One of the most obnoxious things you ever have to deal with is someone returning from a study abroad and comparing everything in America (especially food) to whatever exotic, fantastic place they visited. “Oh,” they’ll sniff, “the burgers were so much better in Germany!” Or perhaps they’ll sigh at lunchtime, “If only I had some French cheese! They really know to make a meal there…” and then launch into an extended lecture on the superiority of some foreign cuisine.
To avoid becoming that person– because nobody likes that person– I’m promising right now that when I get back to America, unless directly asked, I will not mention how much better x, y, or z was in Jordan.
I’ll never say that the sunset is prettier. Or that the stars are brighter. Or that the air is airier. Or talk about, oh man, how good the food is.
Breakfast at home is a granola bar eaten on the way to class– if I bother with anything more than my coffee. Today, however, I had cake for breakfast.
In Jordan, this is an acceptable choice. You can totally have cake with breakfast, which doesn’t differ from lunch and dinner like it does in the States. My host family usually serves pita with cheese, olives, oil and spices, dinner leftovers, and even dessert. Add in the instant coffee I bought for myself, and breakfast is officially my favorite meal of the day.
Way better than that granola bar, is what I’d say, if I were going to say anything.
Lunch doesn’t have to be any different than usual; Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Burger King, and all your other major fast food chains are within walking distance of our school. The downside is that eating there will cost you 7 or 8 dollars– expensive even by the standards of home. Comparing those prices to 45 cent falafel sandwiches at Ibn Batuta restaurant, it’s no wonder most students opt for something with a side of hummus, not french fries. But of course, I won’t complain about food prices in America, when I can no longer budget $1 a day for lunch.
The most popular option is Bab al-Yemen, which serves up communal dishes you probably can’t pronounce. Part of the experience is that everything is served with bread– not as a side dish, but as your plate and silverware. Since it goes without saying that this is a better way of serving food, I won’t say it.
And I promise, when I get home, not to sigh as I shake my silverware from its napkin wrapping, in the hopes that someone will ask what’s wrong. I promise not to then wax poetic about the sense of community you get from sharing dishes with the table, and literally breaking bread with friends.
There’s always food on the table when Juliana, my roommate, and I get home, thanks to our host family. Our host mom is an amazing cook– responsible for that cake we had with breakfast. She’s also responsible for the cheese, olives, etc., since she believes in making everything herself. So not only is everything good… everything is really good.
Better than home? Well, you’ll never know. Because I’ll never take a conversation about cooking as a chance to humble brag about my awesome host mother. Or about how great it is that Jordanian culture really values home-cooking. Or about that cake, which, seriously, I couldn’t adequately describe even if I were to try.
I promise never to talk about shakshuka, my favorite dish so far, which consists of eggs and peppers and… um, other things. (Someday my Arabic will be good enough to ask what those other things are, but today is not that day.) Suffice it to say that shakshuka’s fantastic… or to not say that, because there’s really no reason to mention how good it is. Or to add that between our host mom’s cooking and the fact that Jordanians don’t seem to stress about avoiding “bad” foods like Americans do (chocolate, bread, etc.), I feel like my diet contains about 100% more carbs and 200% more deliciousness than usual.
Thankfully our university has a gym to run off some of what I’m eating because, to put non-pretentiously, totally honestly, and without any bragging: the food here is pretty good.