Al-Mansaf: A festive banquet and its social and cultural meanings

Al-Mansaf: A festive banquet and its social and cultural meanings

Food is, historically, the most distinguishing feature of human societies. Jordanian Mansaf is a highly regarded cultural symbol, in addition to being the most popular food in all Jordanian regions. It is representative of the national identity of all individuals, groups and communities in Jordan.

Al-Mansaf is the main feast dish served at all major events, celebrations and when guests visit. Preparing and eating Al-Mansaf creates order, security, and a sense of identity. It is a ritual of solidarity expressive of collective identity, morality and values.

Al-Mansaf meal is a traditional Jordanian dish which consists of meat cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt (Jameed), and served with huge quantities of rice, sometimes overlying a layer of special bread called (Mashrouḥ or Šrak). When the dish is ready to serve, some people usually sprinkle the layer of meat with pine nuts, almonds and other tasty herbal seasonings. In the north of Jordan, a side dish full of radishes, onions, and pickles is usually added to the menu of Al-Mansaf. Al-Mansaf is associated with a traditional Jordanian culture based on an agro-pastoral lifestyle in which meat and yogurt are readily available.

In Jordan, Al-Mansaf is served on special occasions and feasts such as weddings and baby-births. In addition to being served for honoring guests and celebrating major religious holidays. For preparing the meal of Al-Mansaf, men and women gather to light the cooking fire. After that, a very large cooking pot full of meat and water is placed over the fire. The meat used is usually mutton. Often during cooking time, the culinarians exchange words about either personal concerns or communal problems. Once the meat is done boiling, the cook adds the Jameed to make what is known as Marees. Jameed is a dried fermented dairy product usually made from goats or sheep’s milk. It is a popular dairy product in various parts of Jordan. The main goals of producing this dried fermented dairy product (Jameed) are to improve storage life of the product, to reduce the substance bulk so as to save storage space and to reduce packaging and transportation costs.

Al-Mansaf in Jordan has become one of the resources for making a living for many Jordanian families, and in many cases, the main income source for many households. After the cooks make sure that meat and rice have been cooked long enough, they inform the host that meal is ready to be served. Then, a platter, mostly rounded and made of either metal or some other material, will be brought to start arranging the layers of the bread, rice, meat and dried almonds mixed with pine nuts. It must be pointed out that three types of Mansaf are usually prepared. The best is for dignitaries and main guests, the second for normal guests and very close relatives, and the third for the family the host. The first type is distinguished by the head of the ram on top of the heap of rice and meat. Once the platters of Mansaf are set and ready, the host gives directions to a group of people, usually his relatives, to start serving the food and carrying the trays to the area where people are supposed to eat. Often, Mansafs are carried either by young people or, in very few cases as in old times, by women. The process of serving is accompanied by Jordanian songs. Al-Mansaf is traditionally eaten collectively from a large platter. Five to seven people standing around the tray with the left hand behind the back and using the right hand instead of cutleries. In some cases, guests are allowed to use dishes and spoons.

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