As I watch the Food Network and the shows about different foods in every state of the US, I started to imagine what I would feature about Riyadh if I had my version of the G. Garvin’s Road Trip or Guy’s Triple D, Saudi Arabia-style. As a Saudi kid, I decided these would be my Top 5 food items that would surely make an appearance. I hope most of you would agree that these are must-tries for every tourist or newcomer to Saudi Arabia:
I say this to every new expat that I meet because the Shawarma in Saudi Arabia is utterly unique. It is routinely assembled with khubus (flat bread). shredded shawarma chicken (or sometimes beef), fries, pickles and most importantly, garlic sauce! People will flock to reputable shawarma stores and pair it with either a soda or a fruit cocktail. While its origins are not really rooted in KSA, it has become a staple street food for many and no matter how many shawarma stores there are outside of the Middle East, the one that comes from the side stores of Riyadh are the simplest and best of all comfort foods.
The kabsah, for me, is the symbol of Saudi Arabia’s abundance in food. For a mere 15SR (it used to be 10SR back in the day), you could get a kilo’s worth of cooked rice, a pack of pickled veggies and a flavorfully roasted half-chicken that’s good enough to feed at least two people (or more!). It comes with a plastic roll out that you could use to spread on your dining table and that is where you will eat the kabsah with your bare hands. The best part? Once you are done and full, you just fold up the used plastic cover, throw it in the trash and wash your hands! You’re full, you don’t have to wash any dishes and man oh man, was it cheap! See, the best things in life are (almost) free.
This is one of the bestsellers during Ramadan season because it is usually eaten during the Iftar time to help ease in the breaking of the fast. They are fried pastries that can either be made with cheese, meat or vegetables. Its concept is similar to that of a spring roll, except that it comes in triangular shapes instead. When it’s not Ramadan, you can buy them at Arabic restaurants as a starter dish or you can find frozen versions of it at the grocery store (and you can fry them by yourself at home).
What is Arabic food without its kebabs? The Middle East is famous for liking their meat grilled and Saudi Arabia is no exception. From Lamb Kebabs to Shish Tawouks (chicken kebabs), these skewered slices of goodness are not to be missed. The key to a good kebab is its tenderness and “moist-ness”, even after being grilled. A dry kebab is frowned upon in these parts. You can either have them with rice, khubus or even as a wrap.
Like the Shawarma and Kebab, the Felafel is not exclusive to Saudi Arabia cuisine but it is definitely a mainstream dish that is popular as a breakfast item among Saudis, Arabs and expats alike. These fritter-like munchies are made out of ground chickpeas, fava beans and spices that are rolled into ball shapes and deep fried to perfection. Some eat them individually as a snack and/or dip them in some hummus but others prefer it served in a sandwich style wherein the felafel are cut into halves and inserted in an open pita bread, along with vegetables like fried eggplant, slices of beetroot, parsley, tomatoes and hard boiled eggs. A squeeze of lemon or a dash of hot sauce over it is optional. Its sandwich version may look like a small, unassuming size but it is actually very filling! All for a cheap amount of 5SR.
There you have it! If you’re ever visiting Riyadh or is about to leave it…make sure you’re a certified “RIYADHizen” by checking off the items on this list. Of course, there are other Saudi food items out there still like the traditional Gahwa (Arabic coffee), the dates and if you’re into exotic dishes, try tasting a roasted camel. After all, it’s all about the experience. 😉