When planning a culinary vacation, Italy, France, India, Spain, Thailand, and Mexico typically top the list — the flavors, spices, and aromas of these countries have rightfully beckoned worldly gourmands. But for those whose appetite for wanderlust is matched only by their actual appetite, there’s a new gastronomic destination on the menu — Saudi Arabia. This middle eastern country perfectly blends delectable cuisine with memorable hospitality.
In Islamic culture, it’s widely considered an honor to share a meal with visitors, so it’s not uncommon for travelers to find themselves situated in front of a massive communal platter of kabsa — a basmati rice dish simmered in a broth of vegetables, meat, and a mix of spices. While every household tends to have its own favorite seasoning blend, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, black lime, bay leaves, and nutmeg are popular choices. Considered the country’s national dish, kabsa pays homage to the nomadic lifestyle of ancient desert dwellers and is an intrinsic part of the region’s culinary heritage. Expect it to be served at lunch, which is traditionally the main meal of the day in Saudi Arabia. While lunch is the main attraction, that’s not to suggest breakfast, dinner, and drinks are overlooked.
Breakfast often consists of coffee and dates — the latter of which is an iconic symbol of Arabian hospitality and an essential part of life in the kingdom. It’s not uncommon to be welcomed into a home or business with dates and qahwa (Arabic coffee). Dates have been a staple of the Saudi diet since ancient times — you’ll find them mentioned more than 20 times in the Quran. Those looking for a caffeine buzz can find qahwa cafes throughout the country. While international chains are available, qahwa generally refers to coffee made of arabica beans. To balance its sometimes-bitter flavor, the coffee is typically served alongside something sweet, like a date. Travelers who still find the flavor too intense can add a splash of camel’s milk to their qahwa.
Across the kingdom, visitors will find open-air cafes (complete with outdoor air conditioners), seasonal pop-ups, and Michelin star restaurants offering authentic Saudi cuisine. While alcohol is not permitted, mocktails and fresh juices are full of delightful flavors. Guests of the country often pair their meal with a Saudi Cooler, which blends apple juice and sparkling water with slices of oranges, lemons, apples, and sprigs of fresh mint.
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