Following on from the previous article “Tomorrow you will dine with the King“, I was told that I would be going down to Al Jafr and Ma’an to follow the King. My guide, Mansour el Fayez and I travelled south by helicopter in a group of five helicopters. One of these had King Hussein as a passenger. We first went to Al Jafr, where the King was greeted by the local tribesmen. My helicopter broke down, so we went on by car.
We arrived at an army barracks in Ma’an. Once again, the military, like the Bedouin, were offering their loyalty. There were speeches from the high ranking officers and the King addressed the assembled officers and men who were paraded in their hundreds.
When the ceremonies were over, we were offered lunch. Mansour indicated that I should wait a while. What I was about to witness was a typical Arab method of feeding the five thousand, as it were. Under cover, there were tables lined up with masses of food laid out.
The main dish was Mansaf which is the national dish of Jordan: lamb seasoned with aromatic herbs, served with huge quantities of rice. Feasting on Mansaf is taken seriously, and many hours are spent in its preparation and cooking.
Mansaf is cooked in dried yoghurt called Jameed in Arabic. which is mixed with water to produce a creamy sauce. First, the yoghurt is boiled in a large stew pot. The pot is put on an open fire. While yoghurt is warming , it is stirred to prevent it from separating. This stirring should be either clockwise of anti-clockwise, not both.
In a large stewing pot, large pieces of lamb are placed and immersed in water. A chopped onion is added. A variety of herbs can be used with the lamb, such as cumin, turmeric and coriander. The lamb is boiled until cooked. The water is drained off and held to be later mixed with the reconstituted yoghurt.
Trays are spread with Khoubz arabi (leavened pocket bread) which is wetted with yoghurt. On top of the bread, a layer of rice is heaped. The yoghurt sauce is poured over the lamb. The lamb pieces are then placed on top of the rice.
Place on a suitable table and wait for the feast to begin.
This is not meant to be a recipe, they are easily obtainable, but an idea of what goes in to the making of the feast.
To the tables went the High ranking officers, but not the King, he had decided he wanted to lunch at home, These officers started to wade in to the food when the next wave of officers, Captains and Lieutenants, moved in. At this moment, Mansour indicated that we should go in, find a table and get stuck in to the food. I thoroughly enjoyed it. As soon as we had finished eating, the tables were surrounded by “Other Ranks” who came in to finish off the feast. By this means, everyone was fed, in order of rank.
It was obvious that this was a time-honoured method of dishing up food to the multitude.
Our host during the visit was Mohammed Kamal who was then head of Jordan Television.