Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cooking in KSA

A reader recently asked:
  • I am curious, what is like cooking in a foreign country? Can you find the ingredients you are used to using? Do you make many local dishes? How do your kids handle the Saudi cuisine when you do eat it?
    I'm so glad you asked this question. I really enjoy cooking. And I think that one way to learn about a country is by eating local food and enjoying the food traditions and customs. When we lived in Sweden, I wrote a paper about the food traditions there for one of my Swedish classes. My professor didn't even know some of the stuff I had learned about Sweden's unique food traditions.
    So I am incredibly interested in food traditions and cultures wherever I go. I'm also lucky that I have a pretty strong stomach. I enjoy eating the food very much in the Kingdom. Going to the grocery store is always an adventure. A visit to the bakery and cheese counter always fascinates me. My kids love watching the puffy rounds of arabic bread rotate on the conveyor belt and then bagged, hot and fresh for shoppers. For about 25 cents, I can take home 6 rounds of Arabic bread. We love it with hummus. 
    I have learned from previous experience how to make most of the foods I love from scratch. I make my own bread, cakes, cookies, tortillas, soups, etc. I have also learned how to cook well without recipes. This skill has been a life-saver. I grew up using canned cream of mushroom/chicken/celery soups in certain dishes I made. I couldn't find those soups in Sweden, so I learned how to make my own sauces and now I can't ever go back to condensed cream of crap. In Sweden, I learned to make most of my favorite treats like lussekatter, meatballs, semlor, Swedish oven pancakes, etc. So I can enjoy those foods wherever I may be.
    Here in Saudi Arabia, a lot of food is imported from Europe and the U.S. I was so surprised to find so many American products lining the shelves at the grocery stores. However, since we lived  in Sweden for such a long time, we don't really have a dependence on a lot of American products. My kids never developed a taste for many quintessential American products like cereal, granola bars, Kraft mac and cheese, peanut butter, American cheese/velveeta, etc. However, we have developed tastes for European products like this amazing cherry juice from Austria, special granola bars from France, and cereals from the UK which have dark chocolate shavings. We are really going to suffer going back to the U.S.
    I do most of my grocery shopping on the perimeters though, focusing on the available produce and meats. I don't really shop from a list for my produce, preferring to buy what looks and smells fresh. I buy fresh chicken, frozen fish, and some beef. Pork products are forbidden in the kingdom--which makes me sad because I love pork chops, bacon, ham, pork roasts, etc. I buy ground beef only rarely because it has a funny smell that I don't like. We eat meat sparingly, incorporating a little bit into our meals. I make a lot of salads, both fruit and vegetables, dressed simply. With fruit salad, I like to drizzle some orange juice and a little sugar on the fruit. I make a simple dressing for salad out of fresh squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. 
    I used to buy frozen veggies in the U.S. for vegetable side dishes. However, the quality of frozen vegetables in KSA is really poor, so I simply do not buy frozen vegetables--with the exception of spinach. I can't always find fresh spinach and the frozen spinach is actually pretty decent. 
    (This is a camel burger. I didn't take the picture, but I have had a camel burger, which was very tasty.)
    My children are pretty adaptable eaters. They are used to my home-cooked meals and eat pretty willingly. They are willing, for the most part, to try different foods. Some of the Saudi Arabia cuisine we eat suits them perfectly. We haven't eaten a lot of authentic Saudi Arabian cuisine because it isn't served in very many places. There are a few places that we go. One restaurant is supposed to really do authentic Saudi food really well, but we haven't gone yet. I promise a post on that place because it is supposed to be really great. I haven't made many local dishes because I don't know how to prepare them. I really need to pick up a cookbook so I can start!
    I will write about the restaurants in the area later because they deserve their own post. I'm also compiling pictures of different fast food places I see in the Kingdom.
    Any more questions about food?


  1. I would love to know what is the typical diet of those in Saudi Arabia? I love trying new foods, too. What an experience you are having! We still make your orange chicken recipe from time to time and it is always a crowd pleaser! -Dawn

  2. mmm, that camel burger looks delish!