Reaching Beit Sitti requires climbing up one of Amman’s notorious hills to the trendy Jabal Al-Weibdeh district, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods. Beit Sitti is Arabic for “grandmother’s house”. I discovered this cooking class in Amman while looking for things to do in the Jordanian capital. The promise of a delicious Jordanian meal is now what keeps me walking uphill in 35C heat!

Halfway up an artsy staircase, the house is easy to find and immediately provides shade and relief from the heat. The door is open and three guests are already inside sipping sweet lemonade.

Staircase leading to Beit Sitti, Amman

Staircase leading to Beit Sitti, Amman

A family business operating out of the ancestral home, Beit Sitti is the brainchild of three sisters, Maria, Tania, and Dina, who decided to keep their grandma’s memory alive by teaching the recipes they learned from her when they were young. It’s also a social business which gives local women the opportunity to showcase and share their cooking skills.

In perfect English, our host Wafaa introduces herself as the “facilitator”, since Majida, the local woman in the kitchen today, does not speak much English. I’m a little disappointed to learn that none of the three sisters will be joining us. Wafaa tells me that two of them currently live abroad, and the third has a young baby.

Two more guests arrive and we start chatting while waiting for the stragglers. It is well past 4:00 PM when a group of four fashionable (and fashionably late) Americans arrive, and then we’re ready to begin. Because it is Ramadan, the class starts in the mid-afternoon so we can have an early dinner before the staff leaves just before sunset.

Learning to cook Jordanian food at Beit Sitti

The cooking class begins! (cooking class in Amman)

The cooking class begins!

Wafaa instructs us to put on an apron and go wash our hands. Everybody takes a spot in front of the long countertop where we each have our own cutting board and knife. With an equal number of men and women, our multicultural group is composed of two Scotts, two Belgians, one German, the four Americans, and me (the Canadian).

Each class prepares four dishes that include a main course, side dish, salad, and dessert, in addition to homemade bread. The menu for today is:

  • Cucumber salad with yoghurt
  • Mutabbal (known abroad as “baba ganoush”)
  • Ouzisurar (phylo pastry stuffed with rice, meat, peas & carrots, and many spices)
  • Coconut basbousa (a moist coconut cake)

That seems like a lot to create over a mere two hours, but some of the preparation has been done beforehand, such as cutting the meat and cooking the rice.

Dicing cucumbers for the salad (cooking class in Amman)

Dicing cucumbers for the salad

Hand mixing the filling for the ouzisurar (cooking class in Amman)

Hand mixing the filling for the ouzisurar

Mixing the ingredients for the coconut cake (cooking class in Amman)

Mixing the ingredients for the coconut cake

Under Wafaa and Majida’s guidance, our job is mostly to chop vegetables, and stir ingredients (often with our bare hands). We learn how to crush garlic without a garlic press and how to peel roasted eggplants so the smoked part of the flesh remains. Even people who rarely cook won’t feel intimidated taking this class.

The instruction is punctuated by a lot of banter and jokes, both from Wafaa and some of the guests. (Not me though, I’m too busy taking photos!) They make us taste several spices and other ingredients by laying them on top of our hands. This taste test is also how we adjust the proportions of ingredients in the mutabbal. Jordanian cuisine doesn’t seem to be an exact science, as everything is measured in “heaping spoonfuls”.  I doubt if I’ll be able to reproduce any of this, even with Wafaa saying that she will send us the recipes. This cooking class is a lot of fun nevertheless. 🙂

Wafaa laughs when she learns that we all refer to mutabbal as “baba ganoush” in our home countries. “Why is that?” she asks. “That’s what they tell us to call it,” somebody replies.

The ouzisurar ready to be cooked (cooking class in Amman)

The ouzisurar ready to be cooked

Majida roasting eggplants and taking food out of the oven (cooking class in Amman)

Majida roasting eggplants and taking food out of the oven

We get to stuff phylo pastry sheets with the mixture of meat, rice, and veggies, but only Majida has access to the outdoor oven. Next to it is the grill where we roasted the eggplants to give them that smoky taste characteristic of mutabbal. Wafaa tells us we can roast them in the oven instead, but I don’t think it would taste quite the same…

Eating a Jordanian feast we cooked ourselves

My plate with "a bit of everything"

My plate with “a bit of everything” (except dessert)

Finally, after a couple of hours, everything comes together beautifully. Since the heat of the day has abated somewhat, we decide to eat outside on the terrace, with great views of Amman around us. We spoon generous helpings of food from the serving dishes into our plates, sit down around the elegant table, and dig in.

“After 10 days in Jordan, I think this is the best food I’ve had,” I say, and everybody agrees. Yet the dishes are simple, composed of only four or five main ingredients. No doubt the myriad of spices and the freshness of the produce are what make this food so tasty. The small rounds of flat bread, warm from the oven, are unexpectedly addictive. Chris, one of the Americans, is in rapture over them.

Now that we don’t have to focus on cooking instructions, the conversation turns a little more personal as guests get to know each other better. AlI of a sudden, I hear gasps and exclamations coming from my right: Chris and Wafaa are talking, and she’s reacting like she’s just been told something she finds hard to believe. I remember that Chris is from Los Angeles… “Are you famous or something?” I say half-jokingly.

Enjoying our home-cooked meal

Enjoying our home-cooked meal

Well, it turns out that Chris is actually Chris Sullivan, an American actor of some notoriety. Of course, not having a TV to watch shows like “This Is Us”, and not being familiar with Marvel movies (and a certain character called “Taserface”) I had never heard of him. The rest of the group is not too shabby either, and include a chemist and a Lufthansa pilot!

As the sun sets and daylight fades, I leave my dinner friends behind and walk back down into the town centre. The call to prayer reverberates from minarets while tables spread out onto the sidewalks for hungry families to break the daily fast of Ramadan. Along the boulevards, light displays twinkle and cars honk merrily, as I make my way through the balmy night with a very full tummy.

If you want to go

Wafaa and me after dinner

Wafaa and I after the class

If you want to take Beit Sitti’s cooking class in Amman, you need to reserve in advance by calling, emailing, or messaging them on Facebook. Since they buy the ingredients fresh from the Market every day, they need to know how many people to expect.

Classes are available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and you can bring your own wine (if you can find some).

The cost to join a group is 35 JOD per person. Because some people book very last minute, you may not receive a confirmation until a few days before your chosen date(s), so you need to be patient… and flexible.

Beit Sitti is located at 16 Mohammad Ali Al Saadi Street (you will see a sign pointing up a staircase). If you don’t want to walk uphill, a taxi shouldn’t cost more than 2 JOD from locations downtown. Detailed directions to give your taxi are included on their website.

(Note: I was a guest of Beit Sitti during this cooking class. As usual, all opinions are my own.)

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