Saudi Arabia is a cultural feast for the senses, and this is especially true with its foodie offerings. The kingdom is home to millennia-old culinary traditions and a wide variety of regional staples and delicacies.
Medina's Historic Cuisine
The city of Medina is a historic metropolis that is one of the largest Islamic pilgrimage sites in the world and has had a long history with many of its local flavors and dishes. Locally grown produce includes herbs, dates and mint, grown for brewing strong mint tea.
Travelers to Medina should try Medini rice, a sweet rice dish flavored with raisins and carrots. It's often served as a side dish to rotisserie chicken. Instead of taking a coffee break, travelers can make like the locals and try local red tea with mint, grown locally in a variety that yields a strong scent and taste.
For dessert, foodies should try Turomba, a fried dessert commonly eaten with tea or after a large meal, like Mandi or Kabsa. It offers a variety of textures, with a crunchy exterior and doughy center.
In the center of Saudi Arabia is the arid Najd region, home to a variety of rich, flavorful stews, rice and wheat-based dishes, flavored with spices. Many dishes here take hours to prepare but are worth the wait for their flavors. Jareesh is a wheat porridge dish made of meat, tomatoes and heaped with caramelized onions.
Other dishes are made with dough, like Mataziz and Marquq, two similar stews with meat and vegetables, but with differently shaped wheat or rye flour discs of dough, which act as pasta in these two dishes.
Kleija is a sweet biscuit shaped into a disc by a special mold and filled with sweet fillings such as delicious date paste or nuts and sugar.
Coastal Umluj Cuisine
Along the coastline, Umluj is considered a popular beach getaway destination for its dolphins, swimming and beach activities. But it's also home to locally grown mangos, guava, lemons, figs and, of course, seafood.
Here, travelers can experience the best of Saudi Arabia's seafood dishes, such as Samak Nashif, parrotfish left to dry for at least a week in the sun, then served with Ma'dous, a rice dish with yellow lentils.
Travelers visiting the region during Ramadan can try a popular dish with a special regional twist in Umluj: Shorbat Habb. A soup made from wheat grains, the regional preparation exchanges its typical tomato base for sheep's milk, turning it white instead of its usual red color.
Lastly, for dessert, Aseeda is a great Umluj treat to try. This wheat flour-based dessert is cooked with dates, millet or oats, then topped with honey and ghee, making this handheld a true sticky delight!
When traveling to the Eastern Province, you'll find traditional Saudi dishes with international influences, since this region of the country shares its border with several different countries.
While there, travelers can try one of the most expensive varieties of rice available, Hassawi rice, which grows in the oasis of Al Ahsa. Reddish-brown in color and incredibly nutritious, it's often steamed and served alongside grilled or fried fish.
Those craving a heavy noodle-based dish can enjoy Balaleet, made with vermicelli noodles (which resemble very thin spaghetti noodles), then served sweet or savory with a variety of additions like sauteed onions, potatoes, sugar, cardamom or rose water.
For dessert, try Afousa, a traditional dish where the country's best dates are on full display. The dish is pudding-like in consistency and created by mashing dates to form a paste.
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