Travel writing: Amman, Jordan

A plethora of whitewash-painted buildings stand chaotically arranged across the hilly scenery, providing emphasis to the green, black and red on a lone Jordanian flag. Its flutter can be heard in the wind. There is a unique serenity on Citadel Hill, known locally as ‘al-Qal’a’, just one of the seven ‘Jabals’, or hills which comprise Amman.

Absorbing the panorama, with the Temple of Hercules at the heart of the Jabal, and the Roman Amphitheatre at its foot, you’d feel as if you were dropped into a Byzantine era Mediterranean city. Only the occasional distant beep of vehicles and the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, can be heard echoing from various mosques, alerting you to the chaotic Middle-Eastern city below.

‘You want to go there?’ asks Jamal, a taxi driver, offering every snippet of Amman related knowledge he has as he ushers me into the vehicle, in a typically helpful Jordanian style. ‘Inshallah’ he exclaims as the taxi sets off. With each turn down the winding hill, the mosques’ call becomes less faint, a damp heated scent begins to fill the air and the clamour of Arabic voices can be heard.

Stepping off-onto the street side, the sharp reds and whites of chequered headdresses, or Keffiyeh, swaying in shop windows, the Arabic music blaring from radios and the incessant cluck of chickens engulf you. A van arrives a few metres ahead, and rapidly three men begin to efficiently offload animal carcasses into a butchery.

Turning into a narrow alleyway, sheltered from the commotion, behind the famous Al Husseini mosque-an array of spicy scents and distinctive hues charge at you. King Talal Street is home to Amman’s fruit and vegetable market.

The hummer of haggling does little to detract from the vibrant contrasting stalls. Heat from the mid-day sun gently warms the aubergines, chillies and olives, causing an aroma to infuse into the air. It blends effortlessly, as if somebody has freshly prepared a Tabouleh, Babba ghanoush and olive salad platter under your nose.

Wading further through the souk, passing the bustling crowds, the scent of Za’atar, a Jordanian spice mixture, begins to fan from every orifice. The thyme, oregano and sumac neatly blend into the ambiance. A veiled woman mixes spices in a steel pot of potatoes, pine nuts and rice, and a bearded man adds some ground meat-causing the pot to sizzle.

‘Jaw’aan’ translating to hungry, the man questions catching my gaze. Perching on his stoop in the alleyway, his wife serves me the Kofta b’tahini. Water droplets from drying clothes on the balcony above splatters on the pavement beside me. With the first bite, the soft textured meat gives way to the crumble of potatoes and nuts, each crunch unleashing the army of spices. The man’s generosity continues as he offers me a warm thyme sugar-infused tea to wash it down.

Contrasting textures, vibrant flavouring and sharp tastes are not just characteristics of Jordanian cuisine. They are also symbolic for the cauldron of cultural influence, religious diversity and political factions which brings identity to the Middle-East as a whole.

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