In October this year, I complete two years since I moved to UAE. Etihad Airways was generous enough to show me the world in ways I could never imagine. I explored different countries, cities, nationalities and cultures through traveling as an inflight chef with the aviation giant, an unusual career change that I am glad to have ventured into. My last visit to Jordan was a refreshing getaway away from Abu Dhabi’s summer heat. I always long to meet the city I grew up in, the people I love and the family I cherish. Landing in Amman is the bitter sweet. The clear blue sky, the sweetness of the air and the smell of the old city, the handful of tress scattered on the yellowish lands mixed with the bitterness of a lost city.
Amman acquired a distinctive reputation for its soul. A city of a complicated structure. A population from different backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures and religions. A young city with a rich history. Diverse in nature, poor in resources, bursting with energy. How much I enjoy strolling the old jasmine scented streets of Jabal Al Weibdeh and smelling the pine trees and embracing the fresh breeze of the early mornings at King Hussein Park. The returning memories whenever I drive to my favorite places around Amman, remembering the individuals that I came across through Taste of Jordan and their unique passion, personalities and talents. With every visit, my memories slowly start to fade away, because just like people, cities do change.
It hurts me to witness the changes in Amman. With every visit, I identify several landmarks of the city being demolished to allow space for fancy office complexes, showrooms, malls and residential buildings. How can I compare the 2017 modern building to a block that dates back to the 70s? What emotions do I have for a reflection of a city that is no longer there? The landscape of Amman is slowly changing, leaving no room for public spaces, parks or side walks. Nowhere for people to escape from the busy city streets and stressful hours at the office or a getaway to breath and rejuvenate. It is a wake up call for all of us, to preserve our history for the generations to come and for the children of our future that will hold to the city of our childhood.
As the struggle to keep Amman alive, another struggle persists in creating a signature culinary print of the capital, and of Jordan. New and existing restaurants are not the less but an imitation of others, or followers of trends taking place locally or internationally, lacking identity and personality. We all remember the burger storm taking Amman a few years back where, at the time, very few survived. A challenging and competitive market it is, yet very few have proved to earn good market share and a reasonable reputation for the passion they invested, hard work they put in and a vision that differentiated them from many others.
I am fascinated by the establishments who are proud the serve the healthy food styles of the quinoa and kale and the pink beetroot humus as highlights of the menu and specialty of the house, while the chicken breasts are served overcooked and dry. The world has moved past these trends and what I have witnessed more than ever is the ‘return to basic’ approach is adopted by many of the restaurants I dined in around the world. Old recipes are recreated, seasonal ingredients are used with emphasis on the local produce and fresh ingredients. The flavors of the Middle East and Jordan have a significant presence in the world. How little are the dishes that we can enjoy in a restaurant that have a hint of our ingredients and flavors? Think about red and brown lentils, chickpeas, fava beans, khubeezeh, cauliflower, maftool, freekih, eggplants and several other ingredients and how simply integrated in the design of the menus and the offering to the customers.
My hope in the near future to witness a change in the culinary approach in Amman. It wont be an easy integration nor will it gain quick public acceptance. We will witness some victims who will sacrifice their talents to help make the change. I wish for restaurants that don’t serve the quinoa tabouleh or ‘gluten free’ salads. I wish to see more creativity in menus that stand out for their unique design and ingredients. Let us think how to portray our culture and heritage through dinning experiences. We have a lot to offer, a long journey to travel and good change to create.