A lot of tour companies or group trips offer their travelers the option to do a local family dinner. If I ever see this on the itinerary, I always say yes. I mean you get the chance to eat a home cooked meal in a local family’s home and get to know them a bit. How could you not say yes? I’ve done them in 5 different countries now, and it has been a wonderful experience every time.
Jordan was no exception. This was an optional activity for tonight, and everyone in our group said yes. Located just outside of the city, we drove up to the home and were greeted by a family of smiling faces. Usama, our tour leader, explained that land in Jordan is very expensive to buy. So it’s common for families to build a strong foundation on their property, and the whole family will eventually live there. They will add additional stories to the home as the children grow up and marry. But the whole family will wind up living on the same property! For this family, there was a brother and sister living on separate floors with their respective families and their parents on the first level. Jordanaians, as previously mentioned, are notorious for their hospitality. Smiles, hugs, and handshakes were given to us as we arrived by the kids and older family members.
We sat in their guest family room area, while Usama introduced everyone. Then we were taken back to the kitchen to see what we’d be eating for the night. Called Maklouba, it one of the most popular Jordanian dishes. Consisting of chicken, rice and veggies, this had to be one of the tastiest dinners I’ve had here yet. The wives first boiled the chicken and potatoes until they were almost cooked. Then the leftover water was used to cook the rice. Meanwhile, their fry onions, eggplant and cauliflower in oil, and the chicken is added to brown the skin. Once the rice is ready, all the ingredients are assembled together in a HUGE pot upside down (chicken first, then veggies, then potoatoes, then rice). The whole pot is then baked in the oven to meld all the flavors together, about 20 minutes. Once it’s ready, you take it out of the oven, and then flip the pot upside down onto a serving platter. That way the chicken is on top!
Jordanians tend to sit on the floor for big family meals, so we ate on the floor in the living room. The food was so delicious, very nicely spiced with lots of the chicken flavor coming through in the rice. And the combination of veggies (not one that you normally see in the states) was a good change in pace. Plus they were chunky from the pan frying, and had a ton of flavor. While we were eating dinner, we got to hear about the family’s lives, jobs and had a very lively discussion about religion (and it’s intersection with the media) and Islam. It was wonderful getting to know some local people and seeing how they live day to day. Comparing their homes to yours, and their cooking to yours, really helps you experience culture first hand. And I believe that it’s important to break down those barriers, because at the end of the day, we’re all people. We care about the same things: our families, our friends, our homes, our jobs, our happiness. And no matter what we’re told to believe about people in the Middle East or the States, once you get to know someone and their way of life, you have a truer understanding of what the Middle East is and means. At least to you.