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July 7 2022 9:42 AM ˚
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Why is local cuisine not appealing to Western Ammanis?

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Food can be an indicator of class, sophistication, and money. (Photo: Youtube)
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While scrolling through Instagram’s stories, given that most of my friends are chefs or have studied culinary arts with me, I get to see all their creativity shining through their dishes. Unfortunately, outside of Jordan. اضافة اعلان

One dish was lobster with a tahini vinaigrette. It is not a usual combination. This dish got me thinking of the number of possibilities that could be done using a single Arabic-inspired ingredient. Yet, Jordanians tend to stick to the norm and comfortability.

This epiphany got me thinking about the Jordanian cuisine, in general, and how it has yielded to a more westernized influence, not because of evolving and keeping up with the trends, but because we are losing touch with the food culture itself.

Food became an indicator of class, sophistication, and money, just like in the old days. However, what was back then considered delicacy is now ground beef placed between two pieces of bread.

Whenever we have foreign guests coming to Jordan, and we try to give them a little taste of the Jordanian culture, the first thing we do, aside from the mansaf, of course, is take them downtown, specifically to Hashem and probably later for kunafeh from Habiba.

That is the most we can do when it comes to a cultural food trip from a westernized Ammani point of view. Coming to think of it, every single governorate in Jordan, from north to south, has abundant food items that are not well known in an Ammani culture. But we are not sharing that with foreign guests because we simply do not know.

Dishes such as maqmourah, ashoruf, lazagiat, fateereh (both the sweet version and the savory one, which is an original mansaf) are the essence of our Jordanian heritage and culture, are what our ancestors lived on. So why did they suddenly vanish from the food scene in households or even restaurants?

While digging a little more into why the westernized food culture influences the late Millennials and the newer Generation Z, it all comes down to the upbringing itself. I remember sitting down for hours in front of a maqloubeh plate, crying my tears out, refusing to eat it, while my mother would not even have a change of heart or get me the chicken tenders that I would constantly nag about. Junk food was and is still considered a prize, a gift, or a bribe, if you may.

Growing up and eventually making my own decisions about what I wanted to consume, choosing fast food and western cuisine was the top pick. It felt like being free from the prison of maqloubeh (or any other dish that one disliked as a child). Having a buffet of options presented to me in a food court on a plastic tray, surrounded by hundreds of people that I did not know, I would still prefer that prison eating setup over crying for not eating a home-cooked meal with my family under one roof.

As I grew older, I realized that the newer generation in the family did not have to fight as much as we did, they had it much easier, and parents were more passive. However, we cannot deny that the food scene is not evolving, and there is a burger place around every corner, yet, we should educate our children about our food, heritage, and culture.

Let them help out in the kitchen, learn how to cook and learn where the food comes from, instead of making westernized food a taboo for them to grow up only craving what was not allowed.

Better yet, even make the westernized food items part of the weekly or monthly food experience so that they will not think of it as a prize for a job well done, but just another type of food. They will get exposed to it eventually, so they might as well do it under their parents’ watch.

On a day-to-day basis, I deal with college-level students studying culinary arts. They are required to sit down and eat as part of a class in a fine dining restaurant or a casual restaurant during their education. I usually struggle with them when it comes to eating classical food items such as a beef consommé, a classical French clear soup clarified using egg whites. The trick in the recipe is that you need to bring it only to a simmer for the protein in the egg to coagulate and take all the impurities in the stock, giving you a crystal clear soup as a result. One boil, and the whole thing is ruined. As much as I try to encourage them, they will not accept it until I explain the history behind it, the science, and the delicate steps in creating this soup.

The soup and the maqloubeh share the same dilemma, but the consommé made its way to the heart with a simple explanation and history. It could be a generation thing, so if reasoning and a story behind it help young ones value the food more, then use them.

We cannot deny that the globalization of the world is bringing us all closer together. Yet, we can include the younger generation in learning and exploring our own culture of food and refrain from creating a taboo food culture that the new generation will run to eventually.

Let them discover their roots, the stories of the food items consumed by their grandparents when they were younger, or visit the north or south home towns.

So next time you reach for those frozen chicken nuggets in the freezer to avoid a conflict at the lunch table, you probably would be saving a temporary situation, but you will be taking your children a step further away from their culture.


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