The Jordanian Mansaf

Ask just about any Jordanian what food you have to try when you visit Jordan, and you’re pretty likely to hear mansaf as the top answer.

Mansaf is simply a dish made of bone in lamb chunks (they have to be big as they will cook for a long time), slowly cooked in a goat yogurt sauce made from Jameed, served on a bed of rice, and topped with toasted pine-nuts and almonds.

Jameed is Bedouin style dried and hardened laban, which is strained goat yoghurt, dried into hard balls. On top of Bedouin tents, you’ll often see balls of jameed dehydrating and hardening in the hot sun.

Preparation: The lamb is cooked in a broth made with a fermented then dried yogurt-like product called jameed, and served on a large platter with a layer of flatbread (markookor shrak) topped with rice and then meat, garnished with almonds and pine nuts, parsley and then sauce poured over all.

Cultural role: Mansaf is served on special occasions such as weddings and births, or to honor a guest, and of course on main holidays . It is traditionally eaten collectively from a large platter in the Bedouin style, standing around the platter with the left hand behind the back and using the right hand instead of utensils.

Jordan's national dish

The labor-intensive dish is eaten and often prepared communally, providing a time and space to gather with family and friends. It’s also been known to resolve conflicts. According to Bedouin tradition, when families or tribes fight, the head of one tribe will visit the other to talk it through. The host will sacrifice a lamb and cook Mansaf out of respect for the visitor, and they eat the meal together to end the argument.

Mansaf has three basic ingredients; rice, lamb meat and goat milk.

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Bedouins have been making a form of Mansaf for generations, but the dish didn’t always resemble the modern version people eat today. At first, Mansaf was a mix of wheat, meat, and clarified butter. The next iteration involved spreading boiled wheat on a smooth surface, and leaving it in the sun to dry before coarsely grinding it into Bulgur, which was then cooked the way rice is cooked today.

Around 1945, bulgur was swapped for rice, partly because of new, wider trade routes. Almonds were added in the 1960s, around the same time Jameed replaced the clarified butter. Soon after, people began cooking the meat in the jameed to intensify the flavor, resulting in the Mansaf Jordanians eat today.

Mansaf is associated with a traditional Jordanian culture, based on an agro-pastoral lifestyle in which meat and yogurt are readily available.

Mansaf is served on special occasions such as weddings, births and graduations, or to honor a guest, and on major holidays such as Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha, Christmas, Easter and Jordan’s Independence Day.
It is traditionally eaten collectively from a large platter in the Bedouin and rural style, standing around the platter with the left hand behind the back and using the right hand instead of utensils. Mansaf plays an active role in settling tribal disputes in Jordan in what is known as an Atwa (truce) and a Ja’ha (peacemaking process). It is thought to signal the end of a conflict, when the heads of conflicting tribes visit each other, and the host sacrifices a sheep or a goat for a shared Mansaf, taken to be a sign of reconciliation.

As you dig in with your hands, forming the rice into the perfect ball, remember that not only are you feasting on rice and tender meat, but you’re also consuming history, culture, and generations of tradition in one bite.

Since Mansaf was originally popular among Bedouins, much of the traditions that they used with the dish still exist today.
The tray containing Mansaf is placed on a table where people gather around it while standing. When it comes to Mansaf, etiquette is important that:

1- Before eating, you say “bisma’ Allah” (which directly translates to “In the name of God”).
2- Stand horizontally, This way you make more space for other guests to fit around the table.

3- Mansaf should be eaten with the use of a person’s right hand only, while the left is behind the person’s back. The hand is used to create balls of rice, and then the ball is placed in the mouth through the use of three fingers. Using your hand, create a ball of rice and meat and eat it in one bite. It’s easiest to grab a small handful, squeeze, then gently roll it around in your hand to shape it.

4-Because you’ll be dipping your fingers into the tray again, you’re not supposed to let them touch your mouth. On this same note, you should not reach across the platter for a more appealing bite.

5- It is frowned upon to blow on the ball of rice, no matter how hot.

6- Mark your territory, and always hint to the person on your left and right how much you will be eating. Make a triangle so no one eats from your side!

7- Make sure to eat as much as you possibly can because it is considered rude in Jordanian culture to not finish your food when you are a guest. Enjoy the Mansaf,  BUT Stop when you’re full, If you don’t stop when you’re full you can suffer many side effects that include: sleepiness, bloating, trouser popping and forgetting names ..

8- Don’t touch the Head of lamb until the host allows to. Otherwise, it’s considered as a humiliation to the host, and you are not satisfied enough of the meat served. The host ( or the elder standing next to you – in case of celebration occasion) should tear off lamb tongue as a signal of allowance.

Many of these traditions are still used; however, it can also be eaten with spoons and plates.

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