ETRA, Jordan – At first, the notion of food and cooking may not seem to have much of a connection with biblical travel, but I believe a case can be made for linking the two. It started with the evening after our eventful day in Petra (see previous update for details). [Return to Menu]
God’s Word, the Bible, after all, has a lot to say about health and good eating. It even recommends, Seventh-day Adventists believe, a healthy diet: “Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you,’” as we read in Genesis 1:29 (NASB).
And while you can find fast-food places in Jordan (not in Petra, that I found, but certainly in Amman and even in Aqaba, on the Red Sea), the cuisine we’ve had has been extremely healthy and fulfilling, and, chiefly, vegetarian.
At “The Basin” restaurant, catering to tourists who get to the bottom of the Petra historic site, the buffet was predominately vegetarian, with salads and falafel freely available. Ditto on our fifth day at Wadi Rum, a national park where Bedouin, nomads, still live and work – these days the living and working involves serving tourists, however, as Jeep drivers and preparers of a wonderful buffet lunch. Again, it was almost entirely vegetarian, with lots of variety, and lots of taste.
But for me, the culinary highlight of this trip came on Wednesday night, in Petra, at a place called, appropriately enough, the Petra Kitchen. Here, you come in, put on an apron and stand at a workstation with other tourists. Under the tutelage of a local chef, you learn how to prepare various ingredients for local dishes. Tabbouleh, Green Wheat Soup, an eggplant dish called “ Mutabal,” and a tomato-and-pine nuts combo called “Galaya Bandura,” all featured in the preparations. All were, actually, vegan, and all were super-tasty. My task was to help prepare an “Arabic Salad,” which involves tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, mint and parsley, all chopped finely. Add some salt and fresh lemon juice and you’ve got a wonderful dish.
Some dishes also involved the use of locally produced olive oil, which is said to be among the world’s finest. If I heard Omar, our guide, correctly, there are now 15 million olive trees in Jordan, which means that there’s plenty of “raw material” to go around.
The point of the Petra Kitchen experience is to let people learn a bit about Jordanian and Arabic cooking. Indeed, I was at one workstation with a woman visiting from Britain along with her husband and another couple. They were there for a five-night package of cooking instruction -- recipes are different every night at the Petra Kitchen, I’m told.
Even the dessert was somewhat healthier than the huge ice cream sundaes we find in the U.S.: it was a small baked pastry with a bit of cheese inside, drizzled with honey on the outside. The portion was small enough to satisfy one’s sweet tooth without being overwhelming.
Once all the cooking is done, the workstations are assembled into long tables where communal dining commences. The food was particularly satisfying, I thought, because we not only saw the ingredients, and knew they were fresh, but we had a role in preparing the meal. It was a lot of fun, I thought!
I’m not promising that a “Jordanian Diet” will help you easily lose weight, or let you live beyond 100. But I have been impressed that our Jordanian hosts emphasize food that is fresh, flavorful and mostly plant based. (Yes, there are non-vegetarian items offered at almost every meal, but one could live quite nicely here without those.)
In my briefcase are the printed recipes from our evening at the <a href=“http://www.petrakitchen.com”>Petra Kitchen</a>. If you’re ever in this part of the world, it’s a wonderful evening of exploration and culinary enlightenment.
It’s the kind of food that, I believe, God had in mind when He told us that plants were our dietary gift.