By Emily Millett
Surprisingly edgy and forward-thinking, Amman—the capital and largest city of Jordan—is cruising confidently along the cusp between contemporary vision and deep-seated Arabic tradition. Evident in its cuisine, lifestyle and vibrant emerging arts scene, the often-bypassed capital city is a perfect choice for young culture vultures seeking a taste of real Arabia with an unconventional twist. Here, a handful of places that make Amman the tradition-rooted melting pot of cultural authenticity and creative innovation it is today.
Widely considered the best place for fresh falafel in Amman, Hashem's popularity can be rated by the steady stream of local clientele clamoring for a place to sit in the alley off busy Al-Amir Mohammed Street where the shop is nestled. Remaining true to his roots, Hashem has not let his falafel fame go to his head. Leave your pretention at the door to this hole-in-the-wall style eatery because quality and taste take precedence over comfort, style or surrounding aesthetics. Paper plates and plastic garden furniture aside, you are guaranteed to leave happy and full of falafel so perfect in their golden crispiness, served up the traditional way with hummous, fava beans, onion and tomato. You'll also find some real Jordanian urban street life atmosphere at Hashem's, along with a friendly staff and prices as low as 3 Jordanian dinar (about $4USD) per head.
Al Pasha Hammam
Forget all your preconceived images of sweet essential oil smelling havens of luxury opulence and meditative silence. Al Pasha Hammam, located just off trendy Rainbow Street, is a real, old-school style traditional bath house, where Ammanis head for their regular herbal steam, Jacuzzi and thorough full body scrub. The ladies working inside the bathing area take a characteristically brusque hands-on approach, and their massage and body scrub techniques will leave you refreshed, relaxed, cleansed and silky soft. Use of the baths, Jacuzzi, steam and sauna and a full body scrub and massage all comes to a very reasonable 25 Jordanian dinar (about $35 USD) per person. Don't forget to check out Al Pasha's traditional Arabic courtyard, where rosy-cheeked post hammam clientele can enjoy Arabic tea and Shisha.
Perhaps in contrast to certain preconceived stereotypes, Amman can be as sophisticated and contemporary as it is traditional and authentically Arabic. Yoshi Sushi Restaurant, in the plush residential area behind the Second and Third Circles, proves this point with its slick interior and exciting menu. Lunchtime at Yoshi tends to be presided over by the elegant pearl and diamond encrusted matriarchs of the upper rungs of Amman's social ladder, but evening brings in a younger, more diverse crowd. Try to get seats on the outdoor terrace and order the crunchy tuna salad and the Flying Dragon Maki Rolls.
Ola's Secret Garden
Shopping in Amman is not only labyrinth-like souks and sprawling, cookie-cutter malls. Venture a little off the beaten track and you'll find hidden treasures like Ola's Secret Garden, where traditional Arabic design meets edgy boho chic. Working with recycled materials such as leather, wood, stones and metals, Ola aims to reflect the meditative qualities of nature in the jewelery, accessories, clothing and home decor she designs for the cozy boutique. Infused with Ola's warm welcoming personality and her excellent taste in French jazz music, Ola's Garden is conveniently located on Khirfan Street, one of the oldest streets Amman. Look out for Rima Malallah's Love On A Bike shop at number 36 on your way there.
Rainbow Art House Theater
Amman's contemporary creative edge has seen a significant boost in recent years thanks to a number of forward-thinking projects. Central to this rise in the city's artistic community, The Rainbow Art House Theater is an iconic independent arts and entertainment venue, with a long and fascinating history of breaking molds and setting benchmarks for the arts scene in Amman. Fully equipped to be both a cinema and a theater, this unique venue screens cult classics, world cinema, and local and regional films, while also hosting regular events to promote local artists and performers. Check out the weekly program on their Facebook page or head over to Jabal Amman and stop by for a visit.
The eclectic café-cum-bookshop and library Books@Cafe has become something of an institution among local Jordanians. The venue boasts an easy atmosphere that perfectly balances style with comfort, making it a great place to zone out with a coffee and a good book or natter the night away with nargile and friends. Affectionately known as Books@ by its cult following, the café's fresh juices are also a big hit, and the airy roof terrace offers spectacular views of the city.
For more information on the very best that Amman has to offer visit BeAmman where the city's wealth of activities, dining experiences and secret nooks and crannies are uncovered and reviewed by the people in the know.
Images courtesy of Luma Qaddumi at BeAmman, books@cafe, Rainbow Art House Theater and Ola Mubasalat