Food events On Invitation

Jordanian Festival at Moevenpick

Tuesday, April 09, 2013Me! In words

Think food from the Arabian Gulf and immediately Lebanese springs to mind - hummus, baba ghanoush, fatayers and more. So when a Jordanian Food Festival comes to town, curiosity gets the better of you. What food is unique to Jordan was the natural question to ask Chef Mohammed Al Asmar who is hosting this festival at the Moevenpick Hotel. He said that by and large there is nothing called Jordanian food, just as there is nothing called Lebanese cuisine, Syrian and any other Middle Eastern nation. Most of the dishes across these nations are the same. The twist comes in the food that is cooked in the homes of a country's people and that is what he has brought to this festival. Most of the dishes you will see at the festival are those typically cooked in a Jordanian home. The spices are similar to Indian ones except that the ratio is completely different and much more subtle. The one dish that is truly Jordanian is the Kabsa which you will eat on a regular basis at home, at a party, at a wedding and just about everywhere and anytime.

The Jordanian festival which is currently on till April 12th is available for the dinner buffet and the spread is a massive one - vegetarians take heart, the Jordanians love their vegetables as much as their meat and you will like the spread and the number of dishes for you. A photo review is simpler from this point. 

We were offered a Sula Satori red wine and a Sula white

Some nicely baked bread were brought to the table while chef took us on a tour of the buffet. 

Falafels were sizzling away in a pan and we asked for a few pita sandwiches to be sent to the table

The falafels - still warm and toasty, in soft pita breads with slices of onion and tomato and of course the sweetish Arabian style mayo. 

The salad counter was a dream - there was olive oil laden hummus, baba ghanoush, arabian salad, a yogurt and buckwheat salad and an interesting lemon, chilli, pepper dressing in the little glass. 

The cheese and spinach sambuseks were deep fried, despite which they were not greasy at all. Chef Mohammed told us that the dough was made with flour, ghee and water and hence the lightness and surprisingly the non-greasiness.

Inspired by the pizza, the Sfiha - spiced lamb mince on top. These need to had straight off the hot plate or they tend to get a wee bit crispy and hard to bite into. 

These were Mo'ajanat stuffed with chicken that had been baked. Soft dough casing filled with chicken mince that is lightly spiced.

On this non-vegetarian platter you have the Shish Taouk (Chicken) grilled chicken in the front, another darker version of it behind, the shish kebab, and the Shogef Taouk. The little pizza inspired slices of grilled tomatoes, onions and bell peppers. The salad on the side is a rocket salad. 

As we moved into the mains - chef told us about a simple, yet delicious recipe called Magale that can be whipped up with just about any vegetable you see. What he did this evening was with cauliflower and brinjals - dice them up, fry them well in olive oil, add in a handful of finely chopped onions and tomatoes, squeeze in some lime juice. Its simple, delicious and quick. Besides that you see some steam rice (from the Indian section of the buffet) and diced potato stir fry, Mfraka Batata that is popular in most Jordanian households. 

There was also a version of tomato rice, Roz bel Bandorah that did not appeal to me at all. Perhaps because the short grain rice used had turned to mush and was way to bland to even feel the tomatoes. No loss in terms of the menu... almost all of us have had a version of tomato rice before. 

A lentil gravy - with olive oil as the base, onions and tomatoes also form a part of the gravy. Its a simple preparation and its the olive oil that makes all the difference. 

Am not  fan of beans, but the Faulah bil zit has changed me. Onions, tomatoes and green beans sauteed in olive oil with some spices like coriander and chilli. Sounds pretty much like something we make at home, but then this is all what this presentation was all about... food from the hearth. 

Moving onto the mains after a significant break that we needed - we headed off to the non-vegetarian section. Since there were the three of us at dinner, we managed to split the dishes between us so that we taste the lot of it and not waste too much as often happens at such previews. Good idea too because we could always go back for seconds of the one we liked. What you see here is  Dajaj Sawaneh oven-roasted tomato based chicken to the right. Once marinated in the spice and the base, it is slow cooked for 3-4 hours. Overcooked chicken tastes fibrous and chewy - despite being a generally fibrous piece, this chicken was soft and had taken on the flavors well. In the background was a pan-fried fish in a light sauce... Seeing this now I realize that I missed tasting it. The rice is an Arabica rice or lamb meat rice, slightly drier than the pulaos we are used to having, but that is where the beauty of it lies. 

The dish you see here is Shakshoka, an egg and tomato one... with the tomato slightly overpowering the egg... nice nevertheless. 

Then the highlight of the meal - the kabsa. The ingredients are typically of the Indian mutton biryani. But when put together it is not overly spicy like the Andhra versions we have here. It has the distinct flavor or cardamom and cinnamon which is often missing in ours, lost as it tends to get in all the heavy masalas we put into our biryanis. The meat is well marinated and soft. Go easy on the portions you serve yourself. Its best eaten slow and when it is warm. You will definitely be going back for more. 

Of all the meat dishes we had that night, it was the Kofta bi Tahnia that stole the show. A yogurt and tahini (Sesame paste) based gravy, the lamb kebab was tender and had the nutty yet tangy flavor or the yogurt and sesame. One of those dishes that you can have on its own and lose track of the number of helpings you take. 

The dessert showcase is massive, but the Jordanian part of it has the Sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce, the Mahalabiya in the shot glass and the Sfouf (almond semoline cake) - The date and toffee is top notch, with the Muhallabiyah providing you a smoothness on your palate.

There are several more dishes from the repetoire of Chef Mohammed that will be showcased at the festival. The menu changes on a daily basis and you can always come back another day to try something totally new. Chef Mohammed loves to talk about food and his knowledge is interesting. Do take the time out for a chat if you can. The dinner buffet is priced at Rs 1200 for food alone and Rs 1500 for the meal and a free flow of wine, beer and soft beverages. The festival is on till the 12th of April

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