What is Mansaf?

Cardamom is commonly used to season mansaf.

Mansaf is Jordan’s national dish. It typically consists of lamb and a sauce made from fermented dry yogurt called jameed. Mansaf is usually served over a layer of rice or a mixture of several husked grains called semolina. This combination is traditionally served on top of a thin piece of flat bread. It is often presented on large platters as the centerpiece for special occasions such as weddings, engagements, Christmas and Jordanian Independence Day.

The dish was created thousands of years ago and was inspired by the immediate availability of yogurt and lamb. It should be a communal meal, with several people around the plate to eat. Instead of utensils, the right hand is traditionally used to pick up food, while the left hand is placed behind the back.

Preparing mansaf is a time-consuming process that is approached very carefully. It usually starts with jameed processing. This Arabic Dry Yogurt is soaked for an hour, kneaded and then dried again. It is then combined with water and spices to make a cooking broth.

Before cooking, the lamb is cut into pieces. It is then boiled in the yogurt broth, which is stirred periodically to keep the sauce’s texture consistent. In addition to the sauce, lamb is traditionally prepared with a variety of herbs and spices such as cinnamon and cardamom. Often this preparation is cooked over an open fire in a hanging pan.

Mansaf is served on large platters. The first layer of the dish is a large, thin piece of flatbread, usually shrak or markook, both styles of bread common in the Middle East. It can be topped with yogurt first. Then the bread is covered with a pile of rice cooked in oil.

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The cooked pieces of mutton are spread over the rice. It is then topped with a yogurt sauce made from the cooking broth. Typical garnishes on the dish include pine nuts and almonds.

There are other types of Mansaf, including varieties with different types of meat, seasonings and preparation methods. Chicken is another popular meat used in the dish and fish is commonly used in areas close to the sea such as the port city of Aqaba in the West Bank. Mansaf has also been adapted for daily cooking with a regular yogurt sauce that does not require as much work or preparation time.

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