Guest contribution by Jareer Kassis
Let me make it clear from the outset: I have no stake in mansaf. If it is served, I eat it; if it is not, I don’t crave it. It is reasonably tolerable on the palate if prepared correctly (more on that in a minute) but it is certainly not a delicacy that you should indulge in too often if you hope to live long enough to see your grandkids. But regardless of whether you love it or hate it, you are highly likely to encounter this behemoth of a meal if your family origins are from a town within a 100-mile radius of the Dead Sea. Therefore, my piece of advice to you is simply as follows: If you have to eat it, make sure it is made in Palestine.
I can already hear howls of protest: “But mansaf is a Jordanian dish!” Well of course it is! We Palestinians have more common sense when it comes to avoiding artery-clogging meals (well, slightly). If mansaf was good enough to be a Palestinian dish, obviously you’d have seen it offered at the Harvard Business School cafeteria next to “Israeli” hummus. No, it absolutely is a Jordanian concoction, and it is even considered the Jordanian national dish—which is fine when you realize that it is the only “national” artifact the Jordanians can claim to be proud of (considering even their national anthem sounds like an out-of-tune preamble to an actual theme that never arrives).
So why should you prefer Palestinian-made mansaf? Two reasons. First, our ingredients are infinitely better. Think of what goes into mansaf. Lamb meat: Where would shepherds prefer to graze their cattle, the fresh green hills of Palestine or the few thistles growing along the highway between Amman and Zarqa? Goat’s milk: In Palestine we have a regionally-famous dairy factory (Juneidi) that even the Israelis buy from – and we actually milk our cattle first (as opposed to what Jordanians do; I’m too afraid to ask after seeing what looks like an entire dead animal plopped onto the serving tray in a YouTube video). Roasted almonds and pine nuts? In Palestine we have songs about the quality of the produce grown in our lands. If you’re Palestinian, would you actually betray six years of being made to sing “Wallah ta-azra’ak fil-dar ya ‘oud il-lawz il-akhdar” in elementary school by buying almonds from Jordan? If you’re not Palestinian, know that there is no more precious taste in one’s mouth than that of the produce of a people who sing songs about it. Trust me on this point.
The second reason is psychological. If you were to eat mansaf in Jordan, who would be making it? How do you know the cook isn’t related to that guy at the airport who made you stand in line too long upon arrival and gave you a hard time? Don’t scoff, the chances are not that low. Or even worse, what if the Jordanian mansaf you’re offered is the favorite version of the Jordanian agent at the Allenby Bridge who made you wait for a few hours in the sweltering heat before you could get on the bus to cross into Palestine? Can you just see him inside his air-conditioned box ignoring your pleas to get your passport stamped while simultaneously making vapid small talk with his colleague? And if he does talk to you, he’ll give you that “only-in-Jordan” furrowed brow that smacks of arrogance plus indifference while giving you no useful information. Yes – he’s probably waiting for his shift to be over so he can go home and chew on some Jordanian mansaf. Does that same mansaf taste good to you now? Come to think of it, how do we know that the furrowed-brow syndrome isn’t some side-effect of a lifetime of ingesting Jordanian-made mansaf? This possibility certainly hasn’t been ruled out!
In conclusion, dear reader, the case for Palestinian-made mansaf is absolutely solid. When you eat a fat-laden, diabetes-friendly meal, the last thing you want to be burdened with is the additional stress of questioning the source of the ingredients, or worse, your own sense of patriotism and moral decency. Therefore, my well-fed friends, take my advice: even if it’s Jordanian, eat it Palestinian!
Jareer Kassis is a biology research scientist currently working in North Carolina. He was raised in Ramallah in a household where mansaf was never made.