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Mansaf: our national dish with a rich history

mansaf the national dish of jordan
Mansaf is the heart of our cuisine. Our national dish has a rich history and tastes delicious. The recipe originates from the Bedouin, who lived in the Arabian desert. They were always on the move in search of water and shelter to protect themselves from the harsh weather. While moving around, they spread their traditions and food to new areas. Their primary food was known as Thereed. This food was inspired and limited to the desert possibilities. The arrival of agricultural activities and influences of peasants introduced new products to the Bedouins food tradition. Think of products like rice, yogurt, and nuts. Overtime Thereed evolved to what we now know as Mansaf.

The ancient history of Mansaf

Mansaf was already mentioned in the Bible; Genesis 18: 6-8. Abraham, in Quran known as Ibrahim, and his wife Sarah prepare food that was similar to Thereed:
6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

Mansaf's place in the Jordanian culture

We serve Mansaf on special occasions such as weddings, births, big family gatherings, main holidays, and to honor guests. Today’s traditions also originate from Bedouin traditions. Serving Mansaf is usually done by the host of the special occasion. The host offers this dish to the guests as a symbol of hospitality, appreciation, and respect for them. The used meat is an essential value indicator. Goat meat is for the most respected and valued guests, followed by lamb meat and chicken. The animal’s head will be served on the platter, which is shared with the most important guests. It is a symbol of respect and hospitality. The host will keep pouring sauce on the rice to let the guests enjoy a moistured bite. The constant attention for the guests, is a reflection of excellent hospitality, celebrating and valuing the guest’s presence. It is an honor to be invited to such a special occasion. In case you are a vegetarian, remember that it is polite to eat a small piece of meat.

Preparing and eating Mansaf

Traditionally the three main local ingredients used to prepare Mansaf are wheat, goat milk, and lamb meat. These days imported rice often is the fourth ingredient. Making Mansaf is a social gathering. From preparing to eating, every family member has his or her task. The men slaughter the lamb. And the women make the flatbread called Shark. The women are also in charge of the rehydration of the Jameed to a broth. Jameed is a tasty fermented and then dried yogurt-like product. We cook the lamb parts for several hours in the Jameed broth.

We serve Mansaf on a large platter. First, the women put a layer of flatbread on the plate. Then we put the rice and meat on the bread. And finally, part of the sauce is poured over the whole platter. The dish can be garnished with peanuts, almonds, and parsley if available.

Traditionally Mansaf is eaten together. The men and women have their own platter. We cozy sit around them and use our right hand to eat. We believe that using your hand for eating gives the food a far better taste than when we use cutlery.

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