TASTE OF SAUDI ARABIA: TRADITIONAL SAUDI DISHES
Saudi Arabian grocery stores are well stocked with international foods, fast food is ubiquitous and very popular, and ethnic restaurants abound. But what are the traditional Saudi dishes like?
Saudi cuisine is strongly influenced by the kingdom's nomadic past. The Bedouin tribes were goat and sheep herders who relied on their livestock for meat, milk, and cheese. Traditional Saudi dishes are mostly based on meat, rice, and spices. The most common meat eaten is chicken; lamb is a common choice when entertaining honored guests, and camel is served on special occasions. According to Islamic law, the consumption of pork is prohibited, as is alcohol.
Traditional Saudi cuisine makes use of beans, wheat, rice, yogurt and of course dates. Saudis are self-sufficient in wheat production and export it to dozens of countries. The farmers also grow substantial amounts of barley, sorghum and millet. Flat breads, or tameez, similar to a pita, are inexpensive and used to scoop up their meals.
Most of the fruit and vegetables are imported but Saudis grow watermelon, citrus fruits, squash, tomatoes and onion. Spices such as cardamom, saffron, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and cloves are also prevalent in the traditional Saudi dishes.
Saudi Arabia has over 25 million date palms and dates are a staple food in the kingdom. Not only are they eaten on their own but dates are also a common ingredient in local dishes. Dates are important during Ramadan, when they are traditionally eaten every evening to break the fast.
Saudi meals start with gahwa, or coffee, and dates, followed by sweet tea. Only then is dinner served. After dinner, coffee, dates and finally sweet tea is served again. The entire meal takes hours and may last until the early hours of the morning.
TRADITIONAL SAUDI DISHES
- KABSA -
Kabsa is considered a national dish of Saudi Arabia, even though it is also enjoyed throughout the Arabian Peninsula, known as machboos.
The dish is similar to Persian and Indian biryanis—long-grain rice cooked in heavily spiced stock, topped with chicken, lamb, or camel meat. It can also be served with fish or shrimp.
Kabsa is served on a large platter, meant to be shared and eaten by hands (always a right hand).
- JAREESH -
Jareesh is crushed whole wheat cooked in milk and garnished with crispy cooked onions and lime.
The dried limes are the secret ingredient in Saudi and Middle-Eastern cooking. These small dry balls can be dropped whole in a pot or pierced with a fork to get a few drops of juice out. In the Middle East, these limes are most often added whole to soups and stews. They add a pleasant tang and a subtle complexity to the entire dish.
- MATAZEEZ -
Matazeez is a rich stew of meat, vegetables, tomato sauce, and spices with whole-wheat dumplings cut into egg-sized piece, flattened, and then placed inside the pot.
The most common meat is lamb and the dish can include a combination of vegetables such as carrots, onions, cauliflower, eggplant.
The most common mix of spices is cumin, cinnamon and loomi (dried limes), cardamon, cloves, and nutmeg. The dish is similar to margoog but less soupy in consistency.
- SALEEG -
Saleeg is a rice dish consisting of creamy short-grain rice topped with roasted meat. The rice is boiled in water and then combined with milk and ghee or butter, and cooked until it reaches the desired consistency.
The dish is usually served on a large serving platter, tabasi, with a spicy, salsa-like salsa, lemon wedges, or a chopped tomato-cucumber-carrot salad.
- EATING SAUDI STYLE -
Every gathering starts with gahwa and tea, both are always made in front of the dinner guests and it is impolite to refuse it. Most Saudi homes have a sitting room with carpets on the floor and cushions against the wall for social gatherings. There is usually a stove or fireplace to prepare the coffee and tea.
Hands are washed before and after eating. In restaurants it is common to bring a wet napkin in the end of the meal. The tradition is to eat on the floor in a cross-legged position. Food platters are placed on a table cloth or a cover made of dried palm leaves. Saudis use their right hands to eat and keeping the left hand on the table is not acceptable, as is passing food with the left hand. Saudis are known for their generosity and food is abundant when entertaining guests. The dinner guests leave some foods on the plate indicating that the host has offered plenty of foods.
In Riyadh, the best place to experience the traditional Saudi dishes is at Najd Village restaurant: https://najdvillage.com/