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A Tasty Travelogue: Your Ultimate Guide to Saudi Arabian Food

Last Updated on by Admin


Saudi Arabia is a land of folk, fables, and delicious food. It is here, between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf where first civilizations flourished. The Saudi Arabian cuisine embodies the varied landscape of the vast desert (The Rub al Khali), the undulating dry wadis of Najd, and the cool salty weather of the sea coasts.

Saudi Cuisine: Origins and Influences

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Keshta in the Desert – A traditional Arabian Picnic

Saudi Arabian cuisine reflects its rich history heavily influenced by Bedouin traditions. Islamic dietary laws shape the cuisine, emphasizing halal practices and eschewing pork and alcohol. Reflecting broader Middle Eastern influences, Saudi dishes like Kabsa and Jareesh share similarities with neighboring Levant and Yemeni cuisines, while Persian and Indian spices add depth to flavors. Ottoman heritage is evident in dishes like Maqluba, showcasing a fusion of regional influences.

Let’s travel through the landscape of Saudi Arabian Cuisine

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Arabic Tea & Qahwah (coffee) are quintessential to Middle Eastern food culture

Most of Saudi Arabia is a desert where you can dig into traditional food of the bedouins such as meat dishes with fragrant basmati rice. But the mountain provinces such as Aseer boast special fruits, spices, and ingredients like apricots, marakh bark, lemons, etc. On the Northern coasts where olive trees abound, you can also find a variety of seafood smothered in olive oil and other local specialties.

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Kabsa is considered the National Dish of KSA

A Journey to see the whole of KSA would take months, so here’s a short trip to discover the secrets of the Saudi Cuisine. These hearty dishes are part of the Saudi Culinary Arts Commission’s initiative to celebrate the unique culinary heritage of each province.

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Margaouq in Riyadh

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Fresh vegetables like Zucchini, eggplant, carrots are often served with Margoug

Let’s start at Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh. Here you’ll find the desert, dates, and Deera Square. But what will truly blow your mind is the generous hospitality of the Najd people of this region. The sandy air carries fragrant memories of nomadic cuisine. Margaouq is a specialty of Riyadh. Consider thin slices of whole wheat dough in a hearty broth of meat and various vegetables. A delightfully filling meal perfect for the hot desert weather.

Saleeg in Makkah

Next, we travel to the holy city of Makkah or Mecca in western Arabia. Saleeg is a much-relished dish from this Hejaz region. It consists of rice cooked with broth (chicken or other meat) and milk seasoned with cardamom pods, salt, black pepper, cinnamon, bay leaf, and mastic. It’s also popular in the region of Taif, which is a high mountain well-known for its cold weather. The name comes from the word Saleeg meaning to boil.

saleeg in makkah

This dish is credited to Ibrahim Alyamani, a Saudi chef who inherited this recipe from his father and introduced it at a local restaurant in Taif in 1936.

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Madini Rice Dish in Al-Madinah

Medina Province is another beautiful destination in western Arabia. While you’re here, you must try the famous Arz Madini or Madini Rice. This simple white steamed fragrant rice, topped with tender meat in a rich and flavorful broth of a distinctive red colour will tug at your heartstrings. The recipe involves marinating chicken (or lamb) in a blend of spices, before cooking it with rice in a pot.

Muqana Bread in Al-Baha

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Bread-making in Baha is a community affair led by women

If you thought KSA was just about deserts, the cool misty Al Baha in Southwestern Saudi Arabia will surprise you. Treat yourself to some Muqana Bread, a staple food of the Al Bahah region. This traditional dish is usually a village activity. A group of women come together to knead and roll out whole wheat flour dough, baked on a heated stone slab over firewood until it becomes a dark brown color. The soft bread is flavored with pine and saffron which are usually grown together with wheat. It is served with ghee, honey, or spicy lamb stew.

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Haneeth in Aseer

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In Southern Saudi the cool weather allows for hikes and horse rides all year round

Nestled in the southwest corner of Saudi Arabia lies Asir. The most beloved city for visitors is Abha the capital of the Asir Region. While you bask in the cool weather, warm your would with a bowl of Heneeth, one of the most famous dishes associated with the Sala and Markh trees in Asir.

Heneeth

Heneeth is a famous dish often prepared outdoors in an iron pot called mahnaz.

Ruqsh in Najran

Now let’s move further South to the province of Najran. A famous dish from Najran is called Al-Ruqsh. It’s made by pouring meat broth over hand-torn thin flatbread and topping it with spiced meat, usually lamb with boiled eggs. The dish is served in a granite stone dish called al-mudahin, with a lid made of palm leaves.

Hassawi Rice in the Eastern Province

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Rice is a staple food in the cuisine & the centre of dinner tables

Buckle up for an odyssey into the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, famous for the country’s oil production and exports. It has a rich history, once home to the ancient Dilmun civilization. Here you’ll find the vast deserts of Rub’ al Khali. Within this dry landscape is Ahsa, an oasis with its cool waters and abundant farming. This oasis has provided fresh water for centuries, allowing people to settle and grow crops like dates, lemons, and more. One of the most special products from this area is the red rice called al-Hassawi Rice, well-suited to the hot, dry climate of the oasis. Al-Hassawi rice is red and tastes best when cooked with spices or meat. But, its production has decreased in recent years because it’s hard work and needs a lot of water, which is scarce due to climate change.

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Kleja in Al-Qaseem

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A basket full of freshly prepared Klecja

It’s time for some dessert in the desert. We’re back to the central region called Al Qassim, known to be the “alimental basket” of the country, for its agricultural assets. (It’s also one of the largest producers of dates in the Middle East). You will enjoy the typical desert climate here with bouts of cool, rainy weather. While you do, you must try Kolucheh or Kleja, the Saudi Arabian cookie made from whole wheat flour, stuffed with a mixture of sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, musky dried black limes, local ghee, and ginger. Sometimes flavored with rose water, orange blossom water, and glazed with egg wash. These cookies come in several shapes and fillings. The most popular are the ones filled with dates (kleichat tamur).

Keubaibat Hail in Hail

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Minced meat wrapped in grape vines is a Levantine delicacy

Historic Ḥaʼil with the twin mountain ranges of Aja and Salma abounds in multiple rock art sites, old forts, castles, and rare local dishes of Saudia. On a historic adventure here you must dig into Keubaibat Hail, a rice and meat dish from Saudi Arabia’s Ha’il Province. This dish is made by cooking meat in special spices known as Sarar Ha’il and stuffing them into grape leaves with basmati rice(Tameen). The stuffed grape leaves are arranged into a pot with bone-in lamb, tomatoes, and peppers, and everything is poured over with a tomato broth and topped with grape leaves.

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Mulayhiya in the Northern Borders

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can venture into the Northern Borders Province, bordering Iraq and Jordan. Here you can try Mulayhiya, a famous dish consisting of rice, meat, and meat broth, with dried yogurt, garnished with fresh parsley and pine nuts.

Al-Jouf- Bukayla

Another Northern province to intrigue your exploration of traditional Saudi cuisine is Al-Jawf Province with evidence of human habitation dating back to the Stone Age. This region is one of the most fertile regions in Saudi Arabia and celebrates many festivals related to the region’s special crops. Among the most famous festivals held in Al-Jouf is the Olive Festival. One of the region’s special foods is the bakeela or Bukayla. It is made by mixing the dates of Al-Jawf, known as Al-Helwa, with the al-Samh plant after roasting its grains, known as al-Sabeeb, with natural ghee.

Tabouk – Sayadiah

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A plate full of Sayadiah served with pone nuts and lemons

Our journey of delicious dishes has brought us to the Northwest Coast. We can now look forward to the fresh seafood of Saudi Arabia. One mouthwatering coastal delight is Sayadieh. This dish involves cooking fish such as haddock or cod and rice with spices and plenty of fried onions. The spice mix is called baharat in Arabic and may include caraway, cinnamon, cumin, and coriander. Historically it was a fisherman’s meal found along the Lebanese coast, but the dish can now be found throughout the Gulf.

Jazan- Maghsh

We’re now approaching the end of our journey through the Saudi Arabian cuisine in Jazan Province. This region is home to over 100 islands including the Farasan Islands, Saudi Arabia’s first conservation-protected area. On your island vacation in Jazan get your hands dirty with a pot of their traditional food known as Magsh. It consists of meat placed in a special stone pot called”Al-Maghash” and then cooked in the “Al-Meefa” oven.

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Most Famous Foods of Saudi Arabia

thareed of jareesh

Saudi Arabia boasts of iconic dishes that reflect its rich culinary heritage. A typical breakfast would involve Arabian coffee with dried fruits. Rice and meat dishes are relished as main meals. We find sparing use of vegetables, owing to the hot climate. Saudi Arabian desserts and snacks are a delicious amalgamation of influences of Middle Eastern cuisine such as Kunafa, Luqaimat, and deep-fried samboosas.

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The word “mandi” comes from the Arabic word “nada”, meaning “dew”, and reflects the moist ‘dewy’ texture of the meat.

Most Famous Foods of Saudi Arabia
Kabsa – National dish of Saudi ArabiaThis dish originated in Yemen. A classic rice dish is considered the National dish of many countries for a reason. It is a decadent preparation of slow-cooked meat at generous prices and served with rice and an assortment of toppings. The people typically eat lamb, shrimp, poultry, and camel meats. This is served large platter with grilled meats, rice, and mixed salad.
Tharid – The Prophet’s favoriteTharid is a lamb stew or thick soup served with bread. It originates in Mecca and is mentioned as Prophet Muhammad’s favorite in several hadith. Tharid is popular during the holy month of Ramadan.
Harees or Jareesh – Delicious wheat and meat dishIn Saudi Arabia, harees plates are one of the most popular and common meals for Muslims who fast during Ramadan. Harees or jareesh is a dish of crushed wheat or bulgur, mixed with meat and served warm. Its consistency varies between a porridge and a gruel.
Mandi – The Cusine of the BedouinsThe word “mandi” comes from the Arabic word “nada”, meaning “dew”, and reflects the moist ‘dewy’ texture of the meat. This adventurous style of meat preparation involves seasoning the meat with spices and burying it in a pit in the ground in an earthen over.  Mandi was usually made from rice, meat (lamb, camel, goat, or chicken), and a mixture of spices called hawaij. Traditionally, dry wood of samer is burned to make charcoal, giving the meat extra flavor while cooking it.
Muttabaq – The Famous Dessert of Saudi ArabiaMuttabaq is a delicious dish from the Middle East. These are sweet or savory pastries that are filled with a mixture of ingredients like meat, vegetables, or cheese. The pastry is folded over the filling and then deep-fried until it’s crispy and golden brown.
Qursan/GursanQursan consists of layers of fresh bread smothered in a spicy tomato sauce and topped with fresh diced onions. The tangy flavor pairs well with the bread making for a rustic gastronomic experience.
Ruz al BukhariThis is one of the most popular dishes in the Kingdom, which is equally widespread as Kabsa. It is prepared by cutting the meat into medium-sized portions and lightly frying it in ghee or clarified butter. Ground chickpeas and finely chopped onions, known as Kushnah, are added to it.
Dajaj MashwiDajaj mashwi is a Saudi Arabian barbecue. It involves grilling a whole chicken or just the legs in a spice mix such as paprika, red chili powder, ginger, garlic, onion, black pepper, salt, oil, and lime juice. This spicy and juicy roast chicken goes well with a garlic sauce. It is also relished with mixed salad, couscous, and Arabian pilaf.
MadfoonMadfoon is an Arabian dish that combines meat and long-grain rice. It is differentiated from others because of its unique cooking technique which involves placing the marinated meat under the ground in a hole and covering it with sand and charcoal. The meat is traditionally served on top of saffron rice.
FatayerMinced meat pies, where bread stuffed with spinach or cheese is known as Fatayer are much enjoyed in Saudi Arabia. These are part of the Levantine cuisine and are relished across the Arabian peninsula. The cheese is usually feta or akkawi.
TameezTameez is a bread that is popularly eaten in Saudi Arabia. It finds its origins in Afghani cuisine which are also known as Nan-I-Afghani. Caraway seeds sprinkled on top add extra flavor. Foul and Tameez which involves a daal of fava beans and chickpeas is a popular way to enjoy this bread.
BabousaAfter indulging in savory delights, it’s time to satisfy your sweet tooth with some traditional Saudi desserts. “Basbousa” is a popular choice, a moist semolina cake soaked in fragrant sugar syrup and topped with almonds or coconut flakes. It is the highlight of special occasions.
ShawarmaShawarma is a yummy Middle Eastern dish that started in the Levant region during the time of the Ottoman Empire. It’s made by stacking thinly sliced meat on a vertical spit, and then slowly roasting it as it turns. Traditionally, it’s made with lamb or mutton, but you can also find it made with chicken, turkey, beef, or veal. Once the meat is cooked, it’s sliced off the rotisserie and served.
FerekIn Saudi Arabia, Ferek stands as a cherished winter comfort dish, known for its rich flavors and heartwarming qualities. This traditional delicacy is crafted from a luscious brown paste derived from caramelized onions.
TamiyaTamiya has its origins traced back to ancient Egypt. Over time, it has evolved in texture and spice blends, often using chickpeas instead of beans. In the 1950s, Yemenite immigrants in Israel started making falafel, using the chickpea version popular in the Levant. They turned this ancient dish into a beloved Israeli staple. These fried patties were typically served on pita bread with salad and tahini sauce.
ShakshoukaThe word “shakshouka” comes from Maghrebi Arabic and means “a mixture”. It might be related to the Arabic word “shak,” which means “to combine things”. Some say it started in Ottoman North Africa in the 16th century. Shakshouka is a dish where eggs are poached in a spicy tomato sauce with olive oil, peppers, onion, and garlic.
SamboosaA samosa is a deep-fried pastry from Central Asia filled with tasty ingredients like spiced potatoes, onions, peas, meat, or fish. They come in different shapes like triangles, cones, or crescents. The South Asian version of the samosa likely came from an older recipe in the Middle East that was baked instead of deep fried.
KibbehKibbeh is a popular dish in the Levant, which includes countries like Lebanon and Syria. It’s made with spiced lean ground meat and bulgur wheat. In this cuisine, people usually mix bulgur wheat and meat until it becomes a smooth paste, then shape it into oval shapes and add toasted pine nuts and spices. Kibbeh can be cooked in different ways like baking it on a tray, frying it, grilling it, or even serving it raw.
HummusHummus is a tasty dip popularised by GCC and loved globally. It’s made by blending cooked chickpeas with tahini (a paste made from sesame seeds), lemon juice, and garlic. The word “hummus” actually means “chickpeas” in Arabic. The earliest mention of hummus dates back to a 13th-century cookbook from Syria.

Immersing into the Saudi Arabian Food Culture

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A Generous Honey Connsoisuer showcasing his collection in al Balad

Whether indulging in traditional breakfast dishes, sampling the numerous meat and rice dishes, or treating yourself to street food, eating well is at the helm of Saudi Arabian culture. The food of Saudi Arabia shows hospitality. A gastronomic adventure through this country promises diverse experiences rooted in authenticity.

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