Top 20 Most Popular Foods in Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a Middle Eastern country that makes up the vast majority of the Arabian Peninsula. It is home to some of the most amazing dishes in the world, heavily influenced by the country’s rich heritage and ancient customs.
Seen as a symbol of hospitality, food plays a very important role in traditional Saudi Arabian culture. Generosity, warmth, and a sense of sharing are hallmarks of this country’s heritage and this can be seen reflected in the food they eat.
If you ever happen to find yourself invited to a meal by a Saudi, you can expect generous amounts of food laid out on large platters.
The most common food items in Saudi Arabian culture include rice, spices, chicken, lamb, yogurt, potatoes, bread, and dates. The majority of the dishes that are found here are hearty and packed full of flavor.
Let’s take a look at 20 of the most popular foods found in Saudi Arabia that you absolutely must try!
1. Ruz Al Bukhari
Also known as Al-Fahm, Ruz Al Bukhari is a fragrant rice dish that usually comes served with roast chicken. The dish features a variety of spices such as cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, and star anise and is often topped with raisins and fried onions, It is served with a spicy tomato sauce on the side (also known as salata hara). Some variations of the dish also include almonds and pine nuts.
Ruz Al Bukhari literally translates to Bukhari rice and is believed to have gotten its name from the ancient city of Bukhara, a prominent stop on the Silk Road in Central Asia.
Muttabaq is a famous Saudi Arabian snack that consists of a thin layer of bread stuffed with minced meat, eggs, leeks and scallions. The word muttabaq roughly translates as folded. Crispy on the outside and generously stuffed on the inside, this dish is usually shallowly fried, though you will find them baked in some regions.
The thin Muttabaq dough is rolled out into a large rectangle, topped with the minced meat and egg filling, folded into a smaller rectangle, and then cut up into squares and served with lemon wedges and whole chilies.
Harees is one of the oldest dishes in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and is considered a staple during the holy month of Ramadan. The spices used to cook harees depend largely on the region you find yourself in, though in most cases cardamom, cumin, and cinnamon are used.
The basic ingredients for this dish include coarse ground wheat, meat, and oil/butter, which are all thoroughly mixed to form a kind of homogeneous mixture that slightly resembles oatmeal. The dish is often served topped with fried onions and garlic.
Tamiya, also known as falafel, is a vegetarian fritter made from either chickpeas or fava beans, or in some cases both, and is probably one of the most popular snacks available in Saudi Arabia.
You can either buy these fritters on theır own or find them served in khubz (Arabic bread) as sandwiches. The sandwich generally consists of veggies such as eggplant, pickles, and tomatoes and can sometimes also include sliced boiled egg.
Tamiya is usually paired with a thick garlic-tahini sauce, either on the side (if you buy them as is) or inside the sandwich.
5. Ful wa Tameez
Ful (or fool) wa tameez is a warm, appetizing breakfast dish consisting of a mashed fava bean dip and thick bread. This dish is especially popular during Ramadan and is often eaten during Suhoor (pre-dawn breakfast).
Fava beans are cooked here with cloves of garlic, onion, tomatoes, and spices and are then served with tameez (thick, flatbread). The dish comes served with a generous drizzle of olive oil and fresh herbs.
It should come as no surprise that one of the most popular foods available in Saudi Arabia is shawarma. Found almost everywhere you go, shawarma is a staple Arab dish that consists of meat cut into thin slices, layered on top of each other in a huge cone-like shape, and slow-roasted on a spit.
The meat is then stuffed in khubz (Arabic bread), topped with pickles, french fries, and tahini sauce, rolled into a sandwich, and served. While chicken shawarmas are the most common throughout the Kingdom, you’re just as likely to find beef or lamb shawarmas in most restaurants.
Kibbeh can easily be thought of as the epitome of Saudi Arabian comfort food. The word kibbeh comes from the Arabic word kubbah, which means ball. Made from a fine paste of bulgur wheat and meat, kibbeh are deep-fried croquettes consisting of toasted pine nuts and spices.
To prepare kibbeh, bulgur wheat and ground meat (usually lamb or beef) are first processed together to form a fine paste. This paste is then shaped into balls, stuffed with a mixture primarily made up of pine nuts and spiced meat, and fried. You can also find them baked or served raw in some places.
Although traditionally from Yemen, mandi is a meat and rice dish that is extremely popular in most Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia. The meat used in mandi is boiled with whole spices, cooked in an underground oven pit, and then smoked using coal.
The rice for this dish is cooked using a blend of spices, the main one being turmeric, from which it gets its iconic yellow color. Mandi is traditionally served on a large round platter (usually meant to be shared) and comes topped with raisins and fried onions.
Gahwa has been a central part of Saudi Arabian culture for centuries and is the ultimate symbol of hospitality when it comes to welcoming guests. Gahwa is essentially Arabic coffee made from ground roasted coffee beans mixed with spices such as cloves and cardamom.
This drink is available at all times of the day and even at night and is typically consumed with fresh dates or sweets. Gahwa is served in distinct thermoses called dallah and is usually poured into tiny cups or mugs. Due to its slightly bitter taste, gahwa is consumed only a few centiliters at a time.
Hummus is a famous Middle Eastern dip made with chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), garlic, and lemon juice. Traditionally, hummus is served with a generous drizzle of olive oil and eaten with freshly baked khubz.
Along with regular hummus, you’ll also find hummus bil laham, or hummus with meat, all over Saudi Arabia. Hummus bil laham, as the name suggests, comes topped with ground meat (usually lamb or beef), pine nuts, olive oil, and fresh parsley and is also eaten with khubz.
Ferek is a traditional favorite amongst locals and is especially enjoyed during the cold winter months. It is made using caramelized onions, sugar, spices, and bread, which are all then processed into a fine brown paste.
This dish is an amazing combination of sweet, savory, and hearty all at once and is beloved in every region of the country.
Saleeg is a traditional rice dish consisting of short-grain rice cooked in chicken/meat broth. Hailing from the Hijaz region in Saudi Arabia, saleeg is a creamy, porridge-like dish that is generally eaten during special occasions and in the colder months.
Saleeg is a relatively easy dish to make and consists of just a few simple ingredients—rice, roast chicken or beef, milk, olive oil, butter or ghee, and a mixture of spices. It is served on large circular platters (tabasi) with the chicken or beef sitting directly on top of the rice.
Kunafah, or kanafeh, is a sweet and crunchy pastry that is famous throughout the Middle Eastern region. You can find kunafah in dozens of shapes and forms in almost all Arab countries.
The preparation for this dish varies depending on the region you’re in, but typically, Kunafah consists of a crunchy shell (usually made from either semolina or shredded phyllo) that is stuffed with either a cream or a cheese filling and drizzled with a generous amount of sweet syrup. It is then cut into small portions and served warm.
14. Dajaj Mashwi
Dajaj Mashwi is a spicy barbecue chicken dish loaded with spices. Chicken breast is typically used to prepare this dish though you will find most restaurants serving a variety of cuts. The chicken is marinated with an assortment of spices and herbs, some of which include paprika, red chili powder, black pepper, sumac, and zaatar.
It is generally served alongside a mixed salad and garlic sauce but can also be eaten with rice, couscous, or soup.
Maamoul cookies are shortbread butter cookies filled with a variety of different fillings such as dates, walnuts, figs, pistachios, and almonds. Date maamoul cookies are the most popular choice in Saudi Arabia and are traditionally served during holidays and celebrations, where they are made or bought in large quantities to be shared with neighbors and friends.
Maamoul cookies are shaped into little domes and are best enjoyed with a cup of tea or gahwa. The dough for the pastry is made from semolina flour and has a buttery, almost melt-in-your-mouth, feel to it.
Fatayer is a meat-filled pie dish that can alternatively be made with a variety of fillings such as cheese, labneh, and spinach. A delicious mezze, these pies are generally served as appetizers alongside hummus and kibbeh.
The preparation for fatayer begins with a dough that is rolled out into an assortment of shapes. These are then filled with a wide variety of fillings, depending on preference, and baked in the oven until they are golden to perfection.
Kabsa is perhaps the most famous dish in Saudi Arabia and is considered the national dish of the country. Similar in nature to Ruz Al Bukhari, kabsa is an aromatic rice and roast chicken dish served on large communal platters.
The rice for this dish is cooked in the same water that is used to cook the chicken and is flavored with a blend of spices such as ground coriander, ground cumin, black pepper powder, red chili powder, ground cloves, and ground cardamom. Just like Ruz Al Bukhari, it is often served with salata hara (spicy tomato sauce) and is topped with fried onions, raisins, and oftentimes, pine nuts.
Sambusak, also known as sambousa or samosas, are snacks or appetizers that are popular not only in Saudi Arabia but throughout the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. These savory pastries are similar to hand pies and are stuffed with a variety of fillings—cheese, ground beef, and chicken being the most common options.
Sambusak is a relatively easy dish to make and involves taking thin buttery dough, stuffing it with your choice of filling, and then deep-frying.
Tharid is a hearty spicy lamb and vegetable stew served over thin, unleavened bread (regag). This dish is quite popular during the holy month of Ramadan and is said to be one of Prophet Muhammed’s (PBUH) favorites.
The meat for tharid is stewed with a variety of spices and vegetables, usually potatoes, onions, and carrots, and is then arranged over crispy thin bread and served.
Arayes are crispy pita bread sandwiches that come stuffed with minced lamb meat, spices, and herbs. They’re traditionally considered a snack food and can be either baked, pan-fried, or grilled.
The filling for Arayes consists of seasoned minced meat, onion, tomatoes, and sometimes pomegranate molasses. The pita bread when stuffed is then generally grilled, resulting in a crunchy hard shell on the outside and soft, meaty filling on the inside.
The food in Saudi Arabia encompasses a wide variety of warm and hearty dishes and is heavily influenced by the Kingdom’s nomadic past. As seen above, large communal platters are considered to be the very essence of Saudi Arabian food culture with most of the dishes featuring meat, rice, spices, and bread.