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Expatriate American dishes up Jordanian cuisine

Does tabouleh salad deserve to become as commonplace on world restaurant menus as Ceasar and Greek salads?

Well, the answer from Wendy Botham is an unqualified yes.

Botham, a transplanted American who has a tour company in the Jordanian town of Petra, boosted her presence in the community by opening Petra Kitchen some two years ago, with the enterprise enabling people to learn how to prepare Jordanian cuisine, cuisine that the well-travelled Botham says is greatly underappreciated, even as such Middle Eastern creations as falafel gain a worldwide following.

Visitors work alongside local women and a chef to create meals that feature the likes of such regional appetizers as baba gannuj and main courses, with Petra Kitchen promising that clients will get an “inside glimpse of the secrets behind the famous regional cuisine of the Levant” as the region Jordan is in is sometimes called.

“This is a very Jordanian experience,” promises Botham, who arrived in Petra – found next to the storied archeological site of the same name that in 2007 was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – in the 1990s while exploring the world and decided to stay.

The inspiration for Petra Kitchen came after Botham saw cooking classes featuring instruction in preparing Italian meals at tourist shows.

Petra Kitchen has six cooking tables for guests, who can opt for nightly classes or multi-day ones that can include having participants visit markets with Petra Kitchen’s chef and buy their own meal ingredients.

Botham insists that Jordanian food is best prepared inside Jordan as it’s often hard to get fresh ingredients outside the country.

She describes Petra Kitchen as a financially viable enterprise that generates income for the community, having 12 employees. Aprons provided to students and Petra Kitchen furnishings are Jordanian-made, and a handicrafts store is found upstairs.

Botham says Petra Kitchen is unique in Jordan and perhaps in the Middle East, and the project has the blessing of Nayef Al-Fayez, managing director of the Jordan Tourism Board, who declares that taking courses at Petra Kitchen amounts to a “unique experience” for tourists interested in Jordanian life.

“This is what they [Jordanians] cook every day,” he says of Petra Kitchen offerings. Those who take Petra Kitchen courses are given recipes for the dishes they made, with Botham, who’s learned passable Arabic during her time in Petra, saying she hopes they’ll invite friends to a Jordanian-style feast after returning home.

And before they return home they can enjoy the likes of such Levant creations as green wheat soup – provided they’re ready to don an apron, says Botham, who makes it clear that Petra Kitchen isn’t a restaurant.

“No cooking, no eating -- unless you bring someone along to cook for you,” she cautions.


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