Saturday, 18 February 2012

A Few Gifts For Home

   I hadn’t thought we were going to be acting as a private aid convoy, then felt unworthy as I remembered how the family sent little luxuries over whenever they could. Luxuries I had come to think of as everyday things – candles, toothpaste, fine soap, English tea and liquorice allsorts, the latter a particular weakness of Mariam’s, apparently.
   ‘How much stuff are we taking over?’
   ‘A couple of bags. We won’t take too much in case it doesn’t get through. The Israelis sometimes just confiscate the lot.’
   ‘Okay, I’ll come to yours. Nine? Can I bring anything for them?’
   ‘Nine’s fine. And yes, it’d be a nice idea to bring Hamad some sweets, maybe. Zalatimo? He’s crazy about them.’
   Amman’s famous Zalatimo Brothers, a shop in the bustling Shmeisani district packed with huge trays of fine, butter-soaked filo pastry parcels filled with nuts and honey, tubes of fried vermicelli packed with pistachios, neat, rich cakes of cracked wheat and nuts and date-filled crumbly maamoul pastries, all ready to scoop up and be tightly arrayed into their distinctive dark red and gold tins.
Olives, Page 153

Zalatimo is such a guilty pleasure: honeyed filo pastry and vermicelli sweets that reek of buttery sweetness packed, as Paul points out, in distinctive dark red tins. The Zalatimo business actually started in Jerusalem in 1860 and it wasn’t until the late 1980s that Zalatimo opened up in Amman.

Now they’re something of a national institution, one of those gifts you have to bring back from Jordan along, probably, with a bottle of olive oil, some holy water and a brace of Silsal pots. And then there are olive wood carvings, intricate little pieces of silverware from the women of Wadi Dana, the glassware and ceramics and the colourful traditional kandouras.

There are much nicer places to buy handcrafts from Jordan than the Airport Duty Free: one such is the Jordan River Foundation, which was established (and is still chaired) by Queen Rania.  The Silsal Pottery is really a must visit experience, a stunning collection of contemporary ceramic creativity. And if you can’t get down to the Wadi Dana and stay in the village to visit the stunning nature reserve, you can buy the silverware and other craft products at the Wild Cafe’s shop. I’m quite fond of the gift shop attached to the stunning Haret Jdoudna restaurant in Madaba, a favourite lunchtime treat - and the food there is simply majestic.It'll b a long time before I forget their potatoes sauteed with rosemary with an egg scrambled into them. Sitting up on the sun-dappled roof with dishes of food, great company and cold beers on a sunny spring day, things are about as good as you'd want them to get...

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