Sample Essay on Saudi Food Tradition

Saudi Food Tradition


Traditional foods comprise a vital aspect of individuals’ cultural heritage, historical background, and their environmental condition. Moreover, traditional foods symbolize a significant element of individuals’ diet and are highly connected to their food traditions and nutrition (Rijal 107). Increased levels of globalization have impacted the lifestyles of the Saudi Arabian country and led to a great rise in food import. This has led to reduced consumption of traditional foods. Additionally, efforts have been made to stress the importance of traditional foods in enhancing the nutritional status of individuals. Most of traditional foods are nutritionally vital in a diet and perform an important role in attaining individuals’ nutritional requisites (Musaiger 1). This paper examines the Saudi food tradition by discussing the food history, foods for religious and holiday celebrations, mealtime customs, and food consumption patterns.

History and Food

The individuals of Saudi Arabia originated from the clans of nomadic sheep and goat herders and they preserve their several ancient traditions. The Saudis still take traditional foods, such as dates, fatir (Flat bread), arikah (Bread from the southwestern region of the nation), and Hawayij (a spice blend), though the majority of them stay in urban areas and no longer practice the nomadic lifestyle. Additionally, Saudi Arabia is a homeland to Mecca, the basis and spiritual center of Islam. The culture, including laws of Saudi Arabia, is based on Islamic principles as well as the nutritional constraints against consuming pork or alcohol (Food in every country par. 2).

During the 1930s, oil was established on the Arabian Peninsula. Moreover, revenue from oil has enabled Saudi Arabia to be modernized and start developing firm industries in many areas like agriculture. The country currently manufactures dairy products as well as vegetables. Therefore, several foreign workers are required to operate the modern industries. Furthermore, foreign foods including fast food chains now exist in Saudi Arabia and are mostly consumed by foreigners, as many Saudis prefer traditional food (Food in every country par. 3).

Food customs and cooking tradition in Saudi Arabia, as in the entire Arab world, tend to feature traditional foods, whether intended for local dishes or part of the regional collection. In addition, traditional foods are prepared with fresh ingredients, though frozen canned and pre-prepared foods are currently available and used. Traditional foods are also prepared in varied ways, such as using additional teaspoon or other spices. Furthermore, food intake has changed because of technology, modernization, and changes in lifestyles and therefore what is currently traditional is different from the past. In Saudi Arabia, there is little acknowledgement of radical experimentation unlike in the American food, outside large hotels and business settings or in demonstration cooking. Nevertheless, as in Nouvelle cuisine, lighter versions of traditional foods are at times available and measurements are currently provided in cooking instruction, shows, and books (Zuhur 305).

In some cases, it is challenging to differentiate foods that were originally Saudi Arabian from those that came from the Levant or Iraq, Syria, or Egypt since some foods are connected in a common tradition that dates back in the Abbasid period, whereas others have moved into the Arabian Peninsula because of the movement of labor, pilgrims, and scholars. Furthermore, Saudi Arabians regard breakfast foods of ful mudammes (fava beans) and shakshooka (eggs cooked with minced meat) as their national dishes, although these are also considered as national dishes in other nations (the first dish in Egypt and the second dish in Tunisia). Karkadeh, a tea of hibiscus hips that can be taken hot or cold, is available in Mecca and Medina and in the whole of Egypt. Moreover, Saudi Arabians make sanbusak, a kind of half moon-shaped ravioli stuffed with a leek filling, which can be eaten with a yoghurt sauce. The same dish of Ottoman origin is provided in Syria. An individual can find kabsa, a Saudi Arabian specialty, prepared in take-outs kitchens in Damascus, Syria, thanks to the large number of Saudi Arabian tourists (Zuhur 305).

The term halal, which means permitted or lawful, originates from the Qur’an and is a group of substances including food that differ from those that are haram (unlawful and forbidden). The Qur’an labels plants and animals that are lawful to be consumed by Muslims, which include goats, sheep, cattle, and camels, and fish and other wild animals as long as they meet the criteria in the law. Nevertheless, swine animals that are dead and those intended for sacrifice to divinities other than Allah are prohibited. Muslims are also not allowed to take pork or bacon (Zuhur 306).

Both Bedouin and sedentary lifestyles produced different kinds of foods and impacted trade. The Bedouin had grazing animals and thus access to milk, cheese, yoghurt, and meat. Other traditional foods of the Bedouin comprised dates, lentils, pumpkins, leeks, zucchini (courgettes), eggplant, and occasionally goat, lamb, or camel. Often, they grew their own vegetables whenever they were settled and they traded with sedentary or partially sedentary groups to acquire other foods. The Najd and Hasa areas produce wheat, which is a great part of the cuisine in the region. Additionally, government sponsored programs to subsidize farmers, especially those growing wheat, were against economic grounds by Western observers who believed that great amounts of required water were expensive. On the other hand, the nations that were instituted grain imports highly depended on a different form of government subsidization meant for minimizing the cost of the finished product (Zuhur 306).

The regulations of hospitality also influence food and its preparation, serving, and reception. Additionally, the host is supposed to cook more food than required and utilizing excellent ingredients is a sign of generosity. The term Bismallah (“in the name of Allah”) is pronounced before eating, and eating with one’s fingers is regarded polite and has its own set of rules as detailed as the European table manner (Zuhur 307).

The Saudis’ Foods

The Saudis are very traditional and consume the same foods they have taken for centuries. The typical meal of the Bedouin who is in Saudi Arabia is simpler compared to that of the urban Saudis who currently form a greater part of Saudi Arabia’s populace. Nevertheless, the fundamental ingredients are similar. Saudi Arabia also comprises more than 18 million date palms that yield 600 million pounds of dates yearly (Food in every country par. 4).

Saudis are rated as the highest consumers of broiler chickens globally, taking averagely 88.2 pounds of chicken per person yearly. Additionally, they are stringent Muslims and do not take pork or alcohol according to the Islamic law. Moreover, lamb is traditionally given to respected visitors and at holiday celebrations. The Islamic law states that animals ought to be slaughtered in a certain manner and consecrated prior to eating. Therefore, Saudi is the largest importer of live sheep globally (Food in every country par. 5).

Camel or goat/sheep milk is a staple of the Bedouin diet, and dairy products continue to be favorite for all the Saudis. Moreover, yogurt is taken alone, utilized in sauces, and used into a drink known as lassi. Flat breads- fatir, a flat bread prepared on a curved metal pan over a fire, as well as kimaje, similar to pita- are the other core of the nomadic diet that are consumed by all Saudis. The breads are utilized at each meal, instead of a fork or spoon, to scoop other foods (Food in every country par. 6).

Foods for Religious and Holiday Celebrations

Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country and therefore the national holidays are Islamic holidays, such as Ramadan (a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset), Eid al-Fitr (the celebration at the end of Ramadan), and Eid al-Adha (the Festival of Sacrifice). Two of the Five Pillars or prerequisites of Islam are to prepare a pilgrimage to Mecca and to provide assistance to the poor. Additionally, Eid-Adha, which takes place at the end of the month of pilgrimage, represents the story of God providing Abraham a ram to sacrifice rather than his son Isaac. It also accomplishes the obligation to help the needy through having a lamb ritually slaughtered and offering the meat to the needy (Food in every country par. 7).

The majority of Saudi holiday foods are thick soups, stuffed vegetables, bean salads or tabbouleh (a salad prepared with bulgur wheat), hummus, rice, and the flat bread that is consumed with all foods. Dates, raisins, and nuts are considered refreshments, whereas sweet desserts are consumed at the end of a meal.

Mealtime Practices

Saudi traditions for mealtimes and table manners emanate from their nomadic ethnic culture as well as Islamic custom. The month-long celebration of Ramadan is based on this tradition, requiring a total fast from sunrise to sunset, with a lot of food after sunset. The Saudis take a cross-legged position during mealtime and eat from same dishes. Food is normally taken with fingers or a piece of bread. According to Islamic law, only the right hand is utilized for eating since the left hand is believed to be unclean as it is utilized for personal hygiene. Ritual hand washing is completed before and after consuming food (Food in every country par. 9).

Dates and sweet tea are the snacks preferred by all Saudis, and buttermilk, cola, and yogurt beverage called lassi are common drinks. Coffee has been significant in Saudi life for many years, with a complicated ritual to make and serve it. Moreover, coffee making entails four different pots whereby the coffee grounds, water, and spices are mixed and brewed before they are served in small cups. Additionally, refusing a cup of coffee provided by the host is believed to be rudeness and it is most polite to accept odd numbers of cups like one, three, and five. Normally, Saudi men take much of their time in coffee places taking coffee and chatting (Food in every country par. 10).

Additionally, individuals consume a light meal in the morning and at midday, and take their larger meal in the evening. Furthermore, eating out or enjoying a family meal is a popular way for Saudi Arabians to socialize.

Generally, the Saudi Arabian citizens get sufficient diet. The nation’s agricultural practices have been updated and the government has invested a lot in irrigation. Saudi farmers grow and raise adequate crops and livestock to cater for the need of people. Additionally, based on the World Bank report, less than 4% of the populace faces insufficient nutrition and about 90% of Saudi citizens access sufficient sanitation (Food in every country par. 11).

Food Consumption Patterns

The fast-economic growth of Saudi Arabia has resulted in a radical change in the life-style of individuals as well as their eating patterns. Traditional foods, such as dates, milk, rice, high fiber bread, and fish have been substituted by a more varied diet. Additionally, red and poultry meat are eaten often than fish and mutton, and lamb are preferred rather than beef. However, rice still remains the most staple cereal and is consumed almost each day with other compliments. Wheat is in most cases taken as bread and macaroni. Milk and dairy products, especially Laban, cheese, butter, yoghurt, and liquid milk are necessary meal items. Moreover, nuts, seeds, carbonated drinks, potato chips, corn-puffs, chocolates, and candies are the main foods eaten as snacks between meals. These foods have substituted the traditional foods like rahash, halwah and dates. The traditional herb tea is still consumed but on a small scale, particularly in social events. In addition, fast foods, such as hamburgers, fried chicken, sausages, and pizza are prevalent, particularly among the younger people (Musaiger 2).

The changes in food intake patterns have been manifested in the health and nutrition level of the community. Currently, there is an inconsistent condition of under nutrition and over nutrition. Under nutrition, for example, slight growth retardation and iron-deficiency anemia continues to be widespread. Additionally, sicknesses usually related to wealth like obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes have escalated intensely and become a major public health challenge in the Arabian Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia (Musaiger 2).

Traditional Foods and Their Function in Enhancing the Nutritional Status

It is challenging to differentiate clearly between traditional and non-traditional foods, particularly with increased changes in the food condition in the Arabian Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia. Generally, traditional foods are often consumed in the nation through custom and tradition. The community also acknowledges them and individuals understand their cultivation. Moreover, individuals know the manner in which traditional foods are prepared and are part of the native dishes. These foods are highly connected to the culture and food habits of the Saudis. Furthermore, some traditional foods contain a great nutritional value and thus perform a significant function in offering vital nutrients. They can as well complement the main dishes and enhance the nutritional constitution of a meal (Musaiger 3).


Food traditions convey diverse meanings and are powerful illustration of locally implemented social norms. In a community, food is an element that might be both a symbol and a sign. The symbolic meaning of several foods emanates from the functions they perform in economic life. In addition, food usually signifies observable signs of affluence, culture, and social wellbeing of individuals. Food symbolizes communal customs and standards as conveyed in symbolic languages. Thus, food can be considered a social indicator. Food traditions interpret social systems and besides economic gains, the preservation of crop landraces is as well connected to individuals’ cultural, social, and ritual values. It is evident that changes in foods and food traditions are a result of variations in social norms and interests. Nevertheless, the extent of change is highly determined by consumers’ access to information related to diet in terms of preference and supposed advantages.

Works Cited

Food in every country. Saudi Arabia. Accessed 28 November 2016.

Musaiger, Abdulrahman O. Traditional foods in the Arabian Gulf countries. FAO/RNEA, 1993.

Rijal, Deepak Kumar. “Role of food tradition in conserving crop landraces on-farm.” Journal of

Agriculture and Environment 11 (2010): 107-119.

Zuhur, Sherifa. Saudi Arabia. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO,