My Journey To Trying Mansaf

mansafYears ago, when I first started the blog, “Ianism,” most of my posts were about classical liberalism, libertarianism, and included some “debates” with opinion of both the left and the right. There were also posts about some of my own personal achievements, discouragements and of course, about my awesome sons and their achievements as well.

After some years (about five years ago), I got tired of the debating of politics and philosophy, met a woman, and thought that might be the end of “Ianism” although I kept renewing the domain name but took the site offline. Much has happened over those five years: Things unfortunately did not work with that relationship, my children are now five years older, my business has moved slightly in a different direction and I spend more time on search engine optimization projects although that has always been a major part of what I like to do.

Some things have not changed: I remain a classical style liberal in the sense of what liberalism originally meant and see no answers or logical proposals from either those on the left or right. I still enjoy writing, and to that end, some months ago, I decided to put “Ianism” back up. Mostly, I’ve written about search engine optimization here although that was not my goal when I did so. I planned on having an eclectic blog (against the advice of many who blog and say that a blog’s theme should be consistent and topical).

So with that in mind, I am now on a journey to try Mansaf. What is mansaf, you ask? It is a traditional Jordanian dish that includes lamb simmered in a special kind of yoghurt, along with rice, spices, pine nuts and almonds. How I discovered this dish is a bit of a story in itself that involves what I thought was a hilarious youtube video, followed up with some curiosity. But the beginnings probably go back even further.

Middle Eastern Food (My First Time)

I originally came to know of middle eastern food, the very first time when I was about 13 or 14 years old. My Northern Irish but Canadian resident father enjoyed trying different types of food himself, and one day, while we were out on a drive together, pulled into a small restaurant in Toronto somewhere. He wanted me to try a falafel – something I had never heard of but my dad had eaten before. When  tasted these balls (I had no idea what they were made of back then, and it would be some years before I discovered it was chickpea or garbanzo bean based), inside a pita bread wrap with a sauce along with onion, lettuce and tomato, I absolutely loved it! Occasionally, my dad and I would return to that restaurant over the years to have a quick lunch or snack of a falafel.

Later, I discovered a restaurant on my own when I was spending time in Toronto, working, at a corner along Lawrence Ave. E. That was well over 20 years ago, and I have no idea if the place still exists, but I was a regular when I was working in the area and during their open hours. It was then I was also introduced to Tabbouleh salad, which I love to eat.

My Own Experiments

Over the years, my own appreciation for a wide variety of different culture’s and world regions taste and style in food has grown. Although there are times when there is nothing better than my own “traditional” meat and potatoes, or fish and potatoes, along with Ulster Fry for breakfast, I have learned to try and enjoy many others, including Indian curries, Carribean, and Middle Eastern foods. In order to enjoy them whenever I want, I’ve had to learn to make them on my own. I can’t say that every dish I make would pass the test of being completely authentic, but they are pretty close, I’d say.

When you decide to try new things, it’s amazing what you discover, and how different tastes, spices, bitters, sweets and sours can all go toward a wonderful culinary experience. I love chickpeas on their own, but I also love adding spices and cooking with curry, or mixing them with other beans and using my own homemade Italian dressing over top.

Hummus became a favorite of mine as well. I can eat it on its own using a spoon, or as a dip with vegetables like celery and carrots, or spread on crackers. One can adjust the spices as they desire, and it makes for a great snack that is also very healthy.

So How Did I Get To Wanting To Try Mansaf?

Over the years, I enjoy reading history and current events. One of the countries in this world that has always intrigued me is Jordan. Stuck in the middle of a very “hot spot” on this earth, we don’t hear much about Jordan, but from what I’ve read, it’s a beautiful country and there is a relative peace and respect between the different religious groups that reside there. Jordan is a small country but has accepted refugees of both Muslims and Christians from its neighbours, and it seems to me, has tried to be a “calming” influence in the region. I’m no expert by any means on middle east politics, although I like the foods I have tried. Jordan just has always been a country that has interested me.

When I began to write this post, I mentioned that there was a humorous youtube video involved. The other night, I came across a silly but humorous video of some guy “fooling” people into thinking he was a woman while the song “Call Me Maybe” was being played. It’s a bit racy to say the least, but the reactions in the video are quite funny. At least I thought so. Its probably not a video that you want to watch if you’re easily offended by an extreme degree of immodesty, and certainly not something that I pursue, but I couldn’t help but chuckle when I watched it. It was also my first introduction to the song; although I love music, most of what I listen to is “older” stuff, and I seldom have a radio on.

The title of the video caught my eye though. It is named “Call Me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepsen (Chatroulette Version).” I wondered, “what is a ‘chatroulette version’?” and decided to Google it. Turns out that it was the mechanism the videomaker used to shock people in the first place and make the video. Out of curiosity, I went to the website, and thought I’d see what it was all about. Well, most of it seemed pretty stupid, and a waste of time, but I did end up having a conversation with a person from Germany named Lucien, who happens to have relatives here in Canada. We talked for a bit, discussing music and other subjects when Lucien had to leave.

A few moments later, I had the pleasure of conversing with a Jordanian named Ali. This was a great conversation, as we both respectfully discussed just about every subject from politics, philosophy, learning, life dreams, and telling each other about our families. And it was during that conversation that I learned about Mansaf, with Ali sending me to a webpage about this very delicious looking dish.

In my further research, I discovered that this dish is not just about eating a meal, but the traditional way of eating it is about showing hospitality and bonding with those you are supping with. Traditionally, one shares the dish with others, using their fingers and following certain protocol including being careful to not put your fingers against your mouth, only the food, using the right hand while the left hand remains behind your back. This video explains more, including how Mansaf is prepared: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrKOGtcWHIo

Considering the “meaning” behind serving the dish to others, out of a sense of hospitality and friendship, I was quite honoured when Ali invited me and suggested I visit Jordan and he could share Mansaf with me. We both may come from different cultures and even different systems of beliefs, but it was obvious that the belief and desire for the wellbeing of our fellow man was quite evident, and I very much enjoyed making an acquaintance with Ali, and look forward to getting to know him better, while also letting him get to know me better if he so wishes. Ali seemed very interested and curious in all manner of subjects as well as quite knowledgeable, characteristics I admire.

After having made his acquaintance, I do hope that one day I could be able to travel to Jordan and eat Mansaf with Ali and his family. Unfortunately, I think that day would be quite some time away. In the meantime, I still do want to try Mansaf, even if I have to make it myself.However, there is a challenge.

The Challenge – Jameed

Traditional Mansaf requires an ingredient called Jameed, a type of yoghurt made from goat’s milk, and then dried into very hard balls. It is then reconstituted with water when it is to be used for eating or cooking. Drying it out was a way to preserve yoghurt when there was no refrigeration. However, learning how to make Jameed is not easy, as apparently many families guard their recipe closely.

I have not been able to find a source for Jameed anywhere near where I live, so it would appear I have to learn to make it myself. I do have access to goat’s milk, but I don’t know how to make yoghurt. But I can learn. But then, I do not totally understand the drying process of the yoghurt in order for it to become Jameed, so perhaps some experimentation is in order – but traditionally, it is dried outdoors, either in the sun or the shade, and it might be a bit too late in the year here in Ontario, for that.

First things first; I will need to get some goat’s milk and learn to make yoghurt with it. Then I will try to figure out how to make Jameed with my yoghurt. Then, I will study and see if I can make Mansaf with some wonderful tasty Ontario lamb that I buy from a local farmer.

If I am able to visit Jordan, I will certainly accept Ali’s invitation to eat Mansaf with him! If Ali is able to visit Canada, I hope he will accept my invitation to visit with me and I will feed him well, too – perhaps if by then I’ve learned to make Mansaf, with a non traditional Canadian version of it! 🙂 We’ll see how much progress I can make on trying to learn how  to make it.

Finally – thank you Ali for the introduction to you and your family’s lives in Jordan. The time we live in is pretty amazing, when we can communicate with complete strangers so far away, and learn more about each other, and form friendships that go beyond borders.  And thank you for letting me know about Mansaf and your invitation of hospitality towards me. It is very much appreciated.

Now, onto learning more about Mansaf, but tonight I will have a simple but tasty North American style hamburger, with onions, tomato, lettuce and mustard.

 

 

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