Day 100: Jordan
For what promises to be the final double-dip in Man Bites World (remember— it’s about the dish, not the restaurant), we return to Sham in Santa Monica today to eat their Friday special— Jordanian mansaf. They don’t serve the most truly traditional version at Sham, because it would be basically impossible in a small restaurant. Ordinarily, it’s a massive, communal dish that’s meant to fulfill the needs of quite a few people. The basis of the dish, essentially, is lamb meat cooked in a sauce made from fermented, then dried yogurt. But rather than served on a bed of rice on top of a giant flatbread, at Sham, it is served simply on rice, in a bowl.
There is one other slight deviation from normalcy today, as the MBW crew is going to be joined at our meal by a reporter and a photographer with the Associated Press. They’ve picked a good day to join, since we have a lot of familiar faces at the table, including the three people who have been to the most meals on the Personal Food Project in Blog Form thus far— GirlfriendBites, Mr. Meatball and MamaBites. Now, since there is only one specifically Jordanian dish on the menu, I’m ordering it and everyone else is just getting whatever they feel like. So while we’re asked questions, with everyone chiming in and offering their opinions, I’m also poking my fork around the table and getting a taste of everyone’s food. Delicious spinach and cheese fattayers (the stuffed baked doughs that we’ve covered before) and black tea with mint start us off, while pictures are snapped and everyone else in the restaurant glances over, as if to say “Who the hell are those people and why would anyone with an expensive camera give a crap?” But I snack on tender fish kabob and various meat-based sandwiches, with my favorite probably being GFB’s chicken shawarma, which is moist, but has some amazingly crispy and blackened bits that really take it to a nice place. There’s also a humongous pile of garlic sauce next to it on the plate, which certainly does not hurt things. Mom tries to keep it healthier, opting for tabbouleh, some hummus and the house salad. Eventually, my mansaf comes. The lamb almost has the consistency of a perfectly cooked sea bass, but the flavor is something entirely different. It really does taste exactly like what it is— lamb with fermented yogurt. Tart, creamy, robust and slightly bitter, it has a flavor that seems like a bizarre fusion of traditional Middle Eastern cooking and an old school southern French farmer’s meal. Stinky, delicate, masculine and soothing— all rolled into one.
I must say, I’m really enjoying having everyone else here for a press situation, since it means, first of all, that I can eat a little more easily (chewing and talking at the same time is still a taboo, I think). But it’s also great to hear the perspective of the other people that have been a part of all this and, quite frankly, to stop talking about myself for a few minutes here and there. Eventually, the rest of the crew leaves for work or various other appointments, and it’s just Mom, the reporter, the camera person and myself. We talk to our server for a few minutes, I’m asked a few more one-on-one questions, then we wrap things up and say goodbye. To be honest, there wasn’t too much out of the ordinary on this day, other than the reporter (and reporters are meant to blend in and just be a part of the conversation). More shawerma, more kabob, more hummus, more of the same people I’ve been seeing almost every day— and not even a new restaurant. Was it fun? Certainly. But as the Personal Food Project in Blog Form begins to wind down toward its natural conclusion (which looks to be very, very soon), it seems like maybe it’s a good thing that the time has come. After yesterday’s Samoa fiasco, today’s repeat restaurant, and the upcoming requirement of another San Diego trip to keep things going— maybe running out of countries is a good thing. This project has been all about expanding horizons, doing new things and eating foods that are exciting. But as the options dwindle, those elements are starting to dissolve as well. I mean, we made it to 100 days! That, all by itself, is pretty darn amazing to me, and I couldn’t have possibly done it without a lot of help. So thank you to everybody that has been reading, forwarding, suggesting and continue to do so, as we move through these last days of Man Bites World. It’s been a truly life-changing ride.
716 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Food Breakdown: 5 non-alcoholic beverages, 10 dishes
Distance From My House: 6.9 miles