Saudi Arabian food

Middle Eastern culinary melting pot

Saudi Arabian food

The Saudi Arabian cuisine isn’t just couscous and dates, there is a rich culinary history in Saudi Arabia, that reflects its history as a trading nation. Saudi Arabia’s food influences range from Syria, India, Persia (modern day Iran) and even Europe.

There are certain important things you need to be aware of about Saudi Arabian food and around etiquette in general.

Dietary restrictions

As a Muslim country, Saudi Arabia follows Halal practises which forbid the eating of pork and the drinking of alcohol. All food must be slaughtered according to Islamic rules. Whether the method of slaughter - that involves draining the carcass of blood - affects the taste is debatable, as Halal meat is served all round the world to non-Muslims without it being an issue.

Dining etiquette

It is not acceptable for women to eat with any man who is not her child, sibling or husband. In some restaurants, you will find men-only and family sections, to avoid the sexes inadvertently mixing.

If you are eating at someone’s house, you will be expected to wash your hands before and after eating which may be necessary as you may be required to eat with your hands. Only eat with your right hand and keep your left hand out of site. It is customary to leave some food on your plate, to indicate to your hosts that they provided enough food for you.

Staple foods

Slather some hummus - a mashed chickpea, tahini, garlic and lemon dip - on some fatir, a flat bread or some hawayij, a spiced bread for a tasty snack. Tabbouleh, another popular dish in Saudi Arabia, is a cold salad made from bulgar wheat, flavoured with parsley, tomatoes, garlic and lemon and is the perfect accompaniment to dips and bread.


Kabsa is a mixed rice dish that is found in both Saudi Arabia and Jordan. It is considered Saudi Arabia’s national dish. Kabsa is made by mixing basmati, long-grained rice with meats and vegetables. The flavour comes from a range of typically Middle Eastern spices including black pepper, cloves, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, black lime, bay leaves and nutmeg.


Mandi is a variation of Kabsa usually made with lamb. It is different from Kasba as it is cooked in a special oven, made from digging a hole in the ground. A hole is dug and wood is burned at a high temperature to create charcoal which generates lots of smoke. The meat is suspended above the smoking charcoal and the hole is covered with clay.


Mofatah is much like a Kabsa, but the main ingredient is a whole sheep. Traditionally on special occasions, Saudi Arabians would welcome a guest’s arrival or celebrate a wedding by slaughtering a sheep and preparing a Mofatah meal. Nowadays, Saudi Arabians are more likely to bring a dead sheep to a restaurant where it is prepared for the meal rather than kill it themselves.


Alcohol is out of the question and the staple drinks are tea and coffee. In terms of coffee, Saudi Arabian and Turkish blends are available and highly recommended.

Further reading

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