So you know all that stuff I wrote last week about living outdoors and the sun and amazing Jordanian climate? Well, it all came crashing down abruptly this weekend with temperatures dropping 40 degrees in just 24 hours, hail and even snow! Unfortunately, for the Christians here, it coincided with the Orthodox Easter holiday weekend and so many a plan was ruined. Yesterday, as the wind howled around our villa, it was hard to believe that just a week ago I had been sitting outside in the lovely gardens of the Shams El Balad Cafe in downtown Amman.
One of the reasons we decided to open a food business in Amman now, is because people here seem suddenly aware of where their food is coming from, whether it’s organic or not, whether it’s sustainable, complies with good animal husbandry practices, is local. Al Salleh and Jabbok Farms are both spearheading this organic movement and promise to be dedicated suppliers of all the vegetables I need. At Mistaka, dairy-woman extraordinaire Nasreen is using local Awassi sheep to make her delicious yoghurts and cheeses. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day, educating youngsters about healthy food, will take place all around Amman in May. People are craving fresh, healthy, seasonal food!
A wonderful part of this culinary renaissance is that certain restaurants are revisiting their menus and instead of trying to interpret foreign cuisines (mostly badly) they are reinventing their own traditional food. I hope to take this a step further by looking at all of the local ingredients and flavors and adding my own twist to them. I think I’m uniquely equipped to do this because I don’t harbor the emotional baggage of how a certain food has always been eaten and should always be eaten. That’s not to say it’s going to be easy. Convincing customers who have always eaten mushy lentils that toothsome puy lentils are delicious in salads might not be straightforward The flavors will be recognizable, the techniques and combinations of ingredients, probably not.
Enter vegetarian cafe Shams El Balad in the hilly old area of Amman, just off Rainbow Street which opened in January. The name translates to “sun of the homeland,” absolutely perfect for what they do. They are sourcing organic ingredients, growing their own vegetables when necessary, making their own cheeses and jams, going back to basics. It calls itself Amman’s first farm to table restaurant and what I tasted was really good. The downfall of this kind of establishment here is that their staff is still somewhat inexperienced and they’d run out of most of the interesting menu items over the busy weekend. Nonetheless, brunch in their magical garden which links several old villas together in one property, looking out at the ancient Citadel, was a treat and now I have an excuse to go back once the weather improves and try again!