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Food and Drink

Saudi Arabia - Food and Drink

Most of Saudi Arabia is desert, which limits its food supply. Staple foods in the southern and eastern parts of the country include camel milk, camel meat and dates. Staples in other parts of Saudi Arabia include wheat, beans, rice and more dates. Many people here keep sheep, camels, goats and chicken. The diet of people in Saudi Arabia varies depending on the region.

Today, the cuisine of Saudi Arabians has changed from the times when people lived off the land. In the past, most of the people in the desert did not experience external influence, and lived in isolation. However, the diet of native Saudi Arabian people changed when traders arrived at the coast. The growth of Islam led to a rise of power in Syria, which was previously known as Damascus. Muslim influence introduced new foods in Saudi Arabia and the surrounding areas. Tabbouleh, hummus and spices were introduced.

External influence from overseas has also contributed to the Saudi diet, especially after people from Europe arrived in the Persian Gulf. Indian, Persian and European people came with new culinary ideas and ingredients that changed the native cuisine of the Saudi people. New foods and spices were introduced. US influence has led to the establishment of American chain restaurants in various cities in Saudi Arabia. Despite all these changes, it is common to find traditional Arabian dishes in most eateries and restaurants in the country.

Staple Foods

Rice is the staple food of Saudi Arabia. It is mostly used as a side or base dish. Hummus is a popular dip made from lemon, garlic, tahini and mashed chickpeas. Different types of bread are popular in the country, including sweet and spiced flavors. Tabbouleh is a popular salad made from tomatoes, garlic, lemon, bulgur and parsley. Kapsa is another national dish, consisting of rice and chicken with vegetables. Kebab is also another popular food in Saudi Arabia. This comes in different styles but the base is usually roasted chicken or lamb and vegetables in pita bread.

Dining Etiquette

Dining in local Saudi Arabia restaurants is restrictive. Most restaurants are divided into a family area and men only area. Dining in public with a person of the opposite sex is strictly forbidden unless they are family.

There are a few rules you need to know and follow when dining in the home of a Muslim. It is important to dress conservatively, meaning your arm and legs should be covered. Women often cover their entire bodies except the eyes. However, some women choose to show their face. You are not allowed to eat with a member of the opposite sex unless they are your sibling, child or spouse. On top of these rules, make sure you arrive on time.

If you find shoes removed at the door of your host, please follow suit by taking your shoes off also. Start by greeting the elders first, but remember men should not touch the hands of women. Greet those of the opposite sex by name or acknowledge them rather than shaking hands.

Wash your hands before you sit down at the dining area. Make sure you sit with your feet flat on the floor. Pointing the soles of your feet to someone else is considered offensive. As a guest, you will probably be served first or second after the elders. Wait for the host to say bismillah (meaning the name of Allah) before you can start eating. Make sure you taste a bit of everything offered; refusing food is rude in Saudi Arabia. Follow the eating habits of the locals; this may mean eating using your right hand, or using the provided cutlery. No matter what utensil you are using, make sure the right hand is the one that directs food into your mouth. If there is no cutlery, involved then your left hand should not be used for eating.

Follow the lead of the host and wash your hands once you finish eating. You might be asked to stay for tea or coffee after the meal; accept the invitation to avoid offending your host. If you are dining in a restaurant, confirm if the bill has a service charge, which acts as a tip. If the service charge is not included, leave a 10 percent tip.

Saudi people celebrate reunions, weddings and special events in a similar manner. They might slaughter a goat, camel or sheep for special occasions. For smaller events, meat from either chicken or sheep is often prepared and served. The meat is boiled in spices and served with rice, vegetables and soup. Religious festivals are celebrated with plenty of food and the choice varies with the family or region.


Traditional drinks in Saudi Arabia are tea and coffee, and both are frequently offered to guests. Coffee comes in various styles, with Arabian and Turkish varieties being the most preferred. Milk juices and soft drinks are readily available and there are many options to choose from. Since Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country and alcohol is strictly forbidden. It is illegal to transport or drink alcohol. Tap water is safe for human consumption, although some Western people have trouble adjusting to Saudi tap water, as it has a slightly different taste.

Expats may choose to take alcohol in the comfort of their homes. Law enforcement sometimes turns a blind eye to the activities inside the homes of expats. However, people who distill or smuggle alcohol in the country alcohol will be arrested. Expats found drinking alcohol could be jailed for a few days, deported or even publicly flogged, so respect the culture and don’t drink in public. There are also serious consequences of driving under the influence.

When it comes to food in Saudi Arabia, pastries and street foods such as Shawarma and kebabs are popular and affordable. If you prefer Western cuisine, there is a variety to choose from. Most chain restaurants are pocket friendly, but there are high-end restaurants for those looking for luxury dining.

Read more about this country

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