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Mansaf is the national dish of Jordan. It typically consists of lamb and a sauce made of fermented dried yogurt called jameed. Mansaf is usually served on top of a bed of rice or a mixture of various hulled grains called groats. This combination is traditionally served on top of a thin piece of flatbread. It is often presented on large trays as the central dish for special occasions such as weddings, engagements, Christmas, and the Jordanian Independence Day.
The dish was first created thousands of years ago, and was inspired by the ready availability of yogurt and lamb. It is meant to be a communal meal, with multiple people standing around the platter to eat. Instead of utensils, the right hand is traditionally used to pick up the food, while the left hand is placed behind the back.
Preparation of mansaf is a time-consuming process which is approached with great care. It typically starts with the processing of the jameed. This Arabian dried yogurt is soaked for an hour, mashed, and then dried again. It is then combined with water and spices to make a cooking broth.
Before cooking, the lamb is cut into chunks. It is then boiled in the yogurt broth, which is stirred periodically in order to to keep the sauce texture consistent. In addition to the sauce, the 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 pot.
Mansaf is served on large platters. The first layer on the dish is a large, thin piece of flatbread, usually either shrak or markook, both styles of bread common in the Middle East. It may be coated with yogurt first. Then the bread is covered with a heaping pile of rice that has been cooked in oil.
The cooked lamb chunks are spread over the rice. It is then covered with a yogurt sauce made from the cooking broth. Typical garnishes for the dish include pine nuts and almonds.
There are other kinds of Mansaf, including varieties with different kinds of meat, spices, and preparation methods. Chicken is another popular meat used in the dish and fish is commonly used in areas near the sea such as the port at the West Bank city of Aqaba. Mansaf has also been adapted for daily cooking with a regular yogurt sauce that does not require as much work or preparation time.