It’s Friday in Jordan. Family get together day. Mansaf day. The first time I went to Jordan, my uncle took me to Jabri. “This is the only decent restaurant in town,” he said. “Order the mansaf.” I did and found myself faced with an almost intimidating amount of rice generously topped with lamb shanks simmered in a salty, pungent dried yogurt whey sauce that made me want me to gag. This was the 80’s and I remember thinking that “gag me with a spoon” could be taken literally. After a few more spoonfuls it became tolerable. That was years ago. Today, I still haven’t learned to crave mansaf, as so many people here in Jordan do, but I love Jabri, in part because the other food it serves—Levant food from its Syrian origins– is really good and in part because one of the few things always recognizable in Amman’s ever changing landscape is the bright lemon yellow sign of Jabri & Sons.
Jordan’s capital, is no longer the quiet, almost provincial city it was when I first visited some 20 years ago, let alone in 1935, when Subhi Jabri took over his Syrian-born father’s restaurant and began turning mansaf, a traditional Bedouin creation, into Jordan’s national dish. In fact, Jabri & Sons has been the exclusive caterer to four generations of the Jordanian royal family, not to mention hundreds of families that have it delivered for Fridays and special occasions.
Today, Youssef Jabri, one of Subhi’s four sons, is the company’s public face. I met him a couple years ago while working on a magazine article. At 48, Youssef is a British-educated intellectual who himself would make a witty guest at one of King Abdullah’s official dinner parties, events which he personally supervises, much like his late father did before him.
Youssef also oversees the ingredients that go into the food, most of which come from the rural Jordan Valley, where he likes to remind you Jesus was baptized and where the mystical curative powers of the Dead Sea have drawn in tourists for centuries. “My family takes pride in what Jordan’s land offers, from the meat we serve to the olive oil from a local press,” says Youssef. “We’re always committed to the unique flavors of authentic Arabic food.”
Archive for September, 2009
In May, I learned that I would be doing two events in Seattle as part of my book tour. I made a mental note right away to let my childhood buddy Sami D. know soon. We had grown up together, and spent hours hanging out as teenagers, he, Sami Z and me. And as adults, we’d stayed close for many years, helping each other out with life from across long distances. Of all the questions we asked each other as kids–who do you think will get married first, who do you think will leave Beirut first, even who will retire first –we had never asked each other who would die first. In recent years, we hadn’t been in contact as often, but when he had e-mailed a few months earlier, he did not tell me that he was ill. He was always in my heart, I knew he’d think it was cool that I’d gotten my book published, and he and his wife could come to the reading as for once we’d be in the same city. A week later, he passed away, as I learned through his sister, Lamya, who he had idolized.
Sami D was one of the great things in my life—kind, sweet, funny, honest and sincere, and I will always miss knowing he is here. When I was in Seattle, I had lunch with his wife, Mari, and their son, and Sami’s dad, Samir. Samir also came to my reading, and when he walked in the room, I knew Sami was there, too. Mari is one of the most amazing women anyone could ever meet, and for reasons having nothing to do with losing her husband at a young age and for lovingly taking care him during what was a difficult and painful illness. It is her wish that I share with you these words Sami wrote shortly before passing away.
As You See Me..
As you see me lying dead
Have some thoughts pop in your head.
My body silent, soul awakes
I send my love from heaven’s gates
Now gaze up high towards the light
Summon all your strength and might
I’m trusting you to do what’s right
Never leave from my spirit’s sight
Look at me, I’m resting free
Then leave and love each faithfully
Remember me as you will,
Calming waters, deep and still.
See Yourself Alive..
As you see yourself alive,
Thrive and arrive at your wildest contrivance.
Believe in five criteria
To help survive trials and violence.
Seek brightness and dance.
Cry a teary river, take a chance.
Your dreams derive from being alive,
Provide pride and driving force afire.
Look into your eyes,
There are no lies there.
you are wise,
And your kindness will be all you ever had.