The Petra Kitchen

The Petra Kitchen Dinner

So many people come to Jordan and rave about the food – yes, Jordanian cuisine is a lot like others typical of the area – but Jordan does have its own traditional culture. And culture always involves food. Between its Bedouin roots and its productive agriculture, modern Jordanian cooking allies very fresh meats (our dinner’s lamb was probably grazing the day we enjoyed it) with the locally grown vegetables Jordan is famous for throughout the region, and the complex flavors of herbs and spices we all think of instantly as “Middle Eastern.” “The Petra Kitchen” is the brainchild of the fine folks at Petra Moon Tourism Services who arrange for our guests’ complete experience in Jordan. It’s located on Wadi Mousa’s main street, just down the road from the entrance to the Petra site.

Downstairs is the Kitchen facility, a huge room with every conceivable cooking contrivance on its back wall with prep tables and dining tables towards the front. Clearly the room could accommodate at least a dozen or more students/diners, but on our night, I was the only “guest” cooker and our friends from Petra Moon played roles of assistant chefs and giggling observers. Upstairs from Petra Kitchen is another joint enterprise, the “Made in Jordan” boutique which has assembled a wonderful display of the very best of Jordanian quality craftsmanship at extremely reasonable prices. Eating AND shopping under one roof…my kind of place!

But enough of the Food Network-style background. I was there to cook…and Phil was there to capture my efforts photographically and we were ALL there to eat. I had requested for this my first foray into Jordanian cooking that we do “Mansaf” which is the national dish. I’d enjoyed mansaf before and remembered the succulent meat stewing with rice and yogurt and all sorts of other goodies. Mansaf was our main course, but was one of six dishes on the menu.

Good food shared with new friends.So, donning the official apron, we got to work. Chef Hussein, ran a tight kitchen…and run was the operative word. He scurried from pan to pot and from spoon to knife…setting up little projects for me (where no matter how awfully I performed I couldn’t do damage to the final product). I chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and peppers, I stirred soup, I squeezed at least 3 dozen fresh lemons (that’s a gross exaggeration but that’s how I remember it), I mashed eggplant and minced garlic. I traveled from station to station contributing what I thought was a fairly decent effort (after all, I’ve been cooking a LOT of years) but CLEARLY, not one single chore was executed to the exacting standards of the Chef! Following in my footsteps he re-minced garlic, re-chopped veg, re-squished the roasted eggplant until it was almost liquid in form…but I think there’s a slim chance that I might have mastered soup stirring to his satisfaction! All the while (besides correcting my mistakes!) he was busy stewing the lamb in the HUGE mansaf pot, directing the efforts of the other eager (and hungry) assistants (who’d done this duty before and had an idea of Chef’s concept of perfection) and muttering under his breath a stream of vocalizations which could have been either recipe recitations or his much considered opinion of “these women who think they know how to cook”! And every time any one of us would catch the eye of another, of course a torrent of laughs would gush forth…which probably didn’t contribute much to food preparation excellence, but certainly helped work up even a greater appetite!!

The fragrances of everything were getting to the point of intoxication and finally it was time to eat. Chef Hussein allowed me to “plate” one serving of the eggplant dish and when I made a smiley face in ground red pepper on its pristine surface he didn’t try and disguise his groans. No matter, fun is where you find it. However, of course everyone compared my ridiculous smiley face to Chef’s beautifully decorated dip garnished with radish roses…it was obvious who was taking meal preparation seriously. And who was just in it for the laughs!

We sat down to eat and 2 hours later I think we were still eating. On the menu was:

  • EATING THE FEAST!! Green Wheat Soup (which tasted a little like tabouli with parsley and cardamom seasoning)
  • Cucumber and Tomato Salad (with mint and ALL THOSE LEMONS I squeezed lovingly…laboriously!!)
  • The Eggplant Dip, both Chef’s impeccably presented version and my ridiculous smiley face
  • Arabic Salad, a more finely chopped version with cucumbers and tomatoes
  • “Galaya Bandura” which is phenomenal…sautéed tomatoes with garlic and pine nuts…YUM
  • Fava Beans, cooked and served in oil and garlic…fantastic with Jordanian bread for dipping
  • AND THE MAIN EVENT: MANSAF. Mansaf is stewed lamb in yogurt, seasoned by slow cooking with its flavors enhanced by almonds and pine nuts. Rice is cooked in with the meat to absorb every last molecule of flavor and it’s served over delicious, hot, wonderful Jordanian “Sherak” break. In a word, heaven.

Are you hungry yet???

Petra Kitchen meals always include a soup, hot and cold “mezza” (appetizers), salads and the main course. Besides the practical experience, you get complete recipes (but of course at home you’ll have to muddle through on your own so pay attention to Chef Hussein’s cooking techniques). The Petra Kitchen experience can be part of a 5-day course where you do the shopping at local markets and learn much more than what’s possible in one night

But in one night you can have an amazingly Good Time…with a wonderful meal to show for it!

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