There are few written records to help trace the development of Saudi Arabian cooking. In addition to our knowledge of the available foodstuffs, however, we can find three major influences that shaped the food and the cultural values shown in Saudi cooking: the nomadic Bedouin, the ancient Arabian dominance of the spice routes, and the food restrictions given in the Quran.
As in many parts of the Middle East, Saudi Arabians inherited cultural values from the nomadic Bedouin who prized honour, valor, chivalry, and hospitality. Reinforcing these principles was the ancient Arab dominance of the spice trade which brought a continuous stream of foreigners, pausing to rest in their travels. The ancient Arabian tradition of hospitality that developed continues unchanged to the present day. How well one treats one's guests is a direct measurement of what kind of person he or she is. It is common practice to allow for an extra portion while cooking a meal, in order to be prepared for an unexpected guest.
When a meal is over, there should always be a good portion of food left over otherwise one might think that a guest had not been fully satisfied. To a Saudi Arabian, entertaining is joyous and it is considered an honor if a guest can be persuaded to remain for another meal. The guest would respond with a gift for the host.
The Quran states that pork is impure, that animal blood is a pollution, and that alcohol is strictly forbidden. There are no bars in Saudi Arabia. Alcohol being forbidden, there are severe penalties for breaking the law, and this applies to all nationals regardless of religion. Arabic coffee and fruit drinks are popular alternatives. Alcohol-free beers and cocktails are served in hotel bars. Bedouin coffee, served without sweetening and flavoured with cardamom is the beverage of honour that overrides mere alcohol.
Serving coffee to visitors is an age old custom derived from Bedouin hospitality traditions and an important part of Saudi Arabian generosity. The ritual of coffee serving is called gawha and is bound by rules of etiquette. In the presence of his guests, the host will roast, cool and grind the beans. Using a mortar and pestle, he will add cardamom pods in equal or more measure to the coffee beans during the grinding process. When the coffee is brewed, the host pours for his guests - traditionally only men. Unsweetened, fresh dates, a staple in the Saudi Arabian diet, are served with the coffee. The Bedouins have a saying that translates to ... "he makes coffee from morn till night." It is a way of describing a generous man, and no greater praise can be given.
Genuine Saudi cooking, but for a few of the sweets, is rarely to be found in restaurants. Saudi food is food of the home, where cooking and eating are intensely social activities, preparation falling on the shoulders of the housewife. During Ramadan where everyone fasts during the day, the hungry housewife spends her days preparing an evening meal that is a feast. There's an old Arabic proverb" "The woman killed herself with work, yet the feast lasted only a day!"
Saudi Arabian Foods
The Saudi Kingdom is well known for its variety of traditional dishes that reflect the diversity of the regions and the custom of the people. Most of the dishes contain meat, rice, wheat, vegetables and spices that give these recipes a special flavor. One of Saudi Arabia's most famous dishes is Al-Kabsa. Al-Kabsa is made of rice cooked with red or white meat or chicken in a pot. A variety of spices and salads can be added to the dish. Al-Kabsa is considered a staple dish throughout the Kingdom. Meat is cooked in various ways. A popular way of preparing meat is called Al-Mandi. This utilizes ancient techniques of cooking, first employed when man discovered fire. A lamb or chicken, prepared with rice, spices and water is barbecued in a deep hole in the ground that is covered while the meat cooks.
Another unique Saudi Arabian way of preparing and serving meat is Mathbi. Al-Mathbi involves grilling seasoned lamb or chicken on flat stones that are placed on top of burning embers.
There are many other popular dishes in the Saudi Kingdom like Jarish. Jarish is prepared by cooking wheat with Laban (sour milk) or milk and adding spices to it. Jarish may be simply boiled and served with a topping of chopped hot pepper and onion, or it may be browned in butter or oil and then cooked into a sort of pilaf with chunks of meat, chopped onion and tomato for the richly flavored dish called mufallaq.
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