Chef and global nomad Bobby Chinn explores Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem and the administrative centre of Ramallah on his grand mission to explore the wonderfully varied cuisine of the Middle East.
Bobby’s journey starts in the classic Middle Eastern markets of Amman, Jordan’s modern capital in the north of the country. First stop, a breakfast bar where Bobby gets the first taste of Jordanian food – hummus, sweet peppers with lemon juice and cheese. In Amman, the main style of cooking is Palestinian with some Syrian and Lebanese elements. About sixty per cent of Jordan’s five million inhabitants are Palestinian refugees who arrived in the wake of the Arab Israeli wars. So Jordanian cuisine has been heavily influenced by Palestinian food traditions.
The second great tradition comes from the Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula. So Bobby leaves Amman behind and heads south to see more of Jordan and learn about Bedouian cuisine. Bedouin food is fattier than that with Levantine roots because the Bedouin needed a little more natural insulation against the cold desert nights!
On route, he visits some of the amazing “desert castles” dotted around the Jordanian desert . Most date from the seventh century, when the Umayyad dynasty was ruling from Damascus. The Umayyad caliphs seemed to have needed an escape from the pressures of the city life, and so built a network of hunting lodges, and farmhouses to serve as rural retreats.
Bobby then continues his travels to the Karak area where he learns to make ‘Jameed’, dried yogurt, with a local Bedouin woman. This is made from sheep’s, goat’s or camel’s milk that has been allowed to dry in the sun. After salt has been mixed into it, the yoghurt is rolled into a ball and will keep for up to six months. For the Bedouins, this was the only way of preserving their animal’s milk. ‘Jameed’ is the main ingredient of ‘Mansaf’. So with his new learned skills, Bobby tries his hand at cooking this best known Bedouin dish.
Before heading back to Amman, Bobby decides to take the reins of a Roman chariot at the Jerash, one of the best preserved Roman cities in the eastern Mediterranean.
Kitted out in the full dress and armour of a soldier of the VI legion, Bobby drives a light racing chariot around the 2,000 year old hippodrome in Jerash. Back in Amman, Bobby indulges in a sophisticated Arab meal before travelling to the West Bank.
In the occupied territories of the West Bank there is a thriving ‘Palestinian’ food tradition despite many years of strife. Bobby visits the cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho and Jerusalem and takes day trips to the West Bank date farms and olive groves.