Matt Kauffman in Jordan

Mad about Mansaf

with 3 comments

As Melissa and I continue to work on a story we’re double bylining, I opted to sit out today’s trip to the ancient Roman city of Jarash and neighboring Ajloun. I was bummed, because I’m never one to pass up ruins, of any kind, but as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the clock is a’tickin’.

It’s not all bad though. Friday in the Muslim world is like Saturday and Sunday combined out West. It’s the first day off after a long workweek, so people cook out, socialize, go for a stroll in Jabal Amman or a qahwah (coffee) with argeela on Sultan Street and are generally stoked to be doing as they please. But Friday is also Islam’s holy day. Even jack Muslims head to the masjid for noon prayer. There is a strong sense that some of the time should be spent with family and, paramount to me, the afternoon is usually blocked off for an epic family meal.

When I returned home, stomach growling, I knew I was in for a treat. I just didn’t know we were having Mansaf.

For those that don’t know, Mansaf isn’t just a Jordanian dish, it’s the Jordanian dish. If it’s someone’s wedding, you’re having mansaf. If you just had twins, get ready for mansaf. When your little brother graduates from high school, it’s mansaf time. Independence day? Eat some mansaf. Just announce you’re becoming a vegetarian? Congrats! Now eat some goddamned mansaf!

Sound like Jordanians are overdoing it with their national dish? Well they are not, because mansaf is f%¢king delicious.

You take lamb (already you’ve got my attention), cook it with melted Jameed, a kind of goat cheese yogurt (great on it’s own) then serve it on a bed of rice, which in turn rests on top of a bottom of shrak – traditional Jordanian flat bread. Garnish with some pine nuts and parsley and a side of jameed sauce and you’re ready to eat.


The meat is juicy and tender, the rice a nice soft base while the yogurt gives it layer of tanginess. Add the nuts and parsley and there are some definite flavors doing the dance on your taste buds.

That isn’t the end of the experience either. The meal is traditionally eaten on one large plate, the whole family digging in. A lot of people eat it Bedouin-style too. That means no fork and knife, just your hand (usually I’m a left-handed eater, but I’m a natural righty when it comes to this method).

It seems a bit barbaric, but there’s a real technique to wolfing down mansaf by hand. First, you pour a bit of sauce on your portion of the king-sized plate and tear off a feather of lamb (if it has been cooked right, you won’t have to do any tearing at all. It’ll fall right off). Lamb still in hand, scoop up some of the sauce-soaked rice, ball it all up, move towards your fingertips and put it right in the ol’ kisser.

It all sounds so easy right? Believe me, it’s not.

Today wasn’t my first time eating mansaf-by-mitt, so thought I’d impress Muhammad, Ruwada (my host mother) and Amir (my 17-year-old host-bro) having already gotten a handle on the skill. Instead, I was the lunch’s comic fodder.

As Muhammad worked his magic with handful of ‘saf, lightly tossing a wad of lamb and rice into a perfectly packed cone then cleanly plopping it into his mouth, I tried to ball up piece of my own, to no avail. I got my portions, corralled them together in my palm, then gave it a light squeeze to compress everything together. Unclenching my fist, the pieces fell back to where they had been before.

I looked up to find mama Ruwada smirking at me.

After finally getting everything into some semblance of a clump, I tried to toss it into my mouth the way Muhammad had, but the student has most definitely not become the master. Sure, I got a definite majority of the mansaf (let’s say 70%) to its destination, but the rest fell on my face, the table, my pants and the floor.

Gales of laughter.

“Mish mushkila (no problem)” said Ruwada, who could no longer conceal her amusement.

I didn’t care though. It was too freakin’ delicious to be embarassed.


Written by kauffmant

01/06/2012 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. […] work, food; I came home —also like Matt — to a lunch of mansaf. I have previously blogged about the national Jordanian dish, so […]

  2. […] much later than night, I devoured the leftover mansaf. He wrote quite extensively about his mansaf experience, and after I scrapped up the leftovers, I understood why. Even though this is my second consecutive […]

  3. You got that right; mansaf is incredible. There’s nothing like it… I’m actually getting a craving for it right now … *door slam*

    Jon Killpack

    05/09/2012 at 8:08 am

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