In Jordan, Mansaf is a dish with which the host welcomes his guests and demonstrates his hospitality. It is the heart and soul of the Jordanian cuisine. Even though it is an ancient dish, every family still cooks it on many occasions, especially when guests or long-absent relatives arrive. As a typical Bedouin food, Mansaf used to be simpler and it consisted only of meat, broth, and flatbread (Sharif, 2011). However, a change in lifestyle resulted in white rice and yogurt being added to the classical Jordanian dish. Nowadays, Mansaf is a reflection of a rich Jordanian culture and serves both a food item known for each family and an element of Bedouin heritage that reminds people of their past.
When Bedouins learned how to raise cattle, they could make dairy products, including yogurt called Jameed. Both solid and liquid parts of milk are used for Mansaf. Curdled milk is fermented and reduced to dry form. Then dry yogurt is soaked up for a night. The yogurt is then heated up and kept simmering with broth and cornstarch for an hour with occasional stirring. It would be the yogurt sauce (Sharif, 2011).
For the main dish, the broth should be done. For it, onion, meat, and spices are sautéed and then boiled with water for three hours. Mixed with saffron and spices, the rice is then stir-fried with olive oil and boiled in the broth. Now all the Mansaf ingredients are ready it can be served. On a serving tray, Jameed is spread over flatbread and the rice is placed on top. The meat is plopped over the rice and Jameed is poured over. In my family, we sprinkle cedar nuts over the dish. A little bowl of Jameed is served additionally so that everyone could add more sauce to one’s taste (Sharif, 2011).
Mansaf is always served on a large tray in the middle of the table. Each person takes as much as one wants. According to the tradition, food is taken with the right hand while the left hand is kept behind the back. Despite the fact that it is a tradition to eat with one’s hands, in my family, it is considered normal to use a knife and fork if one wants. I often use my both hands when I eat Mansaf. Usually, with the use of three fingers the rice is made into a ball and dunked into the sauce. The host’s obligation is to ladle the sauce onto Mansaf and keep it moist (Sharif, 2011).
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As mentioned earlier, the folkloric meaning of Mansaf is to demonstrate the host’s hospitality. The type of meat reveals how much the guest is valued. For the most important guests, goat meat is cooked. Chicken is of the least valued whereas lamb is somewhere in between. Given the way the dish is served and what ingredients are used, Mansaf is a symbol of unity, generosity, and hospitality (Sharif, 2011).
Further, the way all the participants of the meal eat from the same plate highlights that at this moment there are no divides between them. The people of any nationality, gender, and religion can share Mansaf in a Jordanian house. The hosts try hard to cook a tasty meal and show their abundance and ability to feed. The type and the quantity of meat reveal the wealth of the host and his readiness to share what his family has. Guests are expected to eat a lot. By participating and eating with appetite, guests show that they accept the gift of hospitality and they reciprocate (Sharif, 2011).
Overall, Mansaf is a piece de resistance of the Jordanian cuisine. Being transformed over the course of time from a simple three-ingredient dish, Mansaf has remained a dish of the past. A great example of how tasty meat and a side dish are, Mansaf reminds people of the Jordanian cultural heritage. At the same time, it is a symbol of hospitality and best wishes. Thus, Mansaf is able not only to fill the stomach but to warm the soul, as well.