This post is part of the Digital Nomad project with National Geographic Traveller.
The greeting was warm and unfussy. After a long drive back to Aqaba it was a pleasure to stretch out, sit in the shaded courtyard and do nothing more energetic than sip tea while our host busied herself with preparing lunch.
We were at the home of Ghada Al Fayoumi, and were about to enjoy home-cooked bukhari – a traditional Aqaba dish made with rice and lamb, mixed with spices and beans. An initiative is being developed in Aqaba to offer visitors the chance to have a meal in a typical family home. The benefits extend beyond merely sampling some great food; there’s also the chance to venture beyond the city centre and to encounter people in their own homes, a sharp contrast from the tourist activity along the beach front.
Ghada called us in from the courtyard and into her cool living/dining room. Seeing the mounds of food on the table my immediate reaction was to ask how many were going to join us. “Just us,” she said with a smile, as her teenage daughter joined our small group. “This is the Arab way.” A large plate was filled with meat and rice, and around this were a green salad and over a dozen pickles, including chillies, pickled lemons, radishes, carrots, spring onions, and and a mixed green salad.
My plate was piled particularly high, and I had barely made a modest dent in the mound before Ghada was on her feet and piling more on my plate. As the only male around the table, my protests were always doomed: “Arab men always eat very well” she told us, and a third plateful was soon added.
We retired back to the courtyard for dessert. Ghada had prepared hooh – a sweet pastry with nuts, drizzled with a mixture of sugar and lemon juice. Ghada chatted with us in her faltering English, proudly pointing out her plants: “I talk to them every morning – that’s why they do so well”. At the back of the courtyard was an enormous air-conditioning unit (around the size of a typical bank safe), which appeared to be a fully-functioning relic of the 1970s.
Topped up with more tea and some of the juiciest dates I’ve tasted, Ghada took out her phone and showed us photos of her father’s recent fishing trip, where he took a video of himself reeling in a giant tuna; not for the first time on this trip, a mobile phone provided a source of communal entertainment without any constraints of language.
Before we left, Ghada told us about the book of traditional Aqabawi recipes on which she’s currently working; it has been a long project which she has had to squeeze in while taking care of her children and grandchildren, but is now nearing completion.
We enjoyed our afternoon visiting Ghada, chatting with her and eating way too much of another traditional Aqabawi dish. A serious post-trip diet is most certainly on the cards.
Lunch at a local home in Aqaba can be arranged on request via the Tourist Information Centre in the city centre.
You can find other posts from the Digital Nomad project on the National Geographic Traveller website.