What we think of as “American cuisine” is not necessarily what Americans eat. In a large American city, you’ll find restaurants serving Italian, Chinese, Thai, Peruvian, Ethiopian, Indian, and maybe even Czech cuisine—but not much meatloaf or succotash or apple pie. It’s the same situation in Saudi Arabia. The restaurants are mostly Lebanese, Italian, Indian, and the like. Workplace cafeterias are likely to serve a hodgepodge of “part Lebanese inspired faux Italian faux Indian lunches,” says luckyfatima. So what’s real Saudi food like?
“Saudi Arabia is a huge country (about 1/4th the size of the U.S.), so naturally it has not only a national cuisine but many regional specialties as well,” says hrhboo. luckyfatima agrees. “What Saudis eat as ‘their cuisine’ depends on if they are descended from Bedouins, settled people, mountain people, sea faring people, or people of non-Saudi origins who have taken Saudi nationality,” she explains.
There are many traditional Saudi dishes, and they aren’t the typical Lebanese/Mediterranean/Middle Eastern dishes commonly found in America. The Gulf Arabic style of cooking includes “all of the warm spices of North Indian food but little/no chile heat,” says luckyfatima. “The Gulf Arabic spice mix (bizaar) is pretty much like a South Asian garam masala variation.” As well as that characteristic spice blend, “[p]aper thin ragaag bread,” “tomatoey meat and vegetable stews,” “wheat or rice beaten with chicken or goat,” and “meat stew poured over shredded flat bread” make appearances in the cuisine, along with a small dish of dates or date paste at every meal. Rice and stewed and roasted meats are common. But not camel, so much—despite the meat’s association with Saudi food, people in Saudi Arabia “eat camel as regularly as Americans eat say, buffalo or alligator,” says luckyfatima.
There isn’t much Saudi cuisine to be had in the States, but “if you want to taste something similar to Saudi cuisine (not exactly the same but close for an interested foreigner, and with many shared dishes and similar spicing/seasoning) I would recommend to find a Yemeni resto,” says luckyfatima. Enjoy!
Discuss: Define Saudi Arabian cuisine