During your trip to Jordan, as you hike in Petra, camp in Wadi Rum, float in the Dead Sea, wander around Amman, and dive in Aqaba, you’ll have the chance to pick up a few mementos and gifts along the way. The following authentic and (mostly) affordable buys will fit in your suitcase and capture the captivating Jordanian culture.
Embroidered items and Bedouin weaves are popular Jordanian souvenirs, but perhaps the most practical and iconic textile choice is a traditional headscarf, called keffiyeh in Arabic. The classic Jordanian keffiyeh is a houndstooth checkered pattern: red and white is worn by Bedouins, black and white by Palestinians. Buy one of each. They’re sold at the most-visited spots in Jordan, and usually come with a lesson on how to wrap your head like a proper desert dweller. If you’re looking for something a little more stylish, SEP Jordan makes scarves and wraps in traditional styles and a rainbow of colours. The ethical pieces are hand-stitched by women refugees supported by the company.
Mosaics are a distinctly Jordanian art form (don’t miss the region’s oldest mosaics in Madaba) but the real deal can be quite expensive. Mosaic-style ceramics are a more reasonably priced alternative. Before you hop on your flight to Jordan, you can pre-order a mosaic-style mug customised with your name in Arabic or English via All From Jordan, and pick it up in Amman. Or while adventuring, you’ll certainly come across all kinds of traditional pottery, mosaic-style and otherwise. For hand-painted ceramics in a more contemporary style, check out Sharqi, which offers ceramics made by refugee women, starting at USD $29.
More and more companies are making hand-crafted chocolates in Jordan, but two particularly reflect the local culture. At Jameed Chocolate, Chef Omar Sartawi’s not-so-secret ingredient is local goat milk, specifically jameed, a yogurt dried into a hard cheese, which is also used in Jordan’s national dish, mansaf. At Ishq Artisan Chocolates, Zahira Haram crafts exquisite chocolates with modern flavour profiles influenced by the current season and local ingredients – she also skips the refined sugar and uses other more natural sources of sweetness.
Jobedu and Mlabbas take existing sayings, logos and images and create well-designed witty take-offs in Arabic. If you don’t speak the language, the staff will patiently interpret the Arabic and explain every pun and every play on words. The design aesthetic and sense of humour of both brands is spot on. You can grab all kinds of accessories, like keychains, coasters and totes, as well as T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with inside jokes (such as the universally understood camel crossing sign).
The Ajloun area in northwestern Jordan is known for its olives.You can pick up bottles of Ajloun olive oil at any supermarket, but the cloudy, fresh-pressed good stuff comes from freshly picked olives. The annual olive harvest happens in the fall after the first substantial rain. if you’re in Jordan between October and December, plan a trip to Ajloun to visit an olive farm and watch the pressing of oil – and, of course, pick up some bottles to enjoy at home.
Amman is a sanctuary for regional artists and, not surprisingly, the epicentre of the emerging art scene is Jabal Weibdeh. Stop by the higher end art galleries, but do note that the real deals can be found by wandering the streets of Jabal Weibdeh, paying special attention to cafes and artist studios (like the artist-owned Sham Cafe on Nemr Al Edwan Street). Another gallery for affordable local art, Jacaranda Images, can be found off Rainbow Street.
The classic gift from Jordan is a tin of Zalatimo Sweets. Visit one of their 11 shops around Amman and choose your own the contents, or pick up a ready-made selection at the Queen Alia International Airport on your way out of town. If you’re overwhelmed by the choices, you can’t go wrong with the mini baklava or the adorable little pistachio nests called osh al bulbul. Their packable tins are perfect for sharing at a family gathering or as a gift for your office mates.
For those willing to splurge on a piece of heirloom jewellery that captures the spirit of Jordan, Nadia Dajani, whose jewellery shop is on the ground floor of the Intercontinental Amman, is known for her minimalist style featuring Arabic calligraphy and other regionally inspired designs. If that’s a bit much, keep your eyes peeled for Bedouin-style tribal costume jewellery. The quality varies so don’t spend a lot, but snag a piece or two if something catches your eye and the price is right.
Sumac and za’atar may not be exclusive to Jordan, but they’re a great way to bring the unique flavours of Jordan to just about any dish. Sumac is a lemony and salty spice the colour of red wine, and za’atar comes in various blends, but the base is typically thyme and sesame seeds. And, of course, grabbing some finishing salt from the Dead Sea is always a good idea for the cooks in your life. You can purchase all these at most mini marts and supermarkets, but Kabatilo spice shops scattered around Amman are known for their quality.
Because of the high quality of olive oil available in Jordan, it follows that there are some great olive-oil soaps in the market at very good prices. You can find local hand-crafted soaps at Cozmo supermarkets, like Dr. Mak, which comes in both bar and liquid form. Better yet, if you want to do a little good, Sitti and Zarqa Life are two values-driven organisations offering soap hand-crafted by local women, many of whom live in refugee camps and communities.
Brand-name Dead Sea mud is widely available in tourist shops, but it’s not exactly bargain priced. The best alternative: if your trip includes a stay at a Dead Sea hotel, have the spa package their mud for you to take home. The best spas put the clay mud through a sterilisation process, but in a way that preserves the healthy minerals. The other alternative is to scan local stores for reasonably priced small packets of the therapeutic mud, which are great for gifting.