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Go ahead, eat with your fingers—and four other things to know about dining in Jordan

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Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 04/13/15

One of the more intriguing parts of this adventure in Jordan has been discovering an array of exotic foods.
Monday night, for example, we visited a restaurant in Amman called Don Quixote, to sample authentic Jordanian cuisine—and I do mean authentic.

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This led me to come up with five important things to know about dining in the Middle East—or, at least, in Jordan.

1. People smoke. A lot. Indoors. This is now unheard-of in the United States. But it’s not uncommon to see folks enjoying a cigarette or even a hookah during a meal.

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2. One of the most important parts of the meal is bread. And it’s pretty amazing: varieties of pita, sometimes baked into a puffy, airy shell. And there’s all sorts of stuff to put on it—most famously, hummus. But seeing the endless heaping baskets of warm bread that were delivered to our table for meal after meal, I appreciated its importance to this culture, and the profound significance of bread’s connection to the Eucharist. This was a vital, integral part of The Last Supper for a reason.

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3. Soda cans are skinny.

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4. Eating with your fingers is okay. In fact, for some meals, it’s preferred. We were given an exotic lamb dish Monday night that has a kind of mythological significance attached to eating it with your hands. The serving staff brought out vast plates of lamb shanks set on an acre or two of rice. Then they slathered on yogurt. Our guide Ra’ed explained how to eat it and gave us a demonstration. See the video below.

I was sorta grossed out. I decided to just use a knife and fork. Compared to previous meals, I found the dish a little bland. Max Lindenman said, “It’s supposed to be. It’s comfort food.” I felt comforted. And stuffed. And embarrassed that I’d wimped out on using my fingers. When in Jordan, do as the Jordanians do, right?

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But that brings me to my final point:

5. Jordanians are perfectly happy to let you eat whatever you want, however you want. They’re incredibly hospitable that way. This, in fact, is a recurring theme in our trip: virtually every person we’ve met has been warm, welcoming, accommodating, helpful and unfailingly nice. They don’t mind if we butcher the language or insult their sensibilities. They’re happy to have us here. One of the guys on our trip said today he’d traveled to over 40 countries, and the people he’s met in Amman have been, without question, the friendliest and nicest people he’s met anywhere—and that includes the United States.

Tomorrow, we leave Amman. We’ll be visiting Bethany, the baptism site of Jesus, and then heading to Mt. Nebo and overnighting at Petra.

I’ll have to do some packing tonight, but will be somewhat reassured knowing that I won’t have to pack my eating utensils.

After all: in a pinch, they’re close at hand

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