Having Lunch With A Local Family in Jordan

There's no better way to understand a culture than to eat with the locals

Special contributor Jessica Festa shares a unique meal in Jordan.

In Amman, the capital of Jordan, visitors can find a variety of places to dine: local eateries, international restaurants, hotel dining rooms, trendy rooftop bars, gastro pubs, Irish bars, and more. While these types of venues offer great experiences — like meals at Wild Jordan, rooftop cocktails and gastronomy at Cantaloupe, and traditional meals and shisha at Sufra Restaurant — a more authentic Jordanian experience is having lunch at the home of a local family.

My personal lunch experience took place about an hour outside of Amman in the small community of Arjan. Unlike Amman, the community was quiet and rural with nothing but the sounds of squawking chickens and trotting goats about. Walking onto the property of my host family, I am immediately immersed in lush greenery — which is unusual for Jordan as it’s over 80% desert. That being said, the country is home to about 2,700 native plant species due to its three climates: Sahara, Tropical and Mediterranean.

The property resides on a hilltop, and beneath tall trees and loose vines are numerous cushions and pillows forming a square formation for my group to relax comfortably on during the meal. Beyond the trees I can see chickens and children running freely through the yard, bringing the kind of smile to my face one can only get from experiencing nostalgia in a completely foreign place that still has the ability to make you feel back at home.

We’re eating on farmland, as the three generations of family who live here — children, parents and grandparents — are all farmers. The men carry out the food and drinks, and although the women have prepared the meal Bedouin culture prevents them from eating with men who are not family members.

In the center of the circle on a blanket multiple bowls of Arabic salad — which has chopped up tomatoes, cucumber, parsley and onion — are set out along with bowls of homemade yogurt sauce. Next, heaping platters of a traditional dish called “Maklouba,” which translates to “Upside Down,” are presented. The hearty meal features baked chicken, rice, potatoes and eggplant mixed together with spices like turmeric, cumin, sumac and cinnamon for a savory and flavorful creation. Topped with the yogurt sauce and salad, the rich is extra creamy and filling, while the chicken is plump and juicy. The meal is enhanced with traditional Bedouin Shrak (also known as Markook) bread, a type of large flatbread that is baked in a metal griddle. We finish the meal with soup tea, or as the locals call it, Bedouin whiskey. This is the local drink of choice and is meant to be enjoyed in a social manner.

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At the end of the meal the mother of the children comes to say hello, carrying an adorable nine month old baby. She shakes the hands of the females, although not the males as in Bedouin culture women are often uncomfortable touching men they don’t know well. That being said, both the women and men of the family are gracious to myself and the rest of the guests, truly happy to be sharing a meal with us in the beautiful outdoors.