Every Arab I have met has a mom who just happens to be the best cook in the world. Or so they say. If you get into a conversation about Arabic food (or whatever food for that matter), it will inevitable boil down to a cut-off, final statement, which goes something like this: “Well, they might have good Mansaf in this restaurant, but the best is the one my mom cooks”. For one to refute that would be like preaching atheism to a hard-core Muslim, saying God is dead or worse yet, that there never was one. Ya Allah.
The truth is that there is not ONE mom that cooks the best. All these veiled and unveiled women really are the best chefs; no proud person deliberately lies to me. Discussing the dish above, Mansaf (a rice dish with pine nuts and boiled lamb) with a friend, she of course said her mom did the best, far better than any other mom. The absurdity of it all is that I never really gotten two different kinds of Mansaf: It’s always the same. The need to experiment, to put, say, a bright red tomato right smack in there never seems to occur. You repeat what your mother did, and she what her mother did, and yada yada probably back to the mother of Prophet Mohammed.
I can honestly tell you that my mom’s cooking wasn’t the source of great stories from my part, but hey: I am a Swede and our mom’s are good at reading instructions at the back of Findus frozen meat balls packages but that’s pretty much it. What she did though, was experiment. Just as sure as you never dip your toes in the same river twice, you could bet your Saturday candy allowance that you would never get the same spaghetti Bolognese at my family’s house two times in the row. In Jordan, however, I have a hunch that the Maqlube (an upside-down rice dish with chicken) I tasted two months ago in a Bedouin tent in Wadi Rum tasted pretty much the same as the Maqlube I would have received if I had dined with esteemed nutcracker Lawrence of Arabia some ninety years ago. I guess it’s what they call tradition, right? All the same, it’s a damn tasty dish.