There is no way to experience a new place without trying the food which is made there. As Anthony Bourdain said, “food, culture, people and landscape are all absolutely inseparable.” The same is true for Jordan, which is most travelers’ introduction to the Middle East and all this incredible region has to offer; if you don’t try Jordanian food during your trip to Jordan – well, you haven’t really experienced Jordan!
As you know, I’m a huge fan of travel in Jordan, and that includes trying new dishes on each trip I make. I have a few tried and true favorites I love and seek out, but I’m always game to literally sink my teeth into something I’ve never had before.
In this post, I’m covering some of the Jordan foods I think that every traveler should find and try during a first trip to Jordan. You might not be able to experience them all, but having a shortlist will get you a lot closer to trying them – and push you beyond your culinary comfort zone a bit. As you’ll see, these must-try Jordanian dishes are all distinctly Jordanian, even if you’ve heard about similar dishes of the same name in other countries.
Ready to get a taste of what Jordan has to offer for foodie travelers? Let’s jump right into the list of Jordan foods you have to try on your trip.
Called the “national dish of Jordan,” mansaf is a must-try on your first Jordan trip – hands down. While the dish undoubtedly has its origins in a time before the borders of Jordan were drawn, it has been embraced fully within the country and you can find mansaf on basically all menus at Jordanian restaurants. It’s also common to be offered mansaf when having a local dinner or taking a cooking class.
In short, this is a rice-based dish, which is topped with chunks of lamb and a gravy made with jameed (a dry, salty yogurt). It’s typically served communally with super-thin bread and is eaten by hand.
We all know falafel, right? Jordanians love this Middle Eastern dish as much as the next folks, so you can find falafel on menus and served from small food stalls across the country. Falafel ain’t fancy, but you know it’s good – and widely appealing, as it’s commonly found in other parts of the world.
Falafel is, of course, crispy balls of ground chickpeas; it can be served on a bed of lettuce with sauces and flatbread, or wrapped up into a burrito for portable enjoyment.
Similarly, most visitors to the Middle East are familiar with shawarma, which has become popular as a late-night food across Europe. You can also find it in Jordan – including late at night in some parts of the country, like Amman, which have more nightlife.
Shawarma can be made with a variety of meats, but is thinly shaven, shaped into a cone, and then roasted on a vertical rotisserie. It is then shaved again, usually into a thin bread with lettuce, tomato, and other accoutrements – but can also be served on a plate with rice, veggies, and flatbread.
I had the pleasure to enjoy my first maqluba during my most recent trip to Jordan, at lunch with a local family. When our hostess removed the pan to reveal the maqluba, she rightly earned appreciative sounds from around the table: this dish has both awesome flavor and awesome presentation.
In short, maqluba is made by cooking the meat on the bottom of the dish, covered with rice. When it is compeleted, the dish is placed on a place, flipped over, and the dish removed; the juices of the meat then infuse the rice. Maqluba is quite an appropriate name for this dish as it literally translates as “upside down.”
For another traditional dinner in Jordan, trying a zarb is essential. Zarb is actually the quintessential Bedouin dinner, honoring the nomadic peoples of Jordan’s desert regions. (Yes, there are non-desert regions in Jordan!)
Zarb isn’t something you’ll likely make at home: it’s made by digging a pit, filling it with hot coals, and burying a three-tier structure into the pit for several hours. On the structure will be layers of meat (usually chicken and goat), veggies (root vegetables are common), and rice – the rice at the bottom is cooked by the juices and fats of the meat and veggies, and the whole thing comes out with a rich mix of flavors and the perfect temperature as the desert cools down at night.
You may have a concept of mezze from visiting other countries, but Jordanian mezze is its own special take. The term “mezze” originally comes from the Persian word meaning “to taste,” so it is more of a style of eating than a specific dish. It usually consists of ordering a variety of small plates to enjoy and share.
There are some common dishes you’ll find in Jordanian mezze, including some I’ve listed below like hummus, moutabal, and tabbouleh. Eating mezze is a great way to stick to a vegetarian diet in Jordan, since these smaller dishes are often entirely made of veggies (or very veggie-heavy).
7. Grilled Halloumi
On my most recent trip to Jordan, I saw the same appetizer/mezze plate on several menus and thought it was worth mentioning – even if I can’t figure out its Jordanian name. It is, quite simply, grilled halloumi cheese, drizzled with molasses made from pomegranates. The cheese is salty and gooey, and the pomegranate molasses adds a sweet flavor, making it a delightful way to start any meal.
As I mentioned, hummus is a common mezze dish – it’s probably one you already know, too! Made from mashed chickpeas, you can find hummus on menus across Jordan. It can be served as a mezze dish, or as a side with an entree.
The standard toppings and seasonings in Jordan are olive oil, a few whole chickpeas, parsley, and paprika, however, you can find it prepared in any number of ways. One other common variety is fattet hummus, which is mixed with pieces of shredded pita bread, tahini, and pine nuts, then topped with olive oil.
Here is one of the many dishes you’ll find spelled a number of different ways: moutabal, moutabel, mutabbal, you get the idea – this is what happens when you spell things phonetically!
In any case, moutabal became one of my favorite dishes on my recent Jordan trip; I had definitely not tried this eggplant dip before! It might look – and the description might sound – like baba ganoush which you can find on some menus too, but moutabel has a much creamier flavor. It’s made by roasting eggplant face down on the stovetop or cast iron, then mashing it with yoghrt, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice.
Another mezze dish, tabbouleh can take several different forms – and it certainly varies from country to country. In Jordan, it’s served as a salad made of minced parsley, tomatoes, garlic, and bulgar wheat, dressed in lemon juice, salt, and olive oil. Unlike other mezze dishes that might be scooped and eaten with flatbread, tabbouleh is eaten with a spoon.
Whenever I travel, I seek out dumpling-like items and was happy to discover kibbeh on my most recent Jordan trip. In short, kibbeh is made by creating a dough of bulgar wheat and ground pine nuts, then adding meat and onions into the center of the dough. The little Scotch egg-like goodies can then be grilled or fried; I only saw them fried when coming out of the kitchens. The ones we ordered in Amman also came with pomegranate molasses, which was another interesting flavor.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about food while traveling, it’s that every country has pizza. In Jordan, it’s called Manakish – and it’s delightful! A slightly thicker flatbread, topped with halloumi, oil, and herbs, manakish can have a variety of different toppings, but the thyme-za’atar one I tried was the most flavorful given its limited ingredients.
(I haven’t mentioned it, but za’atar is one of those flavors you simply must seek out at some point while visiting Jordan. I can’t even begin to describe what’s in it, but it’s unique and flavorful!)
13. Fuul Medames
No list of Jordanian foods would be complete without mentioning breakfast. While breakfast in Jordan might look similar to a continental breakfast in Europe, almost all of the options are different – and there are a few special dishes you can only enjoy in Jordan.
One such option is fuul medames, which starts with a bowl of hummus. The traditional preparation then adds warm fava beans, sumac, and an X of cumin; it’s all eaten with flatbread, of course. You can add other topics and seasonings, though including diced tomatoes, raw onion, garlic, lemon, chilli, and olive oil.
If you can’t get enough of the creamy yogurt dishes that are available for lunch and dinner when enjoying mezze, you’ll be delighted to discover labneh. This is a strained yogurt dish that is usually available for breakfast in Jordan; you might see it on the buffet when staying at hotels that offer breakfast included.
Don’t confuse this yogurt with the sweet, fruity yogurts that are common in other parts of the world, as labneh is more similar to Greek yogurt or sour cream.
Last but not least, we’ve gotta talk about dessert. There are a number of great dessert pastries you can find at sweet shops in Jordan’s major cities, but there’s one dish that is unmissable: knafeh.
Like other dishes, you may hear it pronounced or spelled differently, but the dish is the same: cheese is baked in a huge flat plan and topped with crispy shredded filo, then soaked in rosewater and served with crushed pistachios on top. I know it sounds weird and like a wild combination of flavors, but it’s easily my favorite dish on the list – of course, it’s dessert! – and truly unique to this part of the world.
Of course, my list of must-try Jordan foods only scratches the surface of all the unique dishes you can try during your Jordan trip. Have any questions about these Jordanian dishes, or do you know other ones I should add to the list? Let me know in the comments!