What is real Saudi food? Najd Village is one, if not the only, restaurant that aims to give us the answers to that question.
I’ve been in Saudi Arabia for most of my adult life and it pains me to say how limited my experience is in “real Saudi food”. Shawarma and Kabsa aside, my exposure only extends up to Qahwa (Arabic coffee), dates and Umm Ali. And that’s mainly because it’s always served during Iftar gatherings.
I suppose one of the reasons why it’s not so common for expats to discover Saudi dishes is that there aren’t a lot of restaurants that serve authentic Saudi food menus and I think that’s because the heart of Saudi cuisine is still found at home – where mothers (and probably even fathers) cook recipes handed down to them by their parents and serve it during their elaborate family dinners.
Fortunately, Najd Village opened its doors back in 1996 to give everyone a chance to experience what real Saudi food is like; particularly in the region of “Najd”, where Riyadh is located. The service and ambience also gives us a look into the Saudi culture altogether, with its distinct architecture reminiscent of a traditional Saudi house (but with airconditioning, of course). All three branches follow the same look and feel and we visited their newest one at Al Yasmeen District which could hold over 500 guests total, making it their biggest location to date.
The restaurant is mainly spacious and airy. The Family Section offer private rooms and booths, and in every room, you are to remove your footwear before stepping inside and and sitting on the carpeted floor. If you have ever been to an esteraha, the set up is quite similar. Soft cushions and lamps serve as decorations all throughout.
We were treated to the Saudi Arabian style of hospitality, which usually begins with an Oud (incense) and Qahwa welcome. The smoke from the incense is offered to you and it is a sign of respect to allow it to be whiffed towards you. It often smells woody and musky, in my opinion. The serving of Arabic coffee is considered to be a greatly upheld tradition in Saudi Arabia, with certain etiquette that is still being followed and observed. The Dallah is the pot that serves it while the small cups are called Finjan. What makes this coffee distinct as well is the addition of cardamom spice in its preparation, making it an acquired taste to those who are unfamiliar with it. Dried fruit or dates are often served alongside it.
Interestingly enough, we were served with desserts first during our visit. I’m not sure if it was because it was still prayer time when we were there or it is really a Saudi custom to do so. Nonetheless, we were happy to start with something sweet.
These are tiny pancakes made out of whole wheat and drizzled with butter and honey. You may eat them with a spoon or with your hands – as there is a small bowl of water that you can cleanse your fingers with once you’re done. They are quite delicious and I couldn’t stop eating them. I had to remind myself that we haven’t gotten to the main courses yet so I needed to save some space. Luckily, I did…because the feast that we were about to encounter was simply unprecedented and made us say WOW!
After Isha prayer, we were told that the staff had prepared our meal at a nearby room that was bigger (we were only five who will eat, btw) and it looked like it could fit 50 people! MashaAllah! Here is what they have prepared for us:
There was an overwhelming amount of food right in front of us. We hardly knew where to start. Luckily, our waiter told us which was which and what were in it. Here, I shall do my best to label and identify the food we had:
- Tawa bread (Traditional Najdi, deep fried brown bread)
- Selection of Mogalgal (boneless lamb cubes cooked in tomato sauce), Hamees (seasoned lamb strips sauteed with onions), Yogurt Salad, Spicy Pepper Salad and Tomato with Onion Salad.
- Mixed Steam over a bed of rice. The meat on top are selections of chicken, lamb and camel. Yes, camel!
- Shrimp Kabsa
- Margoog (lamb and vegetable stew cooked with thin brown sheets of dough)
- Jareesh (crushed whole wheat cooked in milk, almost like a risotto)
- Goursan (lamb chunks and vegetable stew, mixed with Goursan bread)
- Chicken Magloba (rice, chicken and vegetables cooked together and served upside down)
- Jareesh with Toppings (I think it was caramelized onions)
- Najd Temman (rice cooked with chicken and garnished with vegetables)
We started with the appetizers which were a big hit right off the bat. The Tawa bread was unlike any other khubbus or bread we’ve had before. It was puffed in full and had a slight crisp and sweet taste to it. When we found out that it was deep fried bread, we knew that’s what made it delicious. I decided to pair it with the Mogalgal, like a dip and would include a chunk of meat with every bite. Halfway through my bread, I thought oh my, I think I’m full already! And we haven’t even gotten to the main dishes….
I also tried the soup and the Sambosa (which were not included in the picture above as they weren’t done setting it up then). The soup was made of barley and tomato sauce and was slightly sour. The Sambosa came in three flavors: meat, cheese and vegetable…Aaaand I promise you, this is by far, the BEST Sambosa I’ve ever had in my entire life in Saudi Arabia. I would come back to this place just to wolf down on Sambosas, I swear! It was something about how it was fried and what kind of dough they used that I believe, made all the difference. One plate was not enough for me, I had to ask our friends to share some of theirs. 😀 😀 😀
As for the main dishes, what we collectively enjoyed were the Shrimp Kabsa, Mixed Steam and the Chicken Magloba the best. It was my first time to learn that kabsa could be cooked with shrimp and it was a nice reprieve from all the meat options. The Mixed Steam of lamb, chicken and camel was a great representation of the common meats used in Saudi cuisine. I’ve never had camel before and it tasted quite similar to beef. It may need a dash of salt but I dipped it in the Spicy Pepper Sauce instead. The Chicken Magloba was also a sight to see as it was served with a steel pot presented upside down and a short bang was made by the server before pulling it up, revelaing the dish. The chicken was tender and the vegetables gave it a smooth texture to go with.
One of the things we are not used to is to eat sitting down on the floor with our legs crossed, and after that huge meal, standing up became a challenge. Haha! We were so full we thought of just lying on our backs instead (but we didn’t). Instead, we ordered some green tea to help with our digestion. The truth is, we hardly finished everything that they served because there was too much food. Again, huge servings are symbolic of Saudi generosity — of which we took home to our loved ones after the dinner. That entire set of food, by the way was called Sofra AlQarya.
If you’re looking for an all-Saudi food experience, you’d definitely have to visit Najd Village. Bring your visiting expat colleagues here or make it a point to visit it at least once during your stay here in Saudi Arabia. It’s definitely one for the books!
Open from 12:30PM-12:oo AM
Social Media: @najdvillagesa
Takhasussi St. (Singles Only every day except on Fridays: Family Only)
Abu Bakr Siddique Rd.