Amman Street Food #1, An Introduction

Well, summer’s half over, so I decided I needed to get cracking onmy summer series on Street Food in Amman.  Especially seeing as how Ramadan starts in the middle of August.  Of course that doesn’t rule out eating street food – it just shifts it to later at night. I actually went out for some “field research” tonight.  I guess you could call it a Shawerma Crawl!  I hit 5  places and tried 6 different samples of this quintessential street food. It wasa lot of fun!  But more on that in my second installment.

Why did I choose to do this series?  Well, for starters food is a topic everyone enjoys.  And is especially important for those who find themselves traveling in foreign lands.  I hope these entries will provide some interesting bits of info on Middle Eastern/Jordanian culture and food but also serve as a bit of a resource for travelers.  One thing I have noticed here is a lack of good online info re. eating in Amman – whether street food or 5-star cuisine.  Unlike in the States it’s had to find restaurants with websites and when they do they don’t often have e-menues.  Of course that is another discussion entirely b/c we’re supposed to be talking about Street Food and when was the last time you heard of a hotdog cart with a URL?

So why Street Food?  I think it says a lot about a culture.  It’s what they eat when their on-the-go, in-a-hurry, getting from point-a to point-b.  It’s gotta be portable and convienient, but it has to be tasty enough to be worth the trouble to walk and eat.  I guess that’s how I see street food as different, or perhaps a subset of fast food.  With fast food, you expect a quick preparation and fast service.  But you’ll drive to a restaurant and sit down and eat it inside, on the premises, or drive home and eat it.  For me street food is like the Hot Dog vendor on the corner in Chicago, or the popcorn store, the ice cream shop, or the NY pizzeria that sells slices to-go.  It someplace that you can duck in and duck out of quickly to grab a snack or meal to eat on the run, or somewhere nearby while your sight-seeing or commuting.

There are no hotdog carts here, but street food is alive and well in Amman, Jordan.  The funny thing is they would never call it street food.  I’ve tried to get people to tell me what the Arab equivalent would be and I always get a blank stare.  Food of the street?  Food for the street?  Food for eating in the street?  None of it makes sense in the Arabic language or perhaps even the Arab mindset.  They don’t even have a word per se for “snack.”  The closest they come is “small meal.”

I think this is due to the fact that unlike in America where it’s perfectly acceptable to wolf down a Big Mac in the privacy of your SUV while barreling down the highway for an important meeting, here meals are in some ways sacred.  They are a a communal experience of hospitality and intimacy.  Lives are shared, alliances forged, and committments made in the context of meals.  It is one of the most important ways for people to share life together.  So even when they speak of a snack or fast food it is a small MEAL.

The communal nature of eating is evident here when men buy a sandwhich and stand around inside or within 10 feet of the shack that sold it too them.  Sharing their small meal in the company of strangers made family even if for the briefest moment because they are all noshing on goat brains rolled tightly in a pita.  Oh, with extra hot sauce, please!

Sharing is the other phenomenon that marks the communal nature of meals (even small ones) in this culture.  I can’t count the number of times a taxi driver (who is a complete stranger to me) will earnestly offer me a bite of his half-eaten falafil sandwhich!

Despite the interesting cultural spins (and lack of a satisfying, to me, moniker) street food is much a part of life here in Amman.  From Shawerma and Falafil, to brains on pita and eggs on rolls, and from bags of corn or fava beans to honey-drenched confections or ice cream cones theres a lot of vareity and interesting stuff to explore.

I’m working on my shawerma entry – look for it soon!

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6 Responses

  1. With street food, local produce stands, farmer’s markets you are enjoying food with your neighbors. When you eat at McDonalds, you are supporting a corporation – much less intimate…

  2. As you might imagine, this is fascinating to me. Germs, undercooked goat brains, dysentary, etc. Yum! Your a true adventurer B. I’m hoping for pics like David and only wish blogs had scratch and sniff.

  3. It IS an interesting phrase, isn’t it? In the USA we have not just street food, but street people, and “word on the street,” and street musicians, and street smarts. Are those also alien concepts to your new neighbors?

    And, with a bit less urban connotation, we have road warriors, road rage, road house, hit the road, and down the road.

    Lots of idioms. Must say something about our transient, always-going-somewhere culture.

  4. I’m looking forward to this too.
    I like that they don’t have a word for “street food” and, strange as it may be to me, that strangers stand around to enjoy food together.

  5. Oh man. I’m looking forward to this. Hoping there are some photos that will be a part of this series.

  6. You better have a delux at Reem for me! Um Tulip

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