Turning an old house into a restaurant is an idea that attracts savvy dinners who enjoy scrumptious food, the coziness of the past and the smell of the tradition that its spirit carries along. Beit Sitti was able to do that while reviving the family tradition and keeping the memory of a significant figure that is dearest to the three sisters behind the local kitchen: a culinary passionate, a creative designer and a business guru. Maria Haddad took us through the journey of transforming her late grandmother’s house into a social kitchen and a local cooking school bringing back authentic recipes by utilizing local and organic ingredients.
Armed with a one year culinary certificate from The Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, Maria and her sisters developed the restaurant slowly to be popular destination by tourists and visitors of the capital as well by young Jordanians, housewives and certified chefs. “Our cooking instructors and culinary educators are of the local community. We are on a mission to engage women from different areas to be part of our social business,” says Maria. “The continuous development of the menu needs extensive research of ingredients and techniques. My grandmother’s cookbook is studied carefully to develop recipes that adapt to modern cooking techniques while maintaining the authenticity of each dish,” explains Maria. “The input of the local female instructors in enhancing and fine tuning the final recipes is vital. The experience they gained from cooking for their families adds a unique flavor and spirit to the recipes,” she adds. A fine selection of women from Jordan, Morocco, Syria, and Palestine conduct several menus at Beit Sitti. With their flexible schedule, the women dedicate their time, energy and valuable insights to maintain the tradition of the Arabic, Middle Eastern and Jordanian cuisines. “Going against the tide, those brave women challenged the social barriers of their communities as a working force earning a living and supporting their families- an issue that is still not common among village inhabitants outside the capital.” The working space that Beit Sitti offers uplift the women’s morals and increase their self confidence, provide them with sense of pride and accomplishment and of course, a better financial stability for themselves and their families. “It is an excellent opportunity and working environment where they get to interact with guests from different backgrounds and age groups and influence them not only with delicious flavors, but with an insight to their culture, traditions and lifestyle,” explains Maria.
With spring coming up, Maria is exploring more of the local ingredients that Jordan offers. Flipping the pages old recipes, she came across more of the distinctive ingredients that are slowly getting lost under layers of culinary modernization of the Jordanian cuisine. “I am afraid that the next generations will no longer taste the true essence of our cuisine,” Maria states. The moist soil and the warm sun are the perfect environment for the growth of various greens and herbs that last only few month before the heat of the summer dries them out. Such is the khubeezih and hweirnih (hedge mustard). Scouting for such greens in the vegetable market is not an easy task. “We rely on the women to provide us with those unique greens along with Yanboot farms who started recently to supply Beit Sitti with fresh and organic produce.” With this new philosophy, Maria is aiming to revive the seasonality of the cuisine and incorporate it in the new menu, a reflection of her own appreciation for fresh, crisp, organic and flavorful produce.
The experience of traditional cooking is not complete without a stroll downtown and a visit to the central vegetables market. “To smell, to touch the vegetables and to learn how to pick them elevates the whole experience. It is not just a culinary journey, but a visit to the history of our past engaging all of the senses to get a better feel of Jordan,” adds Maria. The market visit along with other activities can be paired with Beit Sitti cooking classes, an addition Maria recommends that provides a better insight to the culinary experience the guests go through. The Shop at Beit Sitti offers a selection of herbs and spices used in the Jordanian cuisine. “We continue to support the local communities with this line of products which is ‘handmade, handpicked and packed by local women with love’,” adds Maria. The simple yet elegant design reflects the vision of Tania, Maria’s sister, who is responsible for all the designs, interiors and visuals of Beit Sitti. All of this comes together as Dina sets the business plans and assist in the management and sustainable growth of their beloved Teta’s house. A tradition the three sisters are looking to hand it over to the generations to come.
*Pictures courtesy of Beit Sitti