Building Economic Sustainability through Tourism Project

Zamanek Ya Salt celebrates As-Salt culture and history

20 Oct 2019

“Zamanek Ya Salt tells the story of As-Salt, that of camaraderie between its residents and the families who lived here,” Said Nadia Abu Samen, founder of Zamanek Ya Salt Café and Restaurant. “That’s what I wanted to depict, that communal love that still exists. What we’ve always tried to focus on is the Jordanian identity, which is centered on the culture, the land and the people. Forgetting that or abandoning elements of it affects our identity.” 

In 2011, Nadia Abu Samen founded Zamanek Ya Salt as the first cafe and restaurant for families, which showcases the traditions of the city and exhibits a special collection of antiques. The business fostered her passion for cultural preservation, as she was a collector of antiques and worked to present traditional tools, foods, and clothing.

In opening the business as a family establishment, Nadia broke with cultural norms where only men frequented cafes. Nadia went further, assigning exclusive seating for women and inviting her friends. Over time, her efforts drew community support.

“In the beginning there were difficulties, but we moved past it and as time went on, the need for more hands became clear. That was where Um Hamza came in,” explained Nadia.

Um Hamza Zoubi licensed the establishment from Nadia in 2014, taking over day-to-day management. With a background in local women’s association events, Um Hamza had the culinary background to run the restaurant.

“When I took over,” said Um Hamza, “We were providing local fare, with breakfast being a busy period. A lot of our casual business comes from younger women who enjoy the environment we’ve fostered. We’ve increasingly attracted visitors from outside the city, who are interested by the wedding traditions we feature here as an experience.” 

“We’ve had visitors come from all around Jordan,” added Nadia, noting that international visitors were coming from Arab countries, Europe and North America.

Visitors to Zamanek Ya Salt choose from traditional Salti dishes and can explore a wonderful collection of antique treasures and learn about and experience the traditions of a Salti wedding and henna party. This includes folk music, sword-dancing and zaghareed (a form of singing at happy events such as homecomings, weddings, and parties), as well as try on the traditional Salti khalaga dress.

“When I first started, there were only three people working here,” said Um Hamza, “I was the only one working here from my family, but as our workload grew my husband joined, and then our children. We’ve gone from three regular employees to nine regular employees since 2014.”  

Since opening, the restaurant has grown in popularity with locals and visitors. Zamanek Ya Salt started with one room and an outdoor area for a capacity of 50 guests. Since then, two rooms and another outdoor section have been added accommodate up to 120 people.

USAID BEST supported Zamanek Ya Salt through its Enterprise Development Program with the As-Salt Development Corporation. The support included developing the restaurant experience by enhancing the  interiors to better display the traditional Salti wedding, as well as menu and story development, and providing needed equipment to offer an enhanced dining experience.

“Our experiences when working with the USAID were nothing but positive,” said Nadia, “Putting aside the physical work that they did, the consulting they did to help us with things like bookkeeping, food preparation, hygiene and safety and managing things so that our business could be profitable. We became a lot more confident in the value of what we are offering, in what we are doing.”

USAID BEST will continue to provide technical support to Zamanek Ya Salt through the Salt Development Corporation in the coming months.