We’ve never missed a Janadriyah Festival since our blog started. With the exception of last year, wherein the event was cancelled to honor the passing of the late King Abdullah (who was considered as the Godfather of Janadriyah), we’ve gotten the noteworthy features of the festival quite covered. Check out the entries on the Janadriyah Festiyal in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Janelle has written all those accounts of the Janadriyah and this year, she felt like she has seen and done it all so I went with the rest of our friends to cover it myself this time around.
The festival was launched with much fanfare with Germany as the featured country. However, I opted not to focus on that and had my mind set on enjoying the flavors (ehem, food) that Janadriyah had to offer. I’ve never really gone to exploring the dishes and drinks that are flocked with customers every year, (and by that we don’t mean the commercial food franchises that make up a mini-food court in the Janadriyah map, we’re talking about the traditional, Saudi-loved recipes that the locals enjoy). We were told that the Madinah area was the place to be in search of a cultural, gastronomical experience. Fortunately, it did not disappoint because I ended up spending almost two hours lining up for every food stand in its pavillion. Thus, for this 2016 entry on the Janadriyah Festival, expect everything down below to be about traditional Saudi food.
Madinah is known for its crops and vegetation and there is a vast amount of corn to be enjoyed by many as it is the first kiosk to our right as we entered the area. We’re more of the shredded corn type of gals, but we did see many of the children enjoying their every bite on these freshly grilled cobs.
These mint herbs were selling fast amongst the Saudis in the crowd. They were half the price of what we usually have in local groceries but are as authentic as mint leaves can get. I didn’t have any use for mint at home so I just grabbed a whiff of the refreshing scent around this stall.
Now I’m not sure how “traditional” a stuffed baked potato is in Saudi culture but there were many ingredients that were of the Middle Eastern palate here like the olives, chickpeas, beetroot and pickles. But there was a good amount of people lining up for it so I assume they were fond of it.
Here was a stall that gave out a free taste of their product. My Arabic reading is a little rusty at this point but I believe the sign on top reads something like “Halimat Al Madinah” but after getting a teaspoonful of the product, I understood it to be a grainy sweet condiment of sorts that is possibly made out of ground dates, some nuts, a few spices and brown sugar. The flavors around it were very ‘Arabic’ as I would say and while it was intriguing, the free taste was enough for me. I wouldn’t buy a whole kilo of it simply because I wouldn’t know what to use it for (or with).
Finally, I found something I may actually eat whole heartedly. Plus all the lines I had to wait in just for a glimpse of the stalls was getting me hungry so this one was definitely worth the wait. It was sauteed shredded chicken with green peppers, onions, garlic and spices that were stuffed into a hotdog bun. If I didn’t know any better, this might be where Kudu’s main menu was derived from.
I wish I can tell you more about this sandwich but I wolfed it down in under 2 minutes. Talk about famished! But what I do remember is that it was peppery and the sauce was tasty with every bite. That is why it disappeared so fast. 😉
Right beside the chicken sandwich stall was a similar one, of which I thought sold a beef variant of what I just had. It turns out, it’s made of sliced brains (of cows, perhaps) sauteed in some carrots and bell peppers. Yes, BRAINS. Now, while I am adventurous at heart this was a little bit beyond my current stronghold. I took a photo instead and moved along.
This is similar to what us Pinoys call as “siomai” where in spiced meat (beef or lamb) is rolled into a dough wrapper and steamed. It’s nice to see that the Middle East also carries a similar variant of this in their culture. They would naturally pour some sauce over it (as we do ours with soy sauce) but during the festival, they served only the dumplings on its own.
No need for Tabasco here! For 5SR a bottle, you can bring home a naturally-made hot sauce for your fiery pleasure.
Lathered with sweetness, these crunchy and addictive Arabic sweets had me lining up even up to the last minute before Maghrib prayer started. It is a batter deep fried to perfection and often times soaked in sugar syrup. I’ve had really good ones of these before but this one was overly sweet. But still, I enjoyed the chaos involved in getting a piece!
And so, Maghrib prayer came and went and I was still at the Madinah pavillion. The rest of my companions have moved on out and explored the rest of the festival while I stayed in Madinah eager to taste (and line up) for more food. But first, I was getting thirsty. Luckily, there was a stall that sold only fresh juices like orange, strawberry, guava and pomegranate. Chug, chug, chug!
Moving on, I went to try on more dishes like the Motubug, Samboosa and Kebabs. The Motubug is a popular and special Saudi recipe that’s made of eggs, flour and meat (or vegetables) and cut into squares. It looks like a fatter version of a crepe, I would say, but it is very distinct and heavy if you have too many slices of it.
I wasn’t able to take a decent photo at the Samboosa stall because it was the bestseller out of all the stalls in the pavillion. One of my friends would later tell me that she was able to score some and I remember it tasting a bit oily (as most samboosas actually are) but the tang was really rich and finger-lickin’ good.
On the last few corners was a big brick oven that was serving up some lamb and beef kebabs. Skewered in long metal sticks, I was impressed at how the chef was holding them with his bare hands. He must be an expert at the grill because he worked like clockwork in there. Kebabs are the Kingdom’s version of a barbecue so it’s a definite must-taste. The char on the sides of my kebab gave it some character but the marinate itself could have used a little more salt.
This right here is perhaps the most interesting dish I’ve had all night and it’s called “Balila”. Pots of chickpeas are kept warm in a corner while it is scooped up into a dish with added beetroot, some cumin powder and hot sauce, if warranted. It’s usually served as a hot appetizer and the flavors were something I was not accustomed to but found much delight in its variation. The chickpeas mushed gradually with every bite followed by the slight crunch of the beetroot. The cumin spice gave it more depth and the acidity of the hot sauce sliced through the squashy texture of the chickpea.
How can I even imagine this entry and the Madinah pavillion in general without mentioning (and buying) dates? Madinah is regarded as the place in Saudi Arabia with the best dates and I didn’t pass up a chance to purchase some Segai dates for myself.
After I emerged from my intense food trip at the Madinah pavillion, my friends found me with a noticeable number of plastic bags on each hand all containing food. They teased me for not having gone around the rest of the festival but we were still all able to go to the German Pavillion and see what they had in stored. As we finished our tour and started walking back to the gate, I observed how spirited and unfeigned the entire crowd was despite the rumors of unrest that had surrounded this year’s Janadriyah Festival in particular in relation to the ongoing war in Yemen. It was good to see everyone, Saudis and non-Saudis alike gathering and having a good time. As for me, I went home stuffed. Obvious ba? 🙂
Til next year again, Janadriyah!