act of sharing and being with other people.
Traditional Jordanian food you have to try
Bread is essential in Jordan cuisine. It is eaten in every meal, especially with Mezze, as you need it to dip in the spreads and sauces. In Jordan, like in other Levantine countries, the most used bread is flat, unleavened bread made with flour, water, and salt. The most frequent types of bread in Jordan are:
- Markook or Khubz or Shrak: Most common bread in Jordan, it is the typically thin and large bread used in everything;
- Pita bread: known as Arabic bread, it is a flatbread lightly leavened and has an interior pocket, and is widely used all around the world;
- Tannur or tandoor bread: flatbread bread made in a clay oven;
- Ka’ak or Kahqa Bread: leavened bread, generally with a ring shape or in the form of a bread roll, it is covered with sesame seeds;
- Manakish: flatbread topped with several toppings like za’atar or cheese or minced lamb; it is also called Arabic pizza;
There is nothing like freshly made bread hot out of the oven.
Mezze is our kind of food; it is basically a mixture of small dishes or appetizers that can be cold or warm. Different countries have their version of Mezze, like in Spain, they have “tapas” (Although considering the influence of Muslim culture in Spain, maybe tapas is influenced by Mezze). You can also find Mezze in other countries like Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Israel, and the Balkans.
In Jordan, you eat Mezze in every situation, for breakfast, as a meal on its own, or as a snack. It is awesome because it allows you to try different foods in the same meal. It is a fun way to eat, especially with a group of people, allowing you to eat the quantity of food you want and take your time. We listed some of our favorite Mezze and the most common that we found in restaurants in Jordan, but there is a vast diversity of them. The best thing is to have fun and try everything you can – usually, they are mouthwatering.
Hummus is the most basic and frequent dish, and you use it for everything: a spread, an appetizer, a side dish in a sandwich, you name it. And there is nothing like hummus made from scratch in the Middle East, so creamy and fluffy with a delicious taste of chickpeas, tahini, and olive oil.
Each person/restaurant has its own way of doing it, but the fundamental ingredients of hummus are chickpeas, tahini paste, lemon juice, and garlic. In the end, you drizzle with olive oil and sometimes with whole chickpeas.
Baba Ghanoush is another staple Levantine dish. It is a spread made with roasted aubergine, tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice. In Jordan, Baba Ghanoush was drizzled with promenade molasses. It is so good, combining the aubergine’s smoky flavors and the molasses’ sweetness. You usually eat this dish as a spread with bread.
Moutabel or Muttabal is similar to Baba Ghanoush, but besides the roasted aubergine, tahini, olive oil, pepper, and garlic, it also has yogurt. It is equally delicious as Baba Ghanoush but has a fresh taste. It is also a spread to dip in bread or vegetables.
Ful Medames or Foul is another spread, but it is made with crushed fava beans, olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley. It is traditional in Egypt. All the ingredients are mixed forming a silky and satisfying dip. Like other Mezze, Ful Medames is good for breakfast, to dip in your bread, or as a side dish.
Labaneh or labneh is a famous yogurt used in all Middle East, typically made with goat yogurt strained, making it thick, almost like cream cheese. Labaneh is used as a spread or ingredient in different Jordan dishes. Eating labneh with bread for breakfast is very common, served with olive oil, za’atar, or other herbs. It has an intense and creamy flavor.
Alongside hummus, falafel is one of the most famous Levantine dishes. Made with grounded chickpeas and various spices like coriander, cardamom, pepper, and chopped parsley, falafel balls are deep-fried, crispy on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. Before frying, they are coated with sesame seeds.
Falafel is the most common street food, and they are eaten in any situation for breakfast, inside a sandwich, or as a side dish. They differ in size; some falafel are stuffed with onions or cheese like feta or halloumi. This is a dish that you can’t miss, they are everywhere. It is also nutritious and inexpensive.
Falafel from the famous restaurant in Amman Hashem Restaurant
Kibbeh, Kubbeth, or Kobeba are small, deep-fried balls made with ground meat, bulgur wheat, spices, and pine nuts. In Arabic, Kibbeh means “the shape of a ball,” and they are Lebanese and Syrian national dishes. They are delicious, crispy, and soft, with intense flavors of the spices. Particularly good when hot, Kibbeh is typically eaten as Mezze. Despite its original meaning, it can have different variations; sometimes, there is Kibbeh in the form of a pie, or stake, or made with other ingredients like ground rice or semolina.
Arabic Salad is your basic salad in Jordan. Made with diced cucumber, tomatoes, bell peppers, onion, parsley, or coriander and seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil, it is simple yet satisfying and fresh. Served in every restaurant, it is one of the most frequent Mezze dishes.
Tabbouleh is one of the most famous Levantine dishes in the world; you can easily find it everywhere. But the Tabbouleh portrayed in the rest of the world differs from the ones we eat in Jordan. This salad is made with parsley, tomato, and al dente bulgur, seasoned with lemon and olive oil.
The salad is much more about parsley, not bulgur, as we commonly see in Europe. In other words, it is a parsley salad, not a bulgur salad. Either way, it is delicious and fresh.
Fattoush is very similar to the Arabic salad, but it has grilled or fried leftover pita besides the tomato, cucumber, and onion. It is also seasoned with lemon and olive oil, but the salad varies depending on the cook. You can also add other ingredients like peppers, radish, lettuce, chili, and mint. The important thing is the quality of the ingredients that must be fresh and preferably of the season.
Galayet Bandora or Qalayet Bandora is our favorite Jordan dish. It is also a frequent dish eaten by the Jordanians, so they seem to love it. This dish is made with plenty of tomatoes, onion, and garlic, seasoned with salt; sometimes, it comes with spicy pepper. It is easy to cook and so tasty. The result is a satisfying dish with chunks of tomatoes and onions in which you can dip your bread. It resembles Shakshuka, a traditional Tunisian dish, but without eggs.
Galayet usually is a Mezze, but it may also be the main dish. You will find Galayet with meat, which is cooked with tomatoes and can be eaten with tomatoes. We ate Galayet several times, and it was always satisfying.
Fattet Hummus, or simply fattet, is a dish made with soaked pita bread, hummus, tahini, yogurt and topped with nuts. Unlike hummus which is widely known, Fattet is mainly known in Syria, Palestine, and Jordan, which is a pity as it is so delicious. Everybody needs to eat this dish at least once.
Fattet hummus is eaten with a spoon and can be eaten for breakfast or lunch. It is a very filling dish, so we think it is a good lunch. It was one of the most delicious dishes we ate in Jordan.
Sambousek are Arabic Samosas made with crispy pastry and filled with onion, pines, or cheese. Usually consumed in Ramadan, they are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.
Main dishes – typical Jordanian food
Mansaf is considered to be Jordan’s Nacional dish. It is made with rice, lamb, and jameed, which is dry fermented goat yogurt. This dish is served on a big plate with the rice and the meat, which are coated with jameed sauce and a thin slice of Khubz. According to tradition, this is a communal dish; everybody eats from the same plate with their right hand.
It is a heartwarming dish that will make you feel full for several hours. As it is the national dish, it is something you can’t miss when visiting Jordan. This dish also has a fascinating meaning. As it symbolizes bringing people together, they eat it together to celebrate a resolved conflict. It is a sign of reconciliation.
So, now you know, when you finally resolve your issues with your adversary, invite them to eat a Mansaf.
Maqluba or Maqlooba is a traditional Levantine dish with meat, rice, and vegetables. To cook this dish, you need to layer the rice, meat, chicken, or lamb in a pot and then vegetables that can be tomatoes, eggplant, or cauliflower. The pot is flipped on a tray when all the ingredients are cooked. In the end, the dish is garnished with pine nuts and parsley. The rice will be on the bottom, and the meat and vegetables on top; it will look like a layered cake. Hence the name “Maqluba,” which in Arabic means upside down.
As the ingredients are cooked slowly and together, it becomes a very fragrant and delicious dish. You won’t want to miss this dish, which is served in nearly every restaurant.
Shish Kebabs, most commonly known as Kebabs, are skewers made with minced meat – typically lamb or mutton, but you can also find chicken or beef. The skewers are grilled over a fire and served on a plate with pita and other grilled vegetables. Like in other countries in the Middle East, Kebabs are very popular and well known. They are delicious and have a strong flavor from the spices used to season the meat.
Shawarma is the most famous street food in the world. It is made with layers of thin meat (chicken, beef, lamb) staked on a vertical spit and roasted. The cook cuts small chunks of the meat as it gets grilled in the roaster. Generally, it is eaten in the form of a sandwich with pita bread, vegetable, and a yogurt sauce. You eat shawarma with french fries.
If you haven’t tried it yet, you must simply put it on your bucket list. In Europe, shawarma is also known as Doner Kebab. Jordan has several restaurants serving shawarma, most open until late or even 24 hours.
Zarb is a traditional Bedouin dish and quite unique. The dish consists of different kinds of meat, like chicken, beef, lamb, vegetable carrots, onion, and sweet potatoes. They are cooked in a hole in the ground filled with hot coal. The meat is put on metal racks that don’t touch the coal, and the hole is covered so the heat can’t escape. The food is slowly roasted until it is cooked, making the meat tender, and it pulls apart.
Usually, this dish is done in the Wadi Rum desert in the camps of the Bedouins. It is very delicious and an extraordinary experience. Besides, going to Wadi Rum is an out-of-this-world experience, and the zarb is a nice bonus.
Ouzzi is an Arabic dish traditional in Syria and other Middle East countries. It is made with aromatic rice, peas, carrots, and mixed nuts. It is a one-pot recipe, so everything is cooked together in a fragrant combination of spices making everything so tasty. You will find this dish in several restaurants throughout Jordan.
Sajiyeh or Sajieh is a traditional Jordan and Palestinian dish made in a special cast iron pan, similar to a wok. This dish consists of pieces of meat that can be beef, chicken, or simply vegetables cooked in this pan. Typically it is cooked over a wood or charcoal grill giving the food a smoky taste.
We ate this dish in Madaba in a restaurant, and they served it in the pot with a small torch under it, so it continued cooking during the meal. It was good, and the experience was very cool.
Fukharate is also a type of dish made in a specific clay pot. The food is cooked in this pot in the oven for hours. There are several dishes made in these clay pots, Kofta Bi Tahini is one of them. This dish is made with kebab, topped with a layer of thin potatoes with a tahini sauce, and cooked in the oven. It is tender and so flavorful.
In Madaba, we ate a Fukharate that had chicken and a cream sauce, and it was covered with bread. It was to die for.
Knafeh is the most famous dessert in Jordan. You will find it everywhere, and there is a good reason for it…it tastes like heaven. This dessert or group of desserts (there are different types of Knafehs) are famous Levantine desserts eaten in Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. They are loved by many.
The most common Knafeh consists of a layer of white cheese topped with thin noodles doused with sweet syrup and topped with ground pistachio. It is cooked on top of hot coal. And it has to be eaten when it is cooked. It is sweet, cheesy, and has different textures. What else can you ask for in a dessert?
There are several types of Knafeh; some are made with noodles, others with semolina some have different filings. There is a Palastine version Kanafeh Nabulsieh, there is knafeh khisneh, and knafeh Ghazawieh. But in the end, they are all delicious.
Halva is a worldwide famous Levantine sweet made with tahini, sugar, and nuts. It originated in Persia but spread throughout the Middle East. There are tons of flavors and types of Halva, with different colors and nuts.
Halva melts in your mouth and has a creamy, silky taste. Besides being delicious, they are so beautiful. We find halva shops mesmerizing.
Hareeseh or Basboussa is an Arabic cake made with semolina, shredded coconut, cream, sugar, and yogurt. It is cooked until brown, soaked in syrup, and sprinkled with pistachio or almond. With those ingredients, how can things go wrong? It is a dense and humid sweet cake with a crunchy ending.
It is served on a big plate cut into small slices. You can find this cake in shops dedicated to sweets, but it is usually cooked at home.
Ma’amoul is a group of butter cookies made with semolina and has different filings: dates, figs, pistachio, walnuts, and almonds. Made in beautiful wooden molds, they come in different shapes: balls, domed, crescent forms, or flattened cookies.
Traditionally they are eaten during the festivals of Eid or other special holidays and sold in specialty stores that display them in the most mesmerizing ways. It is always fascinating going to a sweet store and contemplating all the cookies – wishing to take them all.
Barazek are traditional Arab cookies from Syria. They are made with sesame seeds, pistachio, butter, sugar, flour, and milk. Usually, they are good with tea or coffee and simply delicious and crispy with a nutty taste.
What to drink in Jordan? Typical drinks in Jordan
One can not go to Jordan and not drink coffee, especially Arabic Coffee. Arabic Coffee is a brewed, not filtered, coffee made with coffea arabica beans from Yemen. It is a bitter coffee and traditionally without sugar. Although when buying a coffee, you always have the option with or without sugar. The coffee is served in small cups.
To make Arabic coffee, you need to roast the coffee beans alongside cardamom pods, ground them very finely and then brew them in a unique pot called Briki. If you want sugar, you need to add it to the water before the ground coffee beans. You can’t add sugar after the coffee is done.
Arabic coffee is dark and very aromatic; the cardamon gives the coffee a fragrant taste making it so good. Be aware that you can’t stir the coffee or drink the last part in the cup, or you may end up with a mouthful of grounds.
Arabic Coffee is much more than just a coffee per se; it is a cultural event, it is a moment of sharing and honoring your guest. With roots in Bedouins traditions, Arabic coffee is considered an Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Arab States by UNESCO.
Turkish coffee is very similar to Arabic coffee, it is also made with finely ground coffee that isn’t filtered, and the way of preparing the coffee is the same. But Turkish coffee doesn’t have ground cardamom pods. Arabic coffee is much more aromatic.
You can buy coffee in street food stalls, gas stations, coffee houses, and sometimes even vendors in the streets – it is easy to find coffee in Jordan. Usually, when buying coffee, they ask if you want Turkish or Arabic coffee with or without sugar.
In Jordan, Tea is drunk several times a day, with every meal, and frequently people will offer you tea even if they don’t know you. Jordan people are amicable.
Black tea is flavored with mint or sage and is very sweet. In the Bedouin camps, they serve you an aromatic tea with a combination of herbs, including dry mint, sage, cinnamon, cardamom, and thyme. It is very fragrant but can be intense.
Jordan has so much to offer food-wise. If you love food, you will love Jordan. It has intense flavors, aromatic dishes with different textures, and desserts to die for. Don’t be afraid to experiment, neither limit yourself to tourist restaurants. Try it all. And best of all, you will feel welcome.