This past summer, I was given the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Amman, Jordan, where I learned a great deal of Arabic, learned about Middle Eastern culture, and ate some amazing food. Since Jordan is not a country typically mentioned in everyday conversation, let me give you a little background on this beautiful country.
Surrounded by Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, Jordan is an Arab country rich with culture and tradition. One of the most amazing things about Jordan is the geographic diversity. When you’re in the capital, Amman, you’re surrounded by bustling city life filled with restaurants, shops, and aggressive drivers.
If you head out of the city, especially toward the south, you are greeted by miles of beautiful desert sand, home to camels and nomadic people called Bedouins. You can even find a great deal of ancient ruins from when the Romans ruled over Jordan. As you can tell, Jordan has a lot to offer — and surprisingly, so does its food.
Jordan isn’t exactly considered a food capital of the world. It’s not particularly posh and it isn’t home to many world-renowned chefs. After studying abroad there last summer, however, it became clear to me that the food scene in Jordan is seriously overlooked. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jordanian food played a major part in my amazing study abroad experience. Here are some reasons why everyone will fall in love with Jordan’s underrated food scene.
1. It’s a spice heaven
On the eighth day, God said “May your food never be lacking flavor,” or something like that, right? Jordanians take flavor seriously, and bland is never an option. If you’re looking for a nice gift to bring back home, spice stores are absolutely everywhere and house dozens of massive bins filled with the most aromatic spices you will ever encounter. My personal favorite is za’atar, which is a strain of thyme that’s commonly found on flatbreads.
2. Ramadan has its perks
Ramadan has its ups and downs. The not-so-good part of Ramadan: it’s an entire month of fasting during the day, so most restaurants are closed and you’re not really allowed to eat in public. But there are perks, because fasting during the day means FEASTS and parties at night, and what college student goes to bed before 3 am anyways? If Ramadan means napping during the day and partying at night, I think we can handle that.
3. There are sweets galore
Middle Eastern desserts are the greatest things ever. I really don’t know how I survived without them before studying in Jordan. Whether it’s rose water nougats, knafeh, chocolate-covered dates, or hard candies, Middle Eastern desserts don’t disappoint.
4. Coffee and tea is abundant
Blood may run thicker than water, but coffee runs even thicker. If you’re a normal college student, it might be hard to go a day or two without that liquid gold. Thank goodness coffee in Jordan is a staple. If you want a cappuccino or latte, you can easily find it, but I dare you to venture a little outside your comfort zone and get an Arabic coffee. Flavored with cardamom, it’s a drink you may easily become obsessed with.
Tea is also a big part of the culture and hospitality in Jordan. If you’re invited into someone’s home, there is no doubt in my mind that you will be instantly offered tea. And it’s soooo good.
5. The fast food is better
Fast food (primarily McDonalds) is a million times better in Jordan than in the US. When I eat McDonalds in the US, I feel like I’m drowning in a vat of grease and am promptly forced into a food coma. In Jordan, it tastes real and the post-chow guilt isn’t traumatizing. Plus, they deliver.
6. Hospitality is key
Middle Easterners are known for their incredible hospitality and generosity. If you’re a tourist, you’re going to get that generosity to the max. People genuinely want you to love their country and food, so they want you to try everything. I once went into a candy store just to see what Jordanian candy was like, and within a minute of being in there, I was handed two types of chocolate-covered dates and three pieces of nougat. Be warned that saying no isn’t an option, so get used to trying new things.
7. Bread for days
Do I need to say more? It’s bread, we all love it. In Jordan, you will quickly learn that pita is the bread of choice and it goes with everything. Time to get excited for unlimited carbs.
8. It’s a chance to leave your comfort zone… if you want
I see you, picky eaters. This article might have you shaking in your boots, thinking Jordan isn’t a place for you. Could you survive without your familiar foods? Surprisingly, you wouldn’t have to. Jordan has anything and everything (except pork bacon), so even the pickiest of eaters won’t starve.
9. The food is fresh and healthy
This isn’t America, so get ready for fruits and veggies that don’t rely heavily on massive amounts of preservatives and other chemicals. The food here looks and tastes real. Revolutionary, am I right?
10. There are other ethnic foods
Not feeling like Middle Eastern food? No problem. You can still find American, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and much more. As surprising as it may be, Jordan offers a variety of ethnic foods. My apartment in a quiet neighborhood in the capital was right down the street from a Chinese restaurant with some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had.
11. The food is cheap and plentiful
The #1 reason college kids would love Jordan? Cheap food (and lots of it). Welcome to Jordan, where if you know what you’re doing, you can easily get great food for less than $5.
As a rule of thumb in Jordan, the cheaper the food, the more authentic and delicious it is. Skip the $12 touristy burgers (which are surprisingly easy to find) and go to a small restaurant that will serve you falafel, hummus, pita bread, pickles, and more for about $6. Did I mention the portions are HUGE? (see above photo for reference, which cost me around $4).
If you weren’t convinced before, now you know why we should start recognizing the food scene in the Middle East. It’s a great place for broke college foodies to visit.