Monday, January 15, 2007


The linkage between Jordanians and tomatoes is difficult to explain. One would never guess that the tomato originated in the Americas, and is not native to this region. We love fresh tomatoes, and cook them with spring beans (fasoulia), with peas (bazailah), with stuffed squash (kusa), with grape leaves, with okra (bamia), and with vegetable roasts (seenieh). We eat it with Arabic salad (fine cut), with foreign salad (with coarse cut), and with tabouleh. We eat them raw (with a sprinkle of salt, and maybe a glass of arak). We cook pastas, and we cook it in a pan with green peppers and onions (hoseh) or with garlic (gallaieh). We roast them on the grill. We love tomatoes.

In the old days, tomatoes were grown in the highlands and were rain fed. These ba’el tomatoes are not much to look at, but they are absolutely delicious, with a great aroma and with a slight tinge of leftover sulfur used as a fungicide. If you drive around in the summer in the rural areas, you might be lucky enough to get this unique treat.

As with everything else, modern life has encroached on the tomato. It is now grown and harvested all year round (given the variety of climatic regions in the country). It is grown in the Jordan valley, in the highlands and even in the desert. For the most part, these are irrigated, and not nearly as good at the rain fed variety. However, they are easy to grow, and the harvest is typically large. When the harvest is in, the prices plummet. Farmers practically give them away at prices that do not cover the cost. Our addiction to tomatoes can probably be traced to the abundance that modern farming has brought.

Of course, this does little good to the farmers. To help, the government built tomato paste factories to help soak up extra production. You can buy little cans of tomato paste for 15 piasters in any grocery store. These little cans should act as a “strategic reserve”, but housewives (including my lovely wife) try to avoid using them if at all possible. Unfortunately, they still haven’t figured out how to make decent catsup.

Anyway, what brings this on? Well, for various reasons the price of tomatoes have hovered around a way too expensive 70 piasters a kilo for the last couple of months, and they are not very good. There is usually an inverse relationship between quality and price. It seems that a mixture of frost and expanded exports have lowered the amount of fresh vegetables shipped to the local markets, causing this phenomenon. Anyway, this is creating much hardship. Humorist Ahmad Hassan Al Zoubi has written an ode to the tomato gallaieh, which is traditionally a poor people’s meal, pointing out that that a pickup load of tomatoes will cost the full salaries of five full-time employees. He jokingly says that it is now cheaper to eat at McDonalds.

It is also causing personal hardship for me, as my wife asks me daily about what she should cook. Without decent tomatoes, the choice becomes limited.

I suppose you know what is going to be planted in my garden this weekend.


At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Intriguing indeed..but here are a couple of tomato-non alligned meals for you to choose from..bearing in mind the current crisis:

Magloobeh opposed to Uzi
Mlookhieh (I like it if there's bbq chicken with it)
Sabanekh (I don't like it)
Kharoof Ma7shi..(I love it)

for more information buy chef ramzi's book! I'm getting hungry and I don't have any option of the above..or those with tomatos

At 10:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems that everyone is complaining about tomato prices these days ... including my dear dad :)

Potato is following by the way; the shawerma place next to our office stopped serving fries with the meals because potato is too expensive :S

I wonder what's next

At 11:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khallaf, I think backyard grown vegetables should be encouraged as a Jordanian family strategic reservoir and a supply of fresh organic veggies. By the way this was practiced extensively in England during world war II and the blitz. I know not many of us have places to grow tomaoes in!!

While on the subject, people living in rural jordan have a way to deal with inflation by exchanging their producs without the use of bank notes except for McDonald's of course!!

At 11:31 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Averroes: You forgot mansaf. Of course, there are alternatives, but as you can see, there are only so many of them.

Welcome to my blog, by the way.

Khalidah: Maybe they will start putting in more meat to fill up the sandwich :)

At 11:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mansaf is a given..are you kidding me? its the master of all food!

Thank you..and bon apetite!

At 6:56 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Mefleh: The garden option is only available to non-Ammanites, mostly. The trend towards apartment dwelling has changed many things, as you point out. I would suspect our veggies are better than the English ones :P

At 8:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The reason of its expense is, tomatoes used to be imported from Lebanon, but after the latest circumstances, Lebanon is not exporting the same amount as it used to be ... & the current tomatoes in the groceries here are 100% Jordanian! Costing of importing it is cheaper than planting it." said my dad :) !!!

At 9:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what are you going to plant khalaf?mint?just kidding..but seriously ..tomatoes are amazing..and to think that I mocked my sister last year when she went to buy a kilo of tomatoes and the guy said 8 oiasters and she thought he meant 80 ..she was shocked that something could be this cheap,and I was shocked that she could seriously imagine tomatoes to be this expensive..but they are now!

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally! Someone addressing a national commodity price rise that is just as important as solar. My husband and I have been complaining about this for weeks.

My kids are DYING for pizza and spaghetti, and I just refuse to pay 70 gsh a kilo for tomatoes! We may have to plant some tomatoes too.

SO, Khalaf, are you going to play tag? Don't forget I tagged you! You already gave us two have a lovely wife and you like tomato-based foods!:)

At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good points Khalaf, and I also think that the potato has become really central to the diet. Any news on potato prices? And are most of the potatos grown here in Jordan sold here?

I heard that Jordanian growers make more money selling their prodice in KSA than selling it here. Do you think there is any truth to this? (I have become aware as a foreigner here that you can find a rumor to support absolutely anything here in the Middle East!)

At 12:22 PM, Blogger tomato lover said...

people people, with these crazy tomato prices when they are not in season, you should seriously try the canned already peeled/chopped and ready to eat tomatoes found in supermarkets!! my husband brought me a couple of 400g tins, the quality, price and convenience is great compared to price of fresh counterpart!! then I did my own research and found out that these processed tomatoes are actually HEALTHIER than fresh!!! can you believe it!! apparently the reason is that these tomatoes are picked and processed directly when ripe but the fresh ones are picked while green and then they are sprayed with chemicals when needed to turn red!!!! also it seems that canned tomatoes are cooked at very high Temperature degrees for very short period - so all the vitamins are preserved in the tomato, while when we try to cook the fresh tomato - we keep them on heat for long periods and this causes most vitamins to disappear!!!! of course you need the fresh for salads and stuff like that,, but for cooking you should seriously try the processed ones!!!


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