Thursday, December 08, 2011

Saudi Food

I write this on the morning of the first day of the weekend here in Saudi Arabia. Actually, the "weekend" begins on Wednesday afternoon itself. The trickle of patients into the OPD dries up after the Dhuhr prayer, and Saudi staff has already disappeared from their posts by 2:00 p.m. The various departments run only due to the presence of Filipino, Egyptian, Indian or Syrian staff. 

In this edition of my blog, I wish to write a little about what passes for food in this country. Do not get the impression that the food is horrible or inedible; it is not. However, it is so different from the food I was used to in India that it is, at times, difficult to be able to enjoy it, regardless of whether it is tasty or otherwise.

Most Arabs (and that includes the other nations around Saudi) enjoy eating flesh. Beef is the lamb (lahaam) here, and chicken (dajjaj) is eaten with the skin on it when it is "broasted". My computer dictionary just made a red squiggle under that funny word, for it is not officially recognised as a portion of chicken that has been cleaned, marinaded with salt, lemon rinds and juice and a little "masala" powder for 4-6 hours, and then, placed in the oven and roasted at 200-250 degrees for about 1/2 an hour. Once done, it is totally dry. They will love to have chunks of it with each morsel of rice. Compared to our chicken preparations, this is so dry that one has to keep gulping water (moya, or ma-a) or juice with each morsel.

The bread here is known as khubs or khubbus or khubz. While one of these round, thick chapati-like breads may cost as much as a riyal in a mall, one can get up to 5 in a single purchase from one of the road-side bakeries in Al Moweh. There is a white version with a large proportion of refined flour, and a brown version, perhaps with whole wheat.

I have seen, in the hospital cafeteria, many Arabs, including doctors working here,eating khubz with apricot jam and/or white cheese ... for breakfast. Others have it with vegetables, main curries or whatever else.

Many road-side eateries serve food at astonishingly low rates (they are high if you see them in rupee terms, but okay if you compare them to the rates in restaurants owned by Saudis); thus, for example, I had a paratha, a 1 1/2 eggs omlette, a bottle of mineral water (600 ml) and a glass of milk tea for just 4 riyals. These dhaba-like places are usually run by Asians, who not only are the joints' cooks, but also waiters, managers, cashiers and so on.

I ate something unique on my flight to Saudi Arabia as part of the airline's in-flight meal: it was a plastic wrapped biscuit that had something brown inside it; it tasted sweet, but not overly so. It was crunchy, tasty and  unlike anything I had eaten before in all my nearly 52 years. Later, I learnt that the inside stuff was mashed dates, and this unique biscuit is known as "Mamoul". While it is available loose as packs of one mamoul each for SR 1, it is more economical  to buy a box of 16 mamouls for SR 10. One can have them on a SOS basis if one is not within reach of a complete meal or if one needs to have just a small "snack".

With limited options, these are the kinds of things I have been consuming since I came to Al Moweh. However, things are likely to change for the better, as I am beginning to cook from today.

1 comment:

drtaher said...

I had a meal in a regular restaurant with my cousin and his family in Jeddah ... we had 2-3 dishes, rotis, buttermilk and so on, and the cost was SR 70 or so ... I think 4 riyals may not get you a main course ... but it might get you a side dish or buttermilk and water. I hope that answers your question Rc!

Thanks for the read/comment, Rudra.