19 Feb 2011

Jordan: Goood Frikin’ Chicken


Goood Frikin’ Chicken (GFC) in San Francisco is no frikin’ ordinary place. Early skepticism is expected, as how would you believe it’s really good frikin’ chicken??? Is the chicken really worth the extra “o”? The answer is: ooooooooo yes!!

GFC claims that they select their chickens to meet the highest standards from feeding to age, size, color, freshness, cleanliness, and plucking. And they deliver their promise time and again. The aroma of garlicky barbecued hen smothered in exotic middle eastern spices za’atar (a blend of thyme, toasted white sesame seeds and ground sumac – that funny reddish spice on the table that people always asked me) is rather hard to resist.

“The sumac gives you the satisfying flavor of salt and lime combined, but without the evil, artery-hardening part of the salt,” says owner Nabeel Yousef, a native of Jordan who came to San Francisco in 1986. “People are always surprised at the flavors – it’s very different from Mexican- or Italian-style cooking.”

Brick Chicken with Apricot Couscous

A veteran restaurateur, Yousef has owned Middle Eastern restaurants in Virginia and New York, as well as a steak-and-seafood place in North Beach, which he lost to the Loma Prieta Earthquake. He opened Goood Frikin’ Chicken eight years ago in the then up-and-coming Outer Mission/Bernal Heights corridor as a mostly takeout establishment. A year later, he expanded the restaurant with a sit-down dining room next door.

Yousef admits that though his chicken seems to be steadily winning converts, it’s the name that still draws the most attention. “The name came about when I was fooling with recipes,” he says. “Every time I did a little adjustment, I’d say damn, this is some good frickin’ chicken. I took a gamble. Some people might be offended, but for those with a sense of humor, they love it.”

Traditional Jordanian Meal Spread

Jordanian fares are a notch more exotic than other Middle Eastern cuisines, and it deserves more distinction with its own territorial labeling than just the generic “Middle Eastern cuisine”. Middle East is quite large. Stating Middle Eastern cuisine is the same as stating Asian cuisine or Continental cuisine. Generic branding is not hip anymore, everyone is ought to be different and unique.

The complex history of Jordan explains a lot about the cuisine of Jordan. Historians believe that the history of Jordan began around 2000 B.C. During all the invasions and conquests the region has had, along with settlers over the centuries, all of that has left a deep impact on the culture and traditions of present day Jordan. The invaders and settlers included Hittites, Egyptians, Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arab Muslims, Christian Crusaders, Mameluks, Ottoman Turks and of course the British colonizers. If you delve into the deep rooted overview of Jordan’s cuisine history you are most likely to find that Jordan’s political history has a major role to play in the development of the cuisine of Jordan. The influence that occurred due to various other regions invading and conquering the region left a mark on the traditional and authentic cuisine as well as culture of the country.

Though GFC offers other Mediterranean fare (including shawarma and Mansaf, a tasty Jordanian dish made with lamb, aged yogurt, toasted pine nuts and almonds), its specialty is roasted half and whole chickens – cooked either on an open flame or a rotisserie. For those who love theirs crispy, open flame is your bird. Marinated overnight in za’atar, garlic and olive oil, it’s cooked slowly, giving it a crackling skin and an intense salty-sour herb flavor. The rotisserie version is for those who like moist meat. Marinated in sumac zest, fresh lemon, olive oil, and garlic, it’s turned slowly on a spit until golden brown and juicy.

Jordanian cuisine is rich in heritage and taste. It’s taken a complex journey with an appreciation to plethora of spices. And it’s our job to offer a token of gratitude to the privilege offered for our palate.

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