An Introduction to Eating in Amman
Amman’s food scene is witnessing an evolution. Just about every neighbourhood in the city has a local delicacy to offer and somewhere new to visit. The food culture has become very diverse since the country opened its doors to people from different backgrounds. It has taken in the largest population of Palestinian refugees since the Nakba, not to mention many Syrians and some Lebanese have also found refuge in the city. All of these backgrounds have contributed to what Amman’s food culture is today and these elaborate cuisines have made the dining scene in Amman a lot more dynamic. You can now enjoy flavours beyond what is known as traditional Jordanian. Restaurants are spreading to every part of the city and options vary from healthy cafes and specialised sweets shops to barbecue restaurants and everything in between. Some have stayed authentic to traditional recipes while others added their own spin on the classics.
A Farm Visit and a Amman Institution
Nothing compares to Jordanian sumac, zaatar and raw green almonds, which are in season in spring. I’ve seen a weird breed of zaatar sold at Trader Joe’s [American grocery chain] and it made me want to share with the world what zaatar should really taste like. Visiting Jordan will allow you to experience this and more. When friends are visiting me in Jordan, our first stop would be at the Mujeb Organic Farm. I don’t have words to express how much I love this initiative. If you’re a chef, a local business or simply a curious visitor, this is where you’ll find the freshest ingredients from Jordan, handled with the utmost care. It’s also a great place to help you understand what is being grown locally. Our next stop would be at Amman institution, Fakreldin Restaurant. Grilled halloumi cheese, hummus with veal fillet and sausages with lemon are among my favourite things to order there.
Traditional Home Cooking from Syria, Lebanon and Yemen
Family-owned businesses are the places that need our support the most. We should make sure to give our money to them before giving it to big chains. These places also happen to be the best places to try the real traditions of people’s homes. Shalalat Abu Zad Restaurant specialises in Levantine street food and is where you can sample a sliver of the very diverse Syrian cuisine. It is still under-the-radar but is always busy since it accommodates large families. It’s a good vibe all around, great people work there and food is served at any time of the day. I especially love the fried chicken they do: it’s served with loads of sumac and toum (garlic sauce). Kan Zaman is a Lebanese restaurant I always go to for grilled lamb chops and hummus bil lahmeh (hummus with meat). We’ve started seeing a lot more Iraqi and Yemeni restaurants open in Amman lately which is really exciting. Bab Al Yamen, for example, does traditional Yemeni food and is popular for its mandi (slow-cooked lamb or chicken over aromatic rice).
Great Hotel Restaurants
Some Jordanian and Palestinian chefs are moving the needle with local cuisines and are proudly promoting our food heritage. I am very delighted to see big hotels add high-end versions of restaurants and bars led by such people to their portfolio. If I have something to celebrate, I like going to the St Regis Hotel. It’s a beautiful project that sets the tone for luxury, making it perfect for a special occasion. It’s a magnificent spot to dine and share special moments with loved ones. Chef Motaz Zayed has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in France and Sicily before coming to lead the kitchen at Zenith at the St. Regis. I’ve had the most delicious seabass ceviche and aged ribeye steak there. Salt Steakhouse at the Fairmont Amman is the best way to relax and enjoy succulent meat with friends. I also always eat at the Bourj Al Hamam Restaurant in the InterContinental Hotel because it never disappoints. I usually start with kibbeh nayeh (raw kibbeh), yalangi (stuffed vine leaves) and fatayer (pastry selection) and go on to ordering kofta kebabs and arayes (pressed flatbreads of meat kofta). The quality is always consistent and the food has a freshness that’s unlike any other place. I am sure that I will continue going there for years to come.
“My Favourite Category of Dining”
I’m a simple man: falafel is my favourite snack in the world. My favourite places to eat are shawarma, falafel and hummus shops. There are entire streets in Amman allocated to street food. Al-Madina Al-Monawara Street is a personal favourite. It’s a popular area that’s been given the nickname “shareh el jou’aneen” which translates from Arabic to “street of the hungry”. Roads are lined with shops that sell anything from burgers and saj (thin flatbread made on a special inverted wok) sandwiches, to freshly made knafeh (semolina or kataifi layered cheese or cream pastry) and tamriya: a sweet made from fried semolina dough that originates from the village of Tamra in the Palestinian city of Nablus. My favourite tamriya in Al-Madina Al-Monawara is at Hamza Arafat Tamriya Sweets; and my favourite knafeh is at Nafeeseh Sweets. For hummus, ful medames and falafel, I go to Abu Jbara where everything is served with freshly baked Arabic bread. Alia Restaurant is also around there and is known for its sandwiches and great shawarma. Absher Be Ezzak does very traditional Jordanian food like zarb (meat buried in the ground and slow-cooked) and mansaf, which is considered our national dish. Mansaf is lamb cooked with jameed (yoghurt that is fermented and dried) and served over rice.
More Street Food
Downtown is another area to explore shops that specialise in one or a handful of staples. AlQuds Restaurant is simply the best for Jordanian mansaf. Hashem Restaurant is my go-to for hummus and falafel. If I’m in downtown and craving kofta and arayes, I go to Shahrazad Restaurant. After all that grease, you’ll want something sweet. Habibah Sweets does everything from baklava to knafeh. Rainbow Street is another must-visit area for street food in Old Amman. Make sure to stop at AlQuds Falafel for excellent falafel and at Shawerma AlReem which has grown into a successful shawarma chain. Sufra Restaurant is another favourite on Rainbow Street. It has a beautiful ambience and offers local classics like sauteed chicken liver and ghalayat bandora (tomato and meat ragu).
Hanging Out with the Locals
Blue Fig is open all day and is a great spot to experience Amman’s nightlife and al fresco dining. I go there to catch a live gig and snack on a combo platter of wings, sambousek (samosas) cheese sticks, tuna melt and [fried] calamari. When I’m at Good Pub I really feel like I’m back home in Amman. I have known the owner since 1999. The head chef is also a good friend of mine. They both always deliver on hospitality. The atmosphere they’ve created is warm and unassuming. After a few drinks there, I grab some tacos, chips and dips from Ceviche Cocina, their ceviche bar located right above the pub.
Book Lovers, Rejoice!
I love to read and always recommend Books@Café to people who share that love. It’s a casual cafe with a real vibe to it. Lots of locals go there and it’s a great place to find books. It has two locations, one is in Jabal Amman and the other one is in Abdoun.
Namliyeh is an essential stop before leaving Amman. It’s a women-owned tea shop that specialises in artisanal products made from local ingredients which are all ethically sourced. I love shopping there. The freshness, the care and the forward-thinking approach to its ingredients makes it an absolute Amman destination. If you can make it to the Abu Nseir area of Amman – which is a bit of a trip – I also recommend visiting the best spice shop in the whole city: Attarat Mohamad Abu Zaid. I have never tasted spices as fresh in my life! These spices are as authentic as it gets to the flavours of Jordan and are the best things you can take home.
Photo credit: Isa Rose
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