Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are. Maybe.
But could you tell me what you eat so I tell you where you’re from? Not really, not in today’s world. Not when you may be having hash browns for breakfast, tandoori chicken for lunch and tortillas for dinner.
But Mansaf is a clear statement. The king of Jordanian cuisine, Mansaf is more than food – it is an assertion of identity.
In a country where waves of newcomers have settled at a rate which left the local population culturally rich, dazzled and unsure, Mansaf is certainty and pride.
It started out in the bedouin community of the Arabian desert. Slowly cooked lamb with rice, almonds and a yoghurt sauce.
Mansaf tastes best when cooked in big quantities. An expression of hospitality in harsh conditions and kindness to strangers. Immensely filling. So filling you’ll hardly be able to walk home (which in the desert wouldn’t have been advisable anyway).
I suspect that even people who are quite indifferent to its taste feel duty bound to proclaim its superiority to all else. I may secretly like burgers and pasta but I will tell you I like Mansaf so you know who I am.
As I write this, thousands of families are sitting down to have the most important meal of the week. Friday lunch, ample portions of Mansaf for all, big and small.
Thousands of hands reaching out for the fragrant, heavy mix, from the fancy villas of Western Amman to the desert tents around Wadi Rum.
I don’t expect I will be seeing a lot of walkers this evening.