Ingredients with hidden clues

Ingredients with hidden clues

Culture and food go together like honey and lemon. And just as filmmakers hide Easter eggs in movies, food hides clues too – subtle details that reveal pieces of history.

Food in Saudi Arabia is no exception. So, to celebrate InFlavour’s location here in KSA, we thought we’d tell a little bit of the nation’s story through its rich culinary culture.

Eating in the environment

In the 18th century, the founder of the state, Imam Mohammed bin Saud, led Saudi Arabia through huge shifts in education and economy. But while minds were busy with transformation, the food remained relatively simple.

Popular dishes included:

  • Jreesh. Made from crushed wheat, the liquid base (water and laban, a type of sour milk) was stirred in with utensils made from wood or palm fronds.
  • Qursan. With thin layers of bread and a mixture of vegetables and sometimes meat, it’s still served as an entree today.

A traditional food specialist called Noura Al-Hamidi told Arab News, “The Saudi diet mainly focused on what people’s farms produced. If they produced wheat, then they consumed wheat. If they produced dates, they ate dates. The main focus of the meal would be whatever was most available in people’s environment.”

This use of whatever was available was also reflected in cooking methods – the millstones used to crush wheat for jreesh were a common household item and were often shared between neighbours, for example.

And food was cooked in community

Al-Hamidi also noted that communities would come together to cook the best food they could. If someone was known for being really good at cooking a particular dish, they’d make that; while her neighbour would cook the jreesh, and someone else would make the qursan.

Cooking wasn’t just a functional process. It also solidified relationships with communities, and created interdependent bonds.

But it wasn’t all easy

It’s easy to romanticise the simplicity and community-focused food of the past. But the ingredients and cooking tools available to Saudis in the 18th century were limited, and so (like elsewhere in the world) diets were limited too.

Today, Saudi Arabia is collaborating with the rest of the globe more and more – with trade partnerships, an increase in tourism, and initiatives to drive innovation and investment.

And that’s reflected in Saudi food: varied and delicious ingredients, spices, and techniques imported from international knowledge-sharing. But the food culture retains its history in unique local flavours.

If you’re heading to Riyadh for InFlavour 2023, we think you should try:

  • Ma’amoul. A cookie filled with fruits and nuts (think dates, pistachios, walnuts), it’s traditionally prepared for festivals and celebrations. Tip: if you want a walnut ma’amoul, look for one shaped into a dome with a flat top. If you want a pistachio one, grab the oval shape. And both are perfect with coffee.
  • Dajaj mashwi. If you like barbecued chicken, you’ll love this Saudi take: boneless chicken breasts, marinated and grilled to perfection. They’re spicy, flavourful, and can be eaten with a garlic dipping sauce and a salad – or with couscous or soup.
  • Tharīd. A filling spicy lamb stew thickened with barley bread that will delight your taste buds and make you feel cosy and content. Local legend has it that this was one of the Prophet Muhammad’s favourite dishes.

A global food community in Riyadh

Food still plays a central role in communities in Saudi Arabia. Cooking and eating together builds relationships here, just like it does all over the world.

Which is exactly why top local and international chefs will cook live at InFlavour 2023. Come and share food with us – and you’ll instantly be a part of the global food community.

Have you been to Riyadh? We’d love to know your favourite local dishes.

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