Towards the end of my trip to Jordan, sponsored by Jordan Tourism Board, I was yearning to get away from the prescribed restaurants and try something a little more homey. I’m not always in the mood for fancy food, in fact home cooked or even street food is usually my favorite. I told my guide and driver about my need for something more Jordanian, for lack of a better word, and I could see my guide Abed’s eyes light up right away.
“I will find mansaf for you.”
Since I had no clue what he was talking about, I thanked him and told him I couldn’t wait. We were in the Red Sea port city of Aqaba, and while I spent the afternoon snorkeling in the warm waters, my new friends were fast at work scouting the best mansaf restaurant in town.
As I soon learned, mansaf is a classic Jordanian dish, something that is always served at big occasions like weddings and funerals. Like most other Jordanian food it was simple, good and hearty. Even as we walked up to the restaurant though, I still didn’t know what to expect.
My hosts were great, they had called the restaurant in advance and pre-ordered the massive meal. Within a few moments of being seated outside in the warm, seaside air of Aqaba, the waiter brought out the mansaf with great flourish.
The first thing I noticed was the size, it was huge. Obviously Abed had failed to tell them that it would just be the three of us dining. The large platter was draped with a gigantic piece of shraak bread, my favorite Jordanian bread, and a large bowl of a yogurt based sauce was set next to it.
We tore open the shraak and found within huge amounts of lamp, rice and a base of yet more shraak bread. My hosts poured some of the yogurt sauce over the lamb and we started eating.
First, while mansaf can be eaten with knife and fork, it is usually eaten with one’s hands. The right hand to be exact. The lamb is torn apart and consumed and the rice and yogurt mix is rolled into tiny balls and eaten that way. At first I fumbled trying to make the rice balls one-handed, but I soon got the hang of it and within a few minutes, I was a mansaf eating pro.
Finally I could eat no more and I was dismayed to look down at the platter – it looked like I had barely touched it. My hosts gave me a knowing smile though, their portions looked similar, it was just too much food. I don’t think I have ever been as full, or as happy, after a meal as with the mansaf. Without question it’s an extremely heavy meal, but that’s the point I guess.
My hosts looked over at me expectedly. They were obviously very concerned about what I thought. They were so eager to have me try mansaf and were proud when I told them I loved it and thanked them vociferously.
We all sat back with our Turkish coffee, digesting and watching the people stroll past on the way to their own dinners and get togethers. No matter where they were going though, I knew that I had beat them all with the meal of a lifetime.
Mansaf and Shraak Recipes
(I apologize for the lack of measurements. All recipes came from my guide’s mother for whom measurements weren’t a concern)
Mix ingredients until dough forms.
Cut small pieces and stretch out to make as thin as possible
Cook over heated dome, or similar.
(Finding Jameed may be a challenge, but large cities should have Middle Eastern specialty stores which may carry it)
Meat of choice
Fried pine nuts
Dry yogurt (Jameed)
Brown meat with diced onion.
Drain and add water. Bring to boil.
Mash the Jameed and add to the broth.
Prepare the rice normally, and line a large, flat dish cover with the shraak.
Cover the bread with the rice.
Pour yogurt sauce over the lamp and add cooked meat and fried pine nuts.
Serve with more shraak bread.