I’m good at making friends. I always have been. I remember in elementary school, when I’d start a new year, I’d survey the classroom and decide which girls I wanted to be my friend. Then, we’d be friends. I think it’s probably because I’m a little annoying and just shove my way into people’s lives. But, it’s kinda charming, right?
So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I made some friends the first time I went to Jordan. Here’s mostly how I made them: Hi! Do you speak English? The golden question. If they say, yeah, a little bit, you’re in! It’s that easy.
I met Hana, Danny, and Ziad the first time I was there. So, they were my base contacts during my visit. They made sure I was taken care of, led me around, introduced me to new people, and made fun of me in Arabic. You know, the usual stuff. So, Danny’s house was one of the first places we went when I arrived.
Jordanian women are a force to be reckoned with. They will feed you until you’re full then feed you some more. You don’t enter their house without being offered something to eat and drink. And Danny’s mom followed the standard.
After the greeting hugs and kisses, she brought me one of my new favorite things. It’s called hamleh. They’re toasted chickpeas that you shell and eat. They reminded me of the Jordanian version of popcorn. Not really because they’re anything like popcorn. But, that’s just what I thought of.
They’re so good! And tea. Because I love tea. And Danny’s little brother, Feras, just happened to have made a homemade pizza, so I had some of that as well. It’s always a smorgasbord with any Jordanian family.
And at the end of our little gathering, they told me they’d teach me something I’ve wanted to learn: to eat mansaf with my hands.
Mansaf is the dish that defines Jordan. It’s a chicken and rice dish and I’ve had it a few times in Jordan, but never with my hands.
Now, there are certain preparations you must make when you eat like this. It feels a little like going into battle.
To start, you have to roll your sleeves up. And not just a little bit. Your sleeves must be securely tucked above your elbow. You must take all jewelry off. No rings, no bracelets. You have to stand solidly above the dish, letting everyone know you mean business. And, for me, I had to pull my hair back, to make sure it wouldn’t get in my way.
Once you have fully prepared yourself to partake, the real work begins.
First, you make a little bit of a well in the rice nearest you and some hot broth gets poured on it.
I asked Feras what the liquid was made of because 1) he speaks really good English and 2) he cooks, so he knows all the recipes. It’s some combination of buttermilk and yogurt, obviously with spices and other things in the mix.
Second, you carefully dig your hand in, making sure it’s cooled enough to not burn you. Now, as I said before, this is not a free for all. There’s a method to the madness, perfected over many years, I’m sure.
You start by getting the amount of rice you feel you can fit into your mouth at one time in your hand. (Brittney tip: get a smaller amount than you think you’ll need, I know from experience that my mouth is not as big as I sometimes judge it to be) And you start balling it up. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because you’ve got rice and chicken covered in the broth and it’s hard to get it all compacted together.
Of course, everyone else made it look simple. Once you’ve sufficiently made a ball, you rest it on your fingers and use your thumb to shove it off your hand and into your mouth.
I’m thinking I’m gonna start skipping out on the forks and spoons from now on. Saves on doing dishes plus it’s way more fun!