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  • April 2009
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Eating Internal Organs After Midnight

Since arriving here in Jordan I’ve noticed a fondness for making sandwiches out of things the last time I took a knife too was in High School Biology class.

A couple of weeks ago I was out driving after midnight.  Unusual on both accounts.  But, for some reason we had a rental for a couple of days (I can’t seem to remember why – too many vocab words jamming my short term memory) and I was out late at a tea shop with a couple of my friends.  Late night tea and hookah drinking always makes me hungry.  Yeah I meant to say hookah drinking – oddly enough the phrase for smoking here is “drinking tobacco.”  So, I was hungry after a night of drinking – but that means something way different back home than it does here!

I was driving through the old city just seeing what was open at this time of night.  Of course, there was Hashem’s – the tried and true falafil shop of falafil shops.  But I wasn’t in the mood.  Then I saw this little sandwich shop that I’d always meant to check out but never had.  It was still open and showed no signs of closing anytime soon.  It was the kind of place where you give your order to a guy out front in a little booth and he takes your money and gives you a little slip of paper to take to the appropriate station inside for your sandwich.  By sight I’ve always seen that they have shawerma, falafil and some other more (ahem) adventurous fare, but the menu is 100% in Arabic and it’s always so crowded during the day.  I never feel like embarrassing myself.   But after midnight, even though there were bright lights, loud music, and customers there seemed to be more workers than customers and I thought maybe I could ask a few questions without embarrassing myself or holding up the line too much.

I parked the car on the street next to some white service (pronounced serveese) taxis and approached the booth.  Sitting inside was a young man sporting the long beard, grey robe and white hat that seems to typify more conservative Islamic types around here.  We smiled and greeted each other in Arabic.  I asked forgiveness for my poor Arabic and asked what kind of sandwiches were available.  He laughed and told me to look around inside and then come place my order.

I walked past the soda cooler, juice dispensers, shawerma and falafil stations.  Neither of them interested me that night.  I found myself in the  back corner at the mystery meat counter.  Like a moth drawn to a flame. I eyed a guy deftly chopping and rolling innards into oddly appetizing looking sandwiches.  My stomach growled.  I must have been really hungry.

But first I wanted to know what I was dealing with.  There was a rather large black falafil-ly looking thing.  The guy only spoke arabic and tried to explain to me what it was.  I didn’t understand, so we moved down the line to sheep brains, tongue, and then liver – boh chicken liver and sheep liver.  Next to them was apparently a pile of sheep-cheek meat.  I am not making this up.   Then some other thing which try as he might the patient sandwich maker couldn’t explain to me.  Perhaps it was just as well.  There the internal organs sat in food service containers as if they were about to be put out on the Salad Bar at Pizza Hut.  And well stocked – it seemed as if they were expecting a run on brains at 1 AM!

In the end I opted for the liver sandwich.  Sheep liver.  I decided to save chicken liver for another day.    He spooned a generous portion of liver into a pita, then placed it in a sandwich press for a minute or too.  Next came tomatoes and a spritz of lemon juice and a generous shake of salt.  He rolled it up in some paper and – voila- Taco Bell Jordan style!  Believe it or not it was pretty tasty!

The norm seemed to be standing around on the curb and noshing on organ filled pitas, so I tucked in out front.  Theyoung guy with long beard in the booth struck up a conversation with me, asking where I was from.  When he found out he automatically assumed I was not a Muslim.  Or perhaps it was because I did not invoke the name of Allah before devouring my liver and tomato on a pita.  You can be sure I prayed over it silently!  We had chatted briefly on why I was not a Muslim when an off-duty service driver walked up and joined the conversation.

He had a long white beard, a white Islamic hat to match, and  ajovial smile.  We exchanged greetings and he began to outline the fact that both religions wanted peace.  We started in Arabic, but he quickly switched to his English, which was far better than my Arabic.  He went on to say that the whole world was sick of war and that all people wanted peace now.  It was only governments that still wanted war.  He went on to tell me that he had read over 5000 books, including Tolstoy, Doestoevsky, and Sartre.  I believed him. No offense intended, but my experience has been that most service taxi drivers probably wouldn’t even recognize those names.  We swapped a few thoughts on politics and literature and enjoyed the crisp night air and our sandwiches made of internal organs.

In the end he extolled the virtues of having an Islamic wife and suggested I send mine to a class to learn how to become one as she would then undoubtedly make me very happy. Marital  life had not been part of our discussion, but I took it in stride and smiled.

“But this is  only my advice, please do as you like,” he said, the corners of his eyes crinkling good-naturedly.

With that we exchanged names, shook hands, invoked the peace of God upon each other, cordially hoping that God would bring us together again sometime in the future, and turning, we went our separate way.  Ahhhhhh . . . . Amman after midnight!


12 Responses

  1. Hmmm . . . cheeks . . . I don’t think they use their word for the other pair of cheeks – but I’ll have to find out. That’ll probably be worth a laugh or two (with the correct crowd).

    Ah c’mon Marshall – falafil isn’t thaaaat bad. Unless you ask Noah, he definitely thinks it is falawful!

    No after meal sickness as a matter of fact I have now sampled the chicken liver and tongue. The liver was good (with sweet peppers, onions and little bit ofhot pepper). As for tongue – let’s just say the old saying of not tasting something that can taste you back holds. Actually it was more of a texture thing than taste. Go figure. Haven’t been back since writing the post, but sheep cheeks are definitely on the menu for next time!

  2. How did you feel the morning after your midnight meal adventure? If you felt ok then you’re probably ready for some of that shop’s more adventurous fare – and it might be time to shift your Arabic vocab lessons to animal anatomy for your next outing 😉

  3. Glad you found something better than falawful, and it’s clear Nicodemus isn’t the only one who seeks good late-night conversation. Thanks for the good story.

  4. Which “cheeks” are we talking about here? Remind me to bypass this delicacy when we visit!

  5. Yes, probably why it is more palatable to me, as well.

  6. Sheep cheeks it is then! (Which technically isn’t an internal organ, so not nearly as gross).

  7. I love this whole story and the comments. Thanks for writing it.
    BTW – Cheek meat is extraordinarily tender. This winter, while in Washington, DC, we went to Michel Richard’s restaurant, Central. (That’s “cen-TRAHL”, if you’re French, or snooty.) Anyway, I ordered beef cheeks and they were absolutely fantastic. That experience was worlds away from yours, but I would have to order the sheep cheeks at that sandwich shop. And I recommend you do the same and report back. 🙂
    Love to you all.

  8. Thanks for reading everyone – Ahlan wasahlan fi’il Urdun ayy waqt (You’re welcome in Jordan anytime!) If you’re eating brains I’ll treat!

    Stan – what I would give for a little pig knuckle – smoked preferably. Or perhaps some potted meat product =)

    Mmmm Haggis – I grossed V. out by reading her parts of the Wikipedia article on it. Did you know there is a World Record – for Haggis Hurling. Meaning throwing it like a shot-putt not throwing it up.

    Larry – I’m usually pretty amazed by everything we’re experiencing too – writing about it helps me process. I’m more amazed that anyone else finds it interesting!

    Oh – BTW V. wasn’t very impressed with going to Muslim wife school to make me happy. The response might have been along the lines of “you can go to a class to make me happy…” Or something like that, but don’t quote me on it =)


  9. yeah, I think I could eat whatever was put in front of me as long as I didn’t know. 🙂

    But is it weird that I am constantly amazed by your continually foreign exchanges? I mean, I guess that has to be par for the course in a (duh) foreign land, but yeah… for some reason I’m shocked (in a good way) and surprised by nearly everything you write, nearly every time. I really appreciate you taking the time to write this for the sorely under-traveled, like myself.

    (Hey, I’ve been to Mexico!)

    Wishing you and your family the best and for a good upcoming week!

  10. Gross. I’m glad that your experience at least paid off with getting to have a good conversation.

    when we went to Scotland last month, Ethan ordered haggis. Of course, we didn’t find out what the mystery meat was until we got home and Googled it. I guess it’s not all that different.

  11. What a fantastic post. It reminds me of our late night light pocket visits to Wegman’s marginal meat products Isle in Geneseo. I have fond recollections of cooking a meal that revolved around pig knuckle…obviously not an option in your sandwich shop.

    But we really have to know, “What did Victoria say about being sent to Muslim wife school?”

  12. Great, great story. I’d have happily eaten anything from the “mystery meat” corner for the chance to tag along.

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