Bedouin mealtime customs and etiquette

having dinner with Bedouin - mealtime customs and etiquette

While traveling in Jordan, many people will welcome. ‘Welcome to Jordan’ and ‘Ahlan wa sahlan’ are one-liners that will sound familiar very soon. We are pretty sure you will get quite a few invitations for tea too. If you accept the invitation, you most likely end up at someone’s place to have at least three cups. And if it is about time to eat, your host will insist on you joining for a meal. Your host will give you a unique inside in his life. And this will surely be an enjoyable experience you will not forget. In this blog, we give you more information about our mealtime customs and etiquette. This way, you are well prepared to join us for a meal. And you can avoid uncomfortable situations that can occur when, for example, you eat with your left hand.

Separate eating

With us, it is custom to eat using one big plate — the men in one place with their plate, the women in another area with theirs. The smaller children mostly eat with the women. Once older, the boys will join the men. When no guests are present, we often eat together with our whole family using only one plate. When you join Bedouin for a meal, you will eat along with the men in the guest place. The (Western) female guests also eat with the men.

Preparations before eating

Before we sit down on the floor to enjoy our meal, we wash our hands. We offer our guests water or show them the tap. Once the food is served, we sit down around the big plate. Either with crossed legs or squatted on one knee. Before we start eating, we say ‘Bismillah al Rahman al Raheem’. Which means ‘In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful’.

How to eat ‘Bedouin style’

There are two main rules for eating: only use your right hand and only eat from your ‘piece of the pie’. The amount of food on the plate might worry you. It is too much to eat it all. Well, the dish is not supposed to be finished. Usually, we eat a modest amount of food provided on the plate. An empty plate would make your host look bad. That is something you want to avoid at all costs. Your host might put an excellent piece of meat on your part of the plate. He or she does this to make you feel more welcome. We believe that eating with your hand improves the taste of the food. At the same time, we can make sure not to burn our mouths. Take some of the food, knead it into a little ball, and slide it into your mouth with the use of one finger. Have you lost some rice on the way to your mouth? No worries, that is why there is cloth is under the plate. Easy to clean after dinner. It is not okay to lick your fingers and then continue eating. Does eating with your hand sounds complicated? Please use the spoon provided (or ask for one). Your host does not care about how you eat, as long as you enjoy your meal.

After the meal

Make sure that you are not the first one to be finished eating. Let others finish first. Once you had enough food, say ‘Al Hamdulillah’. It means ‘All praise and thanks be to God’. Then get up and leave to wash your hands. As you already noticed, we don’t consider it rude to leave while others are still eating. After completing the washing, come back and sit down to relax. Soon tea will be served. Once you had enough tea, put your hand over the top of the glass when your host offers you more tea. During a special occasion, the tea often is replaced by freshly prepared Bedouin coffee.
Lastly, it is essential to show your respect and gratitude to your host before you leave.

While on tour with us

When you join us in Wadi Rum, we serve you Bedouin food. But, to make things easy for you, we almost always serve the food buffet style. And we provide plates and cutlery so that you can eat ‘western style’. If you have dietary requirements, you can let us know when filling out the booking form. Our food fits most requirements, but if needed, we can make adjustments. Of course, within the limitation of being in the desert.

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