Fit foodie travel edition
Jordan holds a special place in the Middle East for the most stunning world heritage sites - and now the heartiest local cuisine too
If there is any occupational hazard of working as intensely with ?food as I do, it is having to eat all the time (somebody has got to ?do it)! In the land of calories in ?and calories out, excess consumption and limited expenditure of energy results in the epic battle of several bulges.
It is easy enough to limit my attendance to lots of foodie events and develop, cook, style and eat more balanced meals on a daily basis, but the challenge really kicks in when you embark on a culinary tour or vacation. Jordan was on my food travel bucket list for a few reasons. I was intrigued by the topography which produces some of the world's best olive oils and succulent fresh produce. It houses one of the New Seven Wonders of the World - Petra, the world's first natural spa in the Dead Sea, five World Heritage sites, and a staggering number of known religious sites.
Here is my experience of travelling the amazingly beautiful countryside of Jordan, eating lavish proportions of scrumptious local food and ensuring an active travel experience to keep the vacation pounds at bay.
This, dear readers, is When Hunger Strikes, the Fit Foodie Travel Edition: Destination, Jordan.
What to pack
Stretchy pants (yoga pants, leggings or sweat pants) with a lot of give in the tummy area to accommodate all the extra bites that you will take over almost every meal. A good cell phone and a battery-charging booster pack so that you can snap pictures of your meals and surroundings, and share them on Instagram or make videos for Snapchat.
Comfortable sneakers. Make sure that they have been worked in. You never want to be stuck with new shoes on a walking trip that ends up giving you blisters. Plus, the more comfortable your shoes, the more you will want to walk.
Hiking boots. These will certainly come in handy when trekking through Petra, especially if you are going at night to experience the twice-weekly Petra by Night show.
Take a big suitcase and leave lots of space so you have ample storage and weight allowance for all the amazing local pottery and crafts, olive oil, zataar and dead sea salts you will want to bring back.
An activity tracker like a Polar or Garmin watch to track your activities and number of calories burned. Aim for at least 10,000 steps per day.
Where to visit
Petra: World Heritage Site
Wadi Rum: Breathtaking desert landscapes and rock formations
Salt: Beautiful Sicilian-like architecture in a mountainside city
Mount Nebo: Views of the landscape as well as the King's Highway
What to eat
Local fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is not the place to order the American or English breakfast, as you will be disappointed.
Jordanian Mezze. Not to be confused with the popular Lebanese mezze available in the UAE. Thanks to the quality of the local olive oil and other locally produced ingredients and the subtle differences in seasonings, this is a fresh taste of mezze.
?and served straight to table. These can be served with chicken, potato and herbs, kofta, minced meat with sesame,?tomato or yoghurt sauce.
Jordanian Mandi. This dish of chicken and rice is one of my absolute favourites.
Chicken Freekeh. Freekeh is the oldest grain in the world and definitely a very healthy, whole grain. The ones available in Jordan are of the best quality.
Where to eat
Haret Jdoudna , Madaba. This restaurant is operated by the family that owns the house built in 1905 by the then mayor of Madaba. Serving a delectable array of local, seasonal home-styled family dishes, it is definitely a gem of a culinary treat. Order their hot and cold mezzes as well as Sawani and Shish Tawook, lamb cutlets and mixed grill.
Sun City Camp, Wadi Rum. This is the place to eat Zarb. Be sure to book in advance as it takes time to prepare. You would be best off travelling with a large group (10 or more) to enjoy the traditional dish in the desert settings of the camp. You can even stay overnight, as they have modern camping facilities with tents containing showers.
Luigi, Movenpick Dead Sea. If you feel a bit overwhelmed by Arabic food, break things up and have dinner in this Italian restaurant. The wood fire pizza is really good. I have never before wanted seconds of grilled vegetables but those served in this restaurant were simply spectacular. You can also make reservations for a set menu of Jordanian specialities like Mansaf and Chicken Freekeh, while booking.
Where to stay
Movenpick Petra and Movenpick Dead Sea. They can help you create a customised vacation to suit your needs and transferring between locations is seamless. I would strongly suggest you start your vacation in Petra. This is where I had the sensational Jordanian Mandi and the Maqlouba. It's a great place to stay, as it is right across the street from the historic Petra World Heritage Site. You can also arrange a cooking class with the chef to learn how to cook Maqlouba, as I did. Wind down your travels at the very serene Dead Sea - the property is actually perched right by the oxygen-rich Dead Sea, from where you can head straight to the airport. Rates start at roughly Dh500 per night. For a Jordanian culinary experience like mine, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a more expensive option, you can check out the Kempinski Dead Sea nearby.
For the ultimate cost effective budget alternative, you can stay in the Saltus Hotel in the ancient mountainside city of Salt, which provides perfect Sicilian-like backdrops fthat you can explore daily by going on walks. Since this is a very modest training hotel, rates start as low as Dh150 per night. Visit their website: www.saltushotel.com.
If you have lots of time (like up to 40 days) and are super adventurous and active, you can actually forego a hotel stay or simply leave it for the final few days and tour Jordan completely by foot, trekking from the hills in the north to the Red Sea in the south. Home stays and camping make this a very rugged and culturally rich experience. You can book tours via www.jordantrail.org or email them at email@example.com. Their next trail thru-hike is scheduled for October 2016.
How to get there
You can get flights from Dubai to Amman on Royal Jordanian, Air Arabia and Emirates, starting from just over Dh1,000, return economy.
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