If there is any occupational hazard of working as intensely with food as I do, it is having to eat all the time (somebody has got to do it)! In the land of calories in and calories out, excess consumption and limited expenditure of energy results in the epic battles of several bulges.
It is easy enough to limit my attendance to lots of foodie events and develop, cook, style and eat more balanced meals on a daily basis, but the challenge really kicks in when you embark on a culinary tour or vacation. Jordan was on my food travel bucket list for a few reasons. I was intrigued by the topography which produces some of the world’s best olive oils and succulent fresh produce, it houses one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Petra, the world’s first spa in the Dead Sea, five World Heritage sites including the Baptism Site, and a staggering number of known religious and biblical sites.
Fit foodie travels: Jordan
Here is my experience of traveling the amazingly beautiful countryside of Jordan, eating lavish proportions of superbly scrumptious local meals and ensuring an active, fit travel experience to keep the vacation pounds at bay. This my dear is When Hunger Strikes, the Fit Foodie Travel Edition- Destination, Jordan. For the Spiritual Travel Edition, click here.
What to pack:
- Stretchy pants (yoga, leggings or sweat pants) with a lot of give in the tummy area to accommodate all the extra bites that you will make over almost every meal. A good cell phone and a battery-charging booster pack so that you can snap picks of your meals and surrounding and share on Instagram and make videos for Snapchat.
- Comfortable sneakers. Make sure that they have been worked in. You never want to be stuck with new shoes on a walking trip that end up giving you blisters. Plus the more comfortable your shoes, the more you will want to walk.
- Hiking boots. These will certainly come in handy when trekking through Petra, especially if you are going at night to experience the twice weekly Petra and Night show.
- Take a big suitcase and leave lots of space so that you will have ample storage and weight allowance for all the amazing, local pottery and crafts, olive oil, zataar and dead sea salts you will want to bring back.
- An activity tracker like a Polar or Garmin Watch to track your activities and calories burned. Aim for at least 15,000 steps per day.
Where to visit:
- Petra– World Heritage Site
- Wadi Rum – Breath-taking desert landscapes and rock formations
- Dead Sea– oxygen rich lowest point on earth and nature’s first spa
- Salt– beautiful Sicilian like architecture in a mountainside city
- Mount Nebo – vews of Dead Sea, Jericho, Jerusalem on a clear day
What to eat:
- Local fare for breakfast lunch and dinner. This is not the place to order the American or British breakfast or you will be disappointed.
- Jordanian Mezze. Not to be confused with the popular Lebanese mezze available in the UAE. Due to the quality of the local olive oil and other locally produced ingredients and the subtle differences in seasonings, this is a fresh taste of mezze.
- These are trays baked in wood burning oven and served straight to table. These can be with chicken potato & herbs, kofta, minced meat with sesame, tomato or yoghurt sauce..
- Jordanian Mandi. This dish of chicken and rice is absolutely one of my favourites.
- Chicken Freekeh. Freekeh is the oldest grain in the world and definitely a very healthy, wholegrain. The ones available in Jordan are of the best quality.
- Maqlouba. This is a dish that Jordanians have as a family meal on a Friday and usually takes the women all morning to prepare with several elaborate steps. It is a combination of Egyptian and short grain rice cooked in lots of spices and served with the pot inverted on the table with the layers of fried eggplant and cauliflower on top and dressed with toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley.
- Zarb. This is the very dramatic traditional Bedouin way of slowly cooking meat and vegetables in the coals under the sand. Of course the food is protected in a sealed cooking vessel and covered with aluminium foil to prevent any sand from penetrating.
- Mansaf. This was always and will always be my favourite Jordanian dish. It is local Jordanian lamb cooked in rehydrated dried yogurt, called Jameet and served over a lovely turmeric rice and topped with toasted almonds. The soupy gravy that the meat is cooked in is ladled generously over the rice and it is traditionally eaten with the right hand. After Mansaf, you will need a nice long nap because you will undoubtedly eat too much but it is very much worth it.
Where to eat:
- Haret Jdoudna , Madaba
This restaurant is operated by the family that owns the home built in 1905 by the then mayor of Madaba. Serving a delectable array of local, seasonal home-styled family dishes, it is definitely a gem of a culinary treat. Order their hot and cold mezzes as well as Sawani and Shish Tawook, Lamb Cutlets and Mixed Grill
- Sun City Camp, Wadi Rum
This is the place to eat Zarb. Just be sure to book this way in advance because it takes time to prepare. You would be best off traveling with a large group (10 or more) to enjoy the traditional dish in the traditionadesert settings of the camp. In fact, you can even stay overnight as they have modern camping facilities with tents containing showers.
Luigi, Movenpick Dead Sea
If you get a bit overwhelmed with Arabic food, I would suggest you break things up one evening and have dinner in this Italian restaurant. The wood fire pizza is really good in this restaurant. I have never before in my life wanted seconds of grilled vegetables but those served in this restaurant were simply spectacular.You can also make special reservations for a set menu of Jordanian specialties like Mansaf and Chicken Freekeh for a group. Be sure to make such arrangements while booking.
Where to stay:
Movenpick Petra and Movenpick Dead Sea. They are able to help you to create a customized vacation to suit your needs and it is seamless to transfer between locations. For Jordanian culinary experience like mine, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Just be sure to mention the #DineTravelMovenpick package you saw on Chef and Steward. I would strongly suggest you start your vacation in Petra. This is where I had the sensational Jordanian Mandi and the Maqlouba. It’s also a great place to stay as it is right across the street from the historic Petra World Heritage Site. You can also arrange a cooking class with the chef to learn how to cook Maqlouba, as I did.
Wind down your travels at the very serene Dead Sea, the property is actually perched by the oxygen-rich Dead Sea from which you can head straight to the airport. Rates start at roughly AED500 per night.
For the ultimate cost effective budget alternative, you can stay in the Saltus Hotel in the ancient mountainside city of Salt, which will provide you perfect Sicilian like backdrops to go for long walks and explore daily. Since this is a very modest training hotel, rates start as low as AED150 per night. Visit their website at www.saltushotel.com
Adventure Trail Option
If you have lots of time (like up to 40 days) and are super adventurous and active, you can actually forego a hotel stay or simply leave it for the final few days and tour Jordan completely by food and trek through from hills in the north to the Red Sea in the south. Home stays and camping make this a very rugged and cultural rich experience. You can book tours via http://www.jordantrail.org or email them at email@example.com and their next trail thru-hike is scheduled for October 2016.
How to get there:
You can get flights from Dubai to Amman on Royal Jordanian, Air Arabia and Emirates starting from just over AED1,000 return economy.
Remember to follow my travels on my Instagram.
Originally published in Kari’s culinary column “When Hunger Strikes” in the wknd magazine on April 8, 2016.