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A Trip to the Souq in Amman–How People Shop for Food

My friends and colleagues in the US asked me how different Amman is from the US. Since I’ve only lived in Virginia, I can only compare to that. There are differences in terms of the society, culture, geography, weather, etc, but I thought it would interesting to show what it’s like to shop for food.

I think one of the biggest differences is the style of the grocery store. Most US grocery stores are a one-stop shop for produce, meat, packaged foods, bakery, pharmacy, cleaning supplies, etc. While this type of shops is emerging–there is a Safeway and a Carrefour (a French store)–the traditional and prevalent style is little stores for each type of food.

I went with my mom one day and took pictures of a spices/nuts/coffee store, a produce store, and bakery, and a supermarket. They tend to be placed in clusters. I wrote comments about each…

"Bun Zheiman" store. It's one of the oldest and most famous stores for spices, herbs, coffee, and nuts. The founder started out in Jerusalem many years ago (something like 50 or 60)

Za'atar. They sell many versions that differ in the proportion of ingredients. Za'atar means thyme in Arabic, but in this context, it's a mix made of thyme, summac spice, sesame seeds, and sometimes other spices like coriander

A snapshot of some of the spices available. They are sold by weight

Dry beans... black, red, white, lentils.. and raw corn kernels

Dry beans... black, red, white, lentils.. and raw corn kernels

Two types of raw pine nuts! They just look gorgeous

Turmeric plant root. When crushed, it yields the spice turmeric, which is high in the antioxidant curcumin. I posted earlier two recipes made with turmeric, one for a side of eggplants and another for tomato stew main meal

Roasted watermelon seeds. One of the employees brought a large roasting tray and poured those--steaming hot and sizzling--right in front of us

Dry potato chips to fry at home. Not the healthiest food, but at least you can guarantee the quality of the oil

Off to the produce store. Green Zucchini. It's sold in the US as Japanese zucchini but it's the same variation common to the Middle East

Cucumbers... the small variety is local to the area

Delicious gorgeious fruits...

More beautiful fruits...

More goreious fruits

To the bakery. Pita bread

Fresh baked bread loafs on large cooling racks

A selection of baked goods

To the supermarket. Most of the processed foods are here

And dairy products as well...

There are a bunch of nice things about this shopping style. The food you buy is fresh; freshly baked, roasted, ground, etc, and the produce is mostly local and seasonal. The stores are not franchised, but instead owned by locals and many times families who take pride in their one-of-a-kind products. Each store, town, or neighborhood can offer a unique selection of products, have it be bread, cookies, spice mixes, coffee, roasted nuts flavors, etc.

The disadvantage is that you have to go from one place to another to complete your shopping, and carts are not available. I can’t imagine doing that with a child tagging along. Often, you can’t guarantee consistency in what you need to buy. Pita bread is not the same pita bread every where. And you can’t walk in a store and grab your favorite Dunkin’ Donuts coffee flavor.

One thing for sure: shopping for food is an experience, a trial and error, and definitely, a word of mouth.

Question for you: have you been somewhere in the world where you found a new and/or interesting way to shop for food? Where?

Coming up next:

Tea cookies are common and one type made with anise seeds is my favorite. I actually tried to make it at home and it was such a success. Easy to make from ingredients available everywhere. I will be posting the recipe on Wednesday.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kristen (swanky dietitian) June 14, 2010, 11:41 am

    I can see how there could be pros and cons to both.
    I am sure the quality and taste of the food is better since each store specializes.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • rebecca subbiah June 14, 2010, 4:20 pm

    wow what a cool place love the spices but you know me I am spice mad, great post, keep em coming

    oh I started a radio show maybe you could be a future guest?

    Rebecca

  • Ahmad Abuhamda June 14, 2010, 4:43 pm

    Good stuff (tasty too). Can’t wait to go to Amman!

  • tasteofbeirut June 15, 2010, 3:28 pm

    I have never been to Amman; I would love to go and especially to Petra one day. I love that spice store! Even the biggest one in Beirut seems smaller in comparison!

  • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD June 15, 2010, 4:16 pm

    Thanks Kristen for the comment. I tend to do the same in VA too… I shop for certain foods from certain places… it’s more driving, but sometimes it’s the quality that I’m looking for…

    Rebecca: I can see you being a spice mad! I think I’m in that crowd too. Would love to be a guest. Will get in touch!

    Taste of Beirut: you should make a trip to Amman when you’re in Beirut. This spice store is pretty big…you have the name if you’re ever here!

  • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD June 15, 2010, 4:17 pm

    Ahmad: I agree, tasty stuff… I’m sure Amman can’t wait too!

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