Jordanians love a party and need little excuse to hold one, making for a lively experience in the bars and restaurants of Amman and at the country's big hotels and resorts. Alcohol is not required to make the party go with a swing – tea seems to have a similar effect on the country's nightlife, which generally starts late (after 9pm) and continues into the small hours of the morning.
Tea & Coffee
Tea and coffee are the major social lubricants in Jordan.
Tea (shai) is probably the more popular drink, taken without milk and in various degrees of sweetness: with sugar (sukkar ziyada), a little sugar (sukkar qaleel) or no sugar (bidoon sukkar). In most cafes you can ask for refreshing mint tea (shai ma n’aana). Zaatar (a blend of spices that includes hyssop, sumac and sesame) and marrameeya (sage) herbal teas are especially delicious in Dana.
Coffee (qahwa) is served strong, sweet and flavoured with cardamom, and usually contains thick sediment. You can specify a small espresso-sized cup (finjan) or large cup (kassa kabira). In traditional Bedouin areas, coffee is served in small porcelain bowls or small glasses and the host will always refill a guest’s coffee cup. A good guest will accept a minimum of three cups but not more than five; gently ‘dancing’ the cup from side to side indicates you’ve had enough.
For men, Jordan’s coffeehouses are great places to watch the world go by, write a letter, meet the locals and play a hand of cards, accompanied by the incessant clacking of domino and backgammon pieces and the gurgling of fruity nargileh (water pipes). Foreign women, with a bit of courage and modest attire, are usually tolerated. Traditional coffeehouses don’t generally serve food.
Sahlab is a delicious traditional winter drink, served hot with milk, nuts and cinnamon. Look for it at hot-drink vendors, recognisable by their silver samovars.
Water is generally safe to drink in hotels and restaurants, and is available in earthenware ewers along rural roads; bottled water, however, minimises stomach upsets. Fresh pomegranate and rockmelon juices (aseer) are a regional highlight.
In a predominantly Muslim country where alcohol is considered haram (forbidden) for most of the population, discreet imbibing of alcohol is acceptable for non-Muslims and the country supports a small wine industry and also a microbrewery. The latter was set up by a Christian Jordanian engineer who brought the concept of home-brewing from the US. The resulting Carakale brand (www.carakale.com/home) is a full-bodied beer much appreciated by aficionados.
Unlike the nascent brewing industry, viticulture has an ancient regional lineage. In contrast to neighbouring countries, however, Jordan's modern tradition of wine production was only revived a generation ago – almost single-handedly by Omar Zumot. A Christian from Amman who studied winemaking at a monastery in France, Zumot's organically produced St George wines give the lighter Mt Nebo wines a run for their money. If you're not convinced, it's easy to try both in top-end restaurants throughout Jordan.
In addition to beer and wine, arak (an aniseed-derived spirit) is drunk with enthusiasm by Christian Jordanians, in Amman and Madaba especially. Dilute with water to avoid the after-effects!