For a small country, Jordan offers a diverse array of sights that are both historic and scenically beautiful. Yes, Petra is the jewel in the Hashemite Kingdom’s crown of impressive wonders, but an itinerary to Jordan should also include at least a few connections to its wonderfully welcoming people. Use this list of unique experiences in Jordan to plan your own local connections.
Taste Jordanian wine at the Bar in The Back in Amman
Start your local connection in Amman, Jordan’s capital, with a wine tasting made from locally grown grapes. It may be surprising to find wine production in a Muslim country. However, archeological evidence shows evidence of industrial scale wine presses near Petra. Some have also said that the wine that Jesus drank at the Last Supper came from the Um Quays region in nearby northern Jordan.
For an intimate wine tasting experience that will take you into the midst of Amman’s cosmopolitan younger crowd, go to 13C Wine and Spirits. The front may look just like any other typical wine shop, but when you pass through a nondescript door to the “Bar in the Back,” you’ll feel like Alice going through the looking glass as you land in a modern minimalist bar flanked by an intimate, green, outdoor garden space. This speakeasy style gathering spot is both a restaurant and a tasting room where you can try some of the many Zumot family vintages paired with complimentary innovative bites.
Bottled under the St. George’s brand, the Zumot family offers a diverse array of reds, whites and rosé wines. You can try just a flight of wine, but for the most unique experience, combine the wine with some of their inventive small plate choices. I especially liked the grape molasses eggplant, the puffed rice chicken tenders, and the blade steak with za’atar bearnaise sauce, but I don’t think you can go wrong with anything on the menu.
Take a tour of Amman Through Local Eyes
The typical tours of Amman take you to the historic sights like the Citadel and the Roman theater, which are an important part of Jordan’s heritage. But for a truly modern peek at Amman’s more colorful side, augment your ancient history lesson with a more modern one by taking a Through Local Eyes Tour with entrepreneur and guide Anas Amarneh.
Within the shadow of the historic hilltop where all the old Roman ruins hold court, Anas took our group for a two hour walk through one of central Amman’s neighborhoods. He is an enthusiastic and talented storyteller, and even though English is not his native language, he effortlessly wove together disparate tales of Amman, Jordan, and Palestinian history with the tangible landscape that we walked by. The glue that connected it all seemed to be the street art that was prolific here.
I learned that in Amman there is value for all types of street art. There are the big, artsy, thoughtful murals that use a blank wall as their canvas. And then there is also the graffiti form, which Annas tells us is an important form of both personal and social expression. To my untrained eye, the delicate, wavy, curly, Arabic script looked as much like art as the more formal paintings did.
For two hours I was mesmerized by this young man and his stories. With his exuberant energy, his vision to share the youthful, vibrant, cosmopolitan side of Amman, and his skill at communicating, he truly was an authentic ambassador for Jordan’s welcoming spirit.
Learn stone carving from a master
When visiting the ancient historic ruins of Gadara at Um Qais, allow some time for a hands-on stone carving lesson with the father and son team of Sultan and Abdallah Al-Rousan of Stone and Chisel. They have set up a classroom in one of the stone buildings on site and will provide you with all the tools you need to carve a design on your own stone tile.
For me, I learned quickly that even when the stone is not that hard, coordinating my hands and eyes to make the chisel go where I wanted it to be was not that easy. I certainly gained a greater appreciation for the skill and mastery required to make some of the intricate sculptural details I had seen at the archeological site.
Still, I was able to make a simple pattern and happily went home with a one-of-a-kind souvenir.
Have lunch in a local family’s living room
I can’t think of a better way to connect with the local culture than to be invited for a meal at someone’s house. This is not always easy though when you are a stranger in a strange land. But enterprising home cook Galsoum Al-Sayyah will be happy to take you into her family’s home and lay out a spread of typical Jordanian dishes fit for the country’s king.
Not far from Um Qais and the ancient ruins of Gadara, this entrepreneurial young woman has built a successful business using her excellent cooking skills. We sat down on low divans around a very large table in her living room as she brought out one home cooked specialty after another until the table was groaning under the weight of all the food.
Galsoum had prepared a variety of local Jordanian dishes including Makmoura, a traditional Jordanian layered pie filled with chicken and rice, which took her five hours to make. She also made Mansaf, the national dish of Jordan, made with lamb cooked in fermented yogurt. There were also salads and a flat bread, which is her specialty.
You can book this personal experience for yourself at Barak Destinations which specializes in local tourism experiences in Jordan.
Learn to bake bread like a Bedouin
Deep in the heart of the Dana Biosphere Reserve, the Feynan Ecolodge offers a range of interactive experiences that connect you to the local Bedouin community. Whether it’s learning to make kohl, roasting and making traditional Arabic coffee, or learning to weave a goat hair tent, you will connect with a local Bedouin family and learn first-hand about Bedouin traditions and their sustainable lifestyle.
We were introduced to the process that the Bedouin shepherds use to make bread when they are out on their own in the wilderness. Under the shade of a typical goat hair tent, our instructor Hussein patiently kneaded flour, salt and water until the glutinous dough held together. There was no measuring, just long experience that taught him how much water to add and how long to knead the goopy mass.
After flattening the dough into a disk, he placed it into the heart of a wood fire that had burned down to coals. At this point, his mother, Radia, took over, turning the bread over to cook on the other side after about 10 minutes.
Once baked, Radia took the bread out of the heat and shook off the ashes. The outside was crispy brown and there was a sight hollow sound when she tapped it. Hussein easily broke off hot wedges for our group and offered it with a bowl of local olive oil. I was surprised at how light and airy the bread was, even though there were no leavening agents in the recipe.
Take a cooking class at the Petra Kitchen
After eating your way through Jordan, don’t leave without learning how to make some of the wonderful dishes you’ve tried along the way. Just up the road from the Petra Visitor’s Center is the Petra Kitchen where each evening participants learn to cook the traditional dishes that will also be their dinner.
All our ingredients were very fresh since they were purchased for us earlier in the day. Each table prepared a selection of hot and cold mezze starters and also Kofta, the main course. We made the Kofta by layering spiced ground meat, thinly sliced potatoes, and tahini sauce. Our instructors then baked the fragrant mix to a hot, gooey perfection and served it with fresh flat bread which our group also made.
Not only did I leave with a happy tummy, but I also had recipes to try once I was back home. What better way to remember a memorable holiday.
Throughout my travels, I discovered that Jordan has some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. I had these local experiences while visiting Jordan on a group press trip for IFWTWA media. However, with a little bit of planning, you too can include these unique experiences in your Jordan itinerary.