Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dining in Jordan

Jordan is, for our purposes, a new state. Its borders don't follow any historical or ethnic borders in the region, having been drawn up by the French and the British at the end of World War I. Over half of the population is Palestinian, ie people who fled from the area west of the Jordan River in 1948 and in 1967. A Jordanian identity has coalesced in the country, fueled by campaigns such as the current one, "Jordan First," whose slogan and logo are on flags, walls, signs, and pamphlets in every part of the country, but there wasn't ever a Jordan as such before the twentieth century to create a cultural tradition here.

That means that there really isn't a Jordanian cuisine. Sure, there's Bedouin food (who make up a large portion of Jordan's population, whether settled or still nomadic), but that's not really a distinct cuisine so much as a few standard Arab dishes prepared traditionally. The best Arab food here is Lebanese, which is amusing because many Lebanese people will insist that they aren't really Arab. Nonetheless, their style of food is probably the best and most well-known coming out of the Levant. There are numerous mundane kebab and falafel shops, just as you'll see anywhere in the Middle East, but nothing really distinguishes them from any other country. The upshot is that you don't come to Jordan looking for its fine cuisine. Luckily, that gap has been filled.

Right now, I'm sitting in the food court of Mecca Mall (the name never fails to crack me up), with a Mango clothing store to my left and a KFC to my right. Sure, you can talk about the globalization and Americanization aspect of things, but I think it's significant that brands that I never see anymore in America (Hardee's is still around?) seem to be doing quite well here. KFC and Popeye's Chicken have their own delivery vehicles, which blows my mind. There's this one popular street of cafes where people will often go at night, but the biggest cafes are Popeye's and Hardee's - people stay there all night, smoking and drinking tea and coffee. Starbucks is ubiquitous, of course (I'm actually at one now, for the fast internet), and I even saw a Bennigan's the other day, down the street from the embassy. There's even a faux 50s diner across the way from us here in the mall. It's surreal, it's sad, and it's somewhat comforting that American businesses are doing so well here. It's gotta help out our economy somehow, right? Right?

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