I rant you risten

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Jordanian Mansaf (Good Global Eating)

I’ve met a lot of interesting people from all four corners of the globe and one of the subjects that always comes up in conversations is food. Different cultures could have different flavors and different traditions, or maybe they have the same dishes with the same ingredients tweaked ever so slightly to represent different tastes. I’ve been fortunate enough to sample a multitude of ethnic foods, from adventures in gastronomy to global comfort food, but the end result is always the same: a satisfied smile, a full belly and a good nap on the couch… Due to the hospitality of a wonderful Jordanian family, an Army of friends was invited to enjoy an absolutely delicious traditional nomadic dish called: Mansaf…

First allow me to explain the dish to you: Mansaf is a traditional dish comprised of three main ingredients: lamb, rice, and goat’s milk “Jameed El-Kasih”. The dish is normally eaten during the wintertime because it’s so heavy and filling, but that wasn’t going to stop me from enjoying this experience. Picture a huge round serving tray lined with Sh’rak bread (a thin Arabic bread).. On top of that bread, a mountain of whey-drenched rice is assembled only to be outshined by tender chunks of cooked lamb ready to fall off the bone, and generously topped off with toasted almonds- leaving you with a pyramid of food to devour. To the side of that dish, is the clincher for the entire meal: the goat’s milk or Jameed… Jameed is goat’s milk/ yogurt that is used to cook the lamb and then poured into a bowl to be served with the dish separately. I know what some of you are thinking,, Goat’s milk? The sauce is what’s used to cook the meat, it’s what you ladle on top of your plate, without it, you might not as well try the dish… (my own personal note: I think Jameed has Tryptophan in it: the amino acid found in turkey meat and laban (buttermilk) that makes people go to sleep)…

Mansaf day preparation (before): Thank god I had the day off, because there is no way I could have gone back to work after a meal like Mansaf. My internal weekend alarm clock woke me up just in time to take a shower and get ready… I stretched, limbered up, wore something comfortable and made my way to the meal…

My hunger and I arrived at the lunch ready, as had everybody else… people were making jokes about how they hadn’t eaten in days, others were asking questions about the dish, while the rest just patiently waited till we were all ushered into the dining room…

The dining room had a number of tables spread about with each table adorning a Huge tray of Mansaf… The women, with their delicate eating habits were provided with their own table to be spared the Neanderthal eating behavior of the men… Scanning the room for the perfectly situated table, I made my way to the table with no chairs where two Jordanian cohorts quickly briefed me on the traditional rules to enjoying the dish: Mansaf is to be eaten standing up, no plates: everyone eats from the same serving dish, and no cutlery except your hands “Bil Khams”. Not to pass up on the experience, I took my spot as we drew up our imaginary borders on the tray, everyone establishing where “his” section was going to be… And there we had it, 3 Jordanians, 3 Bahrainis and a Chinese Egyptian (I know, I know, it’s a long story) ready for their meal…

AND THEY’RE OFF!! The Sauce was ladled over people’s sections on the tray, sleeves were rolled up, a bowl of sliced onions in vinegar, and off we were… tearing off chunks of lamb with your fingers, scooping up some rice soaked in the Jameed and shoveling it all into your mouth to be surprised by how the simplicity of ingredients enhances the delectable flavors in your mouth… wow, wow wow… Some people spooned ladles of sauce on the rice, some gave up and picked up cutlery, some had to sit down… But we persevered… more lamb was torn off its bone, more rice was shoveled and then someone struck gold: the bread at the bottom… Soaking up the flavor of the rice and meat and getting soggy from the Jameed, the bread at the bottom of the tray was a hidden surprise to us all… Two cups were placed at our table, and one of the Jordanians on the table ladled some Jameed sauce into the cup and took a sip… A cultural tradition that I passed on, due to the diminishing space in my belly… I was focused on the tender meat that melted in my mouth… the rice and sauce that got my fingers all messy… the incredible feeling of satisfaction with every single bite – national foods carry a lot of history to them… You immediately understood the history of Mansaf, a nomadic dish: very delicious, very filling, very simple, and very nutritious.

One by one, people began to leave their seats/ eating areas… It looked like packs of Hyenas ravaged the trays.. Everyone walked out of the dining room with a satisfied drowsy look… the couch looked so inviting, but we were too many people eyeing up too little couches. I understood why the dish is mainly served during the cooler seasons, the food just rested in you stomach… Someone turned to me and mentioned cement… if cement tasted this good, then I’ll have to build my house on a full stomach. The only way I could properly describe this feeling is that Thanksgiving turkey day stuffed feeling (Hence the Tryptophan reference).. You’re content, full, drowsy, slaphappy, yet unable to move: the only thing on your mind is a nap and how good that would be… It wasn’t just me, everyone around me had that content “a nap would suit me just fine right now” look… I’m telling you, Mansaf will induce sleep into the most defiant of insomniacs; it should be registered in the journal of medicine as a possible cure…

Once our immediate resting period ended, and we smoked our after meal cigarettes, our hosts continued to spoil us with rounds of tea, coffee, and dessert – until we really had to say “please stop.” And there I was, propping myself up on the couch, trying to adjust my crooked satisfied smile and make conversation with people sharing the same look as me… I felt bad for the rest who had to go to back work after lunch, because for the rest of us with our day off – we could quietly head back home and do nothing for the rest of the day.

We thanked our hosts for a wonderful lunch and matching hospitality, and we all went our separate ways to a comfortable seat in front of the tv, a bed, a couch, maybe even the floor with a couple of blankets… Them Jordanians really know how to cook their food… I can only hope that you’ll be fortunate enough to try this delicacy, because this is an experience you cannot miss… well, unless you’re a vegetarian…

8 comments:

Mahmood Al-Yousif said...

DAMN man, you should have had your video camera going and vlogged this, nothing else would suffice! Although the words do jump and the imagination and palette go wild too.

I first (and only time) tried Mansaf at the Jordanian cultural atache's house here in Bahrain, his son was with me in school and he invited a bunch of us for a mansaf lunch. that was in the last century and I forgot what it actually tasted like.

so thanks for the memories, and bil 3fiah. ;)

Bahraini Rants said...

glad you liked the post.. GOOD GLOBAL EATING is going to be another feature I'm going to try and stick with on this blog.. So Empanadas, Churrasco, Kibbe Nayyah, Perogies, etc.. here i come... This is going to be one of those ongoing projects, so if you have a national dish or ethnic food that I must sample, then invite me over for lunch..

I'll try anything...

Rock n roll

Mimaa said...

Bil 3afya... wish i was that lucky when i tried mansaf... ! it was at a international food night at uni, and well.. i had one spoonful, and it put me off everything for the WHOLE night...

U'll have to introduce me to the jordanian bunch.. i NEED another sampling experience!!!

i could just picture the lamb... yummmm....!!

Lina said...

Man this is such a wonderfully expressed post!! I just love how descriptive you are, and you just left me craving a really good Mansaf right now (yes at 11:00 PM, imagine the sleep I'll get)

Glad you had such a good experience of Jordan ;) hope it will keep you coming back!

Anonymous said...

WOW such a great description of such a great dish, now I feel like having mansaf, which I haven't had in five month and won't have before the summer! Unless you know of a Jordanian restaurant in the South of France?

Lina said...

WOW such a great description of such a great dish, now I feel like having mansaf, which I haven't had in five month and won't have before the summer! Unless you know of a Jordanian restaurant in the South of France?

Lina said...

WOW such a great description of such a great dish, now I feel like having mansaf, which I haven't had in five month and won't have before the summer! Unless you know of a Jordanian restaurant in the South of France? contact me linasawaqed@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone! I would like to know where to find jameed in bahrain to prepare mansaf, it has been months I plan to cook this traditional jordanian dish but I cant find jameed ;( Please help me... Thanks!