Jordan’s National Dish: MansafSeptember 25, 2009
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.”