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Apr 22, 2008 02:58 PM

Define Saudi Arabian cuisine (split from L.A. board)

The Chowhound Team spilt this discussion from its orginal location. If you have tips for finding Saudi cuisine in Los Angeles, please go here:

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I just returned from my first visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
While there, I was told there is little that is authentic Saudi cuisine. Most of the food served is Lebanese in origin. At the Sheraton Riyadh, both the excellent breakfast and lunch buffets would have a Lebanese section and a Western section. The Sri Lankan chef who prepared the eggs for breakfast and one or two dishes for lunch told me that most of the items were prepared by chefs from South Asia and Phillipines since most Saudis did not work in the service industry.

During our workdays at their national lab (King Abdulazziz City of Science and Technology - KACST) their cafeteria served Lebanese and western style items. Of the 3 restaurants we visited near our hotel, 2 were Lebanese (one sit down, one fast food) and the third was Indian.

One of the scientists we met was getting married the day I was flying out (otherwise I would have loved to have attended his wedding). When I asked what special items would be served at the wedding, they scratched their heads and said "Nothing" - same lamb kebabs, pullao, and traditional Lebanese dishes.

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  1. That's not true at all. There are tons of traditional dishes that are particular to Saudi Arabia and many more still that are shared with neighboring Gulf states. These foods are mostly served in the home and a handful of restaurants. They bear little/no resemblance to Lebanese dishes and the Mediterranean-inspired foods more commonly found in restaurants. The national dishes are actually more similar to Persian stews and pilafs, although the spices used are very different.

    Saudi Arabia is a huge country (about 1/4th the size of the US), so naturally it has not only a national cuisine but many regional specialities as well. Traditional Saudi "wedding food" usually consists of a whole roasted lamb or camel served on a bed of spiced rice. I have never heard of kebabs being served at a wedding, as these are street foods that are more appropriate for a light meal than banquet fare.

    To my knowledge, there is nowhere in Los Angeles serving this kind of cuisine. I'm from that part of the world myself and would love to find some of my favorites here, but resort to making them at home instead with spice blends (baharat) purchased from Middle-Eastern markets like Jordan Market in Westwood.

    5 Replies
    1. re: hrhboo

      This seems right. I've never been to Saudi Arabia, but there are many Saudi restaurants in Bangkok. These restaurants had some Lebanese influences, but the cuisine were far closer to Persian, with different spicing as you say.

      1. re: hrhboo

        I seem to remeber Anthony Bourdain had a No Reservation episode where he went to Saudi Arabia at the behest of a fan of the show. There was both roast lamb and roast camel (the hump I beleiive) It look like delicious food and it's a pity we don't have a place to try it here. Maybe some day a Saudi will open a restaurant and we will be able to taste such interesting and delicious looking cuisine.

        1. re: SeaCook

          Many's the time I've ogled a camel with a view to putting his hump in a stockpot.

          1. re: Perilagu Khan

            And you made that camel very nrevous ;-) Have you ever made or had camel hump soup? What's like? Please don't say it taste like chicken!

            1. re: SeaCook

              A bit fatty for my palate. And the aroma fell somewhat short of intoxicating. ;)

      2. Didn't Anthony Bourdain travel to Saudi Arbia on No Reservations? Didn't he sample traditional Saudi food? I recall he did. I can't get on the No Reservation website to verify it.

        1 Reply
        1. re: SeaCook

          You can watch that episode (in 5 parts) at the usual place:

        2. There is little Saudi cuisine to be had at sit down restaurants. Yes, the Arabic food widely available at restos is Lebanese or Lebanese inspired and not Saudi. Lebanese food is nothing at all like Gulf Arab food, although these days Gulf Arabs do like to prepare Lebanese foods at home the way non-Italian Americans make lasagna and meat balls and such. You are right that the reason is that Saudis do not work in the food service industry, generally speaking. Restos that serve Saudi food would be caterers for parties and weddings called "kitchens". I don't know if there is any Saudi resto in Riyadh. You could ask on an expat site or here on the regional food board.

          So what is Saudi cuisine? Saudi cuisine in general is similar to the rest of the cuisine on the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi cuisine is regional, too if you take a closer look. What Saudis eat as 'their cuisine' depends on if they are decended from Bedouins, settled people, mountain people, sea faring people, or people of non-Saudi origins who have taken Saudi nationality. The cuisine of people near the sea is seafood heavy. There are dishes made with basmati rice (not used outside of the Gulf, exept Iraq, other Arabs use short rice), and these are served with roasted meats (like kabsa). There are also dishes adopted from South Asia like Kabuli Pullao and biriani, made with a Gulf Arabic flair, i.e. all of the warm spices of North Indian food but little/no chile heat. The Gulf Arabic spice mix (bizaar) is pretty much like a South Asian garam masala variation. You also have flat breads, like paper thin ragaag bread, you have curry-like dishes (marg) which are tomatoey meat and vegetable stews. Saudis use mastik in their cooking. That is a significant flavor element. They also used dried limes. They love molokhiyya but prepare it differently than Egyptians (molokhiyya is also a famous Egyptian dish). Wheat or rice beaten with chicken or goat (harees and arsia or yireesh) are two other special dishes. A special dish is thareed, which is a meat stew poured over shredded flat bread in a large wide flat dish. Traditionally dishes are eaten communally with diners sitting around this large flat dish, but today a lot of people either spread a big mat on the floor and everyone eats off of their own plate or everyone sits at the table and eats at their own plate. Also, a small dish or dates or date paste is served traditionally with every meal. This info is true across the Gulf. I don't know much specifically about various regions in Saudi. Their Arabic dialects are even different within large Saudi so I imagine that the details of the food's regionality are also different.

          The holiday dish is qouzi/qouzi which is a whole roasted goat/lamb in many reasons. There is also mathbi, which is meat roasted on hot stones. I had this dish in beef one Eid, it was like tender thick steaks.

          Modern Saudis and other Gulf Arabs eat an international diet at home, just like Americans. Bechamel sauced type Italian inspired dishes including lasagna and makaroneh are there, people do stir fried egg noodles with soy sauce, cook Lebanese foods and pizza and all. But rice and stewed or roasted meats are the backbone of the cuisine.

          About Bourdain, he tends to feature sensational stuff in each episode. I loved the Saudi episode, because as he highlights, Americans don't really know much about Saudi and what we do know is pretty negative and it is hard to imagine what actual Saudi people might be like. In the episode he was really respectful and showed Saudis as regular people. That is actually a revelation considering how Saudi and Saudis are usually portrayed in US media. But, true to his sensationalizing tendency in shows, he has to eat camel, which his Saudi hosts say clearly that they have never tasted before. Just FYI, I live in the Gulf and people do eat camel here and you can find it at some grocery stores but it isn't like a daily meat. People prefer mutton and chicken as well as beef. People here eat camel as regularly as Americans eat say, buffalo or alligator. As in, it is eaten, but it isn't widely loved all the time or anything. I have lived in two Gulf countries and been in the region for 8 years. I have never tasted camel meat though I have eaten in many, many Gulf homes. I tasted chocolate made with camel milk at a gourmet place once, and camel milk is there at the grocery store.

          Anyhow, there are a lot of interesting Saudi food blogs or Saudi bloggers that post recipes, or Gulf or Arab food blogs that have Saudi features. If you have a google you can come up with some recipes and more info.

          If you want to taste something similar to Saudi cuisine (not exactly the same but close for an interested foreigner, and with many shared dishes and similar spicing/seasoning) I would recommend to find a Yemeni resto. Try to find a resto that serves "Mandi" which is eaten in parts of Saudi as well as Yemen and is delicious. It is similar to gouzi, meat roasted till tender in a ground-pit. Yummy stuff.

          I know Mid-East food author Tess Mallos has a Gulf cookbook that features Saudi specific recipes as well as general Gulf recipes that are found in Saudi. There is also an English language Gulf cookbook by Bahraini author Afnan Rashid Al Zayani called Taste of the Arabian Gulf. His focus is Bahrain but the recipes do overlap with Saudi.

          Also suvro, next time you go to Saudi, if you mention to your Saudi colleagues that you want to try Saudi cuisine, you just might get an invite to someone's house. If not, go to a Yemeni resto to try something similar.

          17 Replies
          1. re: luckyfatima

            Thank you very much luckyfatima for your wonderfully enlightening definition about Saudi cusine. It is very informative about a cusine many of us have no idea what it is about apart from the occasional (and sometimes sensational) account on TV. Now I am wondering what milk chocalate tatse like when made with camel milk as oppose to cow milk (gee I wonder what milk chocolate taste like with anything other than cows milk!)

            1. re: luckyfatima

              luckyfatima - thanks so much for your extremely enlightening discussion.
              My original post (on the middle east board - not sure why and when this was split and moved to the LA board) was in 2008 - and since then I have been back 3 times. The last visit was in April 2009, and I am headed again in late April 2010. All my prior visits were restricted to Riyadh, but this time we will go to Jeddah, Dhahran, and the new university just north of Jeddah.

              My impressions about the food has changed since that first trip. I have now been thrice to traditional Saudi restaurants for a ceremonial meal - sitting down on the floor and eating from a communal plate. (An aside - all the waiters we encountered in two traditional Saudi restaurants were from India and Nepal!) It is a lot of fun. There are several variations on vegetarian and goat/lamb dishes with the rice dish always being the central. I have been to one Saudi house and had great hospitality - coffee and fabulous home made desserts from dates. However, I also got the sense that our male Saudi hosts were not too keen to take us to their homes. The one time we did - his wife and daughter were away - so he entertained us on his own. The other host - who I became close to - took us to the new house he was getting renovated - but for the meal, he took us to an American steak restaurant - quite far from where we were. It was not all that good either - almost like a chain restaurant. I ordered the steak, but should have realized my mistake when he chose fish there!
              The one thing I missed in Riyadh was chain of fried chicken franchises shown in Bourdain's episode. From that show, it seemed very popular, but this chain is not available in Riyadh. I might try it in Jeddah on the upcoming trip.
              The lunch food at the national science lab - all the cooks and servers seemed to be from India and Pakistan - is a mix of Lebanese, faux Italian, and Indian - biriyanis, pullaos, chicken curries, etc. So that is what the Saudi scientists and employees are eating for lunch on a daily basis.
              The one grand banquet I attended at the Intercontinental - that was a lot of well prepared items, but none I would say seemed traditional Saudi fare. The minister (of Higher Education) was attending along with several foreign dignitaries, so it was higher quality than the other meals we had.

              1. re: suvro

                Glad to hear that you had some occasions to try a few Saudi meals and did the communal plate thing.

                Yes I now those hodge podge part Lebanese inspired faux Italian faux Indian lunches because that is what they serve at our work cafeteria, too and also at any work oriented luncheons.
                Do try a Yemeni place if you get a chance. Gulf Arabs love American fast foods and there are several Gulf based KFC or Burger inspired chains, some based out of Saudi in particular. I have never tried any myself either, though.

                1. re: luckyfatima

                  Thanks. Just a quick additional comment:
                  The Saudi equivalent of KFC is Al Baik - see

                  One of the best value meals I have had, anywhere, was at the Sheraton Riyadh (where we have always stayed) restaurant Al Boustan. On Wednesday night (the equivalent of Friday night) they had the greatest seafood experience I have seen anywhere at a value that can't be beat in the western world! I will stay there an extra night just for this experience if available in the future!

                  1. re: suvro

                    That's odd: I was living in Riyadh when the first chain restaurant opened in the Kingdom, and it was KFC. Tasted just like home.

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      There is KFC, McDonalds, Burger King, etc all over the Gulf including in Saudi. But I think suvro was referring to 100% locally owned copy cat chains like Al Baik.

                      1. re: luckyfatima

                        Right - I was referring to Al Baik.
                        Just got back from a "If It's Tuesday, we must be in Dammam" hectic trip (referring to the original Suzanne Pleshette road trip movie "If it is Tuesday, we must be in Belgium").

                        First two days were for visiting King Abdulaziz University in the southern part of Jeddah, and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology - about 100 kms north of Jeddah in Thuwal. (This is one impressive place! - nothing quite like it anywhere!)
                        Had only one meal there - in a restaurant right on the Red Sea Corniche - across from our hotel - Sheraton Jeddah. It has a very nice hookah bar (locally called "shisha" - which means glass in Hindi/Urdu in my country of birth India - does it mean the same thing in Arabic?). We spent a couple of hours lounging with hookahs while the sun went down on the Red Sea - absolutely gorgeous weather and evening (April 25 - it was also my birthday!). Then we went next door to the restaurant - and sat on a pier built out over the breakwaters. The water was lit and we could see a lot of fish. Our Saudi host ordered a seafood bonanza - must have been 8-10 mezze dishes and then several courses of seafood. The best item was a whole fish slit diagonally and marinated in Indian tandoori spices, and then grilled over wood fire!

                        We flew there only to spend the day at the university - King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.

                        Spent the morning at King Saud University. The amount of construction going on this campus, and the amazing Princess Noura University campus (on the highway to the airport) is awestriking!
                        The evening we got in, we went to Mama Noura for chicken and beef shawarmas and their fruit juices. I had the mango juice, but I don't think it was freshly squeezed - they poured it out of a jar and it was just too thick. Others in the team had pomegranate juice - did not look freshly squeezed either, mango with milky banana - it was more like a shake, and the last person - I don't remember. The shawermas were very tasty, much smaller in size than what I get in Pasadena, CA. The chicken one was better than the beef one.
                        Afterwards we went to another Shisha place - a huge courtyard at the intersection of two major arterial highways. This time I had the more darker flavor favored by some Saudis - it reminded one of our party of patchouli - but to me the flavor was like the betel leaf concoction called "paan"eaten in India after meals - had some flavors of attars.
                        The last night we went to the seafood buffet in Al Bustan. The chef and crew had changed since my visit in April 2009, and the seafood buffet was a much lower value - not enough seafood (and we only got half the lobster - that was not my understanding when I was making the choice), some of the fillets looking a little tired (tuna in particular as well as the hamour), much fewer selection of salads. We had an early morning flight out, so perhaps it was best that I did not gorge myself.

                        In Jeddah, our Saudi host (who is originally from Jeddah) mentioned that when Al Baik was expanding initially in Jeddah, they were approached by members of the royal family to do a "partnership". The owner did not agree, and as a result, they are confined to Jeddah and local environs, and cannot go to Riyadh. Can't vouch for the authenticity of this tale, but there are no Al Baiks in Riyadh.

                        1. re: suvro

                          Very interesting. Do you know if Maza and Al Farooj are also Saudi owned? They are both copy cat chicken places, too---have you heard of them?

                          Shisha is the Arabic word for the 'hubble bubble.' Hookah is the Hindi/Urdu (might be the Farsi, too) for this. Shisha in Hindi/Urdu actually means mirror, not glass (glass is kaanch), but people use shisha to mean the glass windows in a car, for some reason. I am not sure if there is any connection between the Arabic word shisha and the Hindustani word shisha or if they are just false cognates. Hey, are you a Bengali, it occurred to me before that suvro is a common nickname for Bengalis (I think it means white?).

                          That's sad about the juice. One thing I learned when I first moved to Gulf is that Arabs love fresh juices and mocktails and there are amazing little juice stands all over the place. So have come to expect good juice here. Some 'interesting' flavors to try would be the 'Cocktail' which has nuts in it as well as a mix of juices, and the 'Shammaam', which is a type of fragrant melon. The cheap little juice shops on neighborhood corners are just fine, but nice Lebanese restos seem to have the best juices. I have had beautiful juice topped with clotted cream and crumbled pistachio at one, and it was the most memorable juice I ever had.

                          I am still telling you that you will strike gold in terms of Gulf Arabic eating if you make your way to a Yemeni Mandi restaurant. Next time just tell your hosts you want to eat mandi.

                          1. re: luckyfatima

                            I am indeed Bengali - and suvro is my nickname! And it does indeed mean "fair" - which is a misnomer in the Southern California sun for me! :-)

                            I will keep in mind the Yemeni Mandi cuisine on my next visit. The two times we went to the authentic Saudi cuisine restaurants in Riyadh - big fort like buildings from outside - lots of rooms on the second floor around the perimeter where you sit on floors and eat from a central plate - the food was not terribly exciting. The textures were somewhat muddy - like in Indian cuisine - and the items were not always distinctive. The main course was the rice dish with goat/lamb - and while good, was not something I want to go back for again.

                            Mandi it is!

                  2. re: luckyfatima

                    luckyfatima - do you have favorite restaurants in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dhahran that I should try? In Riyadh I have been to 2 traditional Saudi places where you sit down on the floor and eat from a communal center tray. I have also been to an Italian cafe for lunch which resembled someone's living room more than a restaurant. Then we also tried the restaurant at the top of one of the towers - not the Kingdom Tower, but the other one. We also were taken to a cafe which served coffee with camel milk (for just that novelty). And one night we tried an Indian restaurant on our own - it was OK.

                    I would like any recommendations you may have for Riyadh and the other cities.

                    1. re: suvro

                      No sorry, I don't have any recs. A place to ask could be the "ask a question" section on the American Bedu blog


                      She is an American who was married to a Saudi man for many years (she was recently widowed) and her blog is very popular with Saudis and other Gulfies, as well as Saudi and Gulf based expats of many nationalities. She posts Saudi recipes and talks about Saudi food trends sometimes, too. She would know or some of the visitors to her blog would know.

                      1. re: luckyfatima

                        Just came back from a trip to Riyadh and had some interesting meals.
                        1. The best meal was in a Chinese restaurant called Mirage - on the second floor of a shopping mall. Fancy restaurant where the family section is built on glass floors on top of a large aquarium. We had the lettuce cup wraps, a fish dish, and a chicken dish - my friend ordered since he had been there several times so I did not get the descriptors, But it was really quite good and way beyond expectations. On my next visit (March or April 2012) I have to try this restaurant more extensively.

                        2. One night we had dinner at a Moroccan restaurant called Marrakech near the Al Andalus hotel. I thought the meal was so so - there was a soup, a sweet tasting fish dish with raisins and onions, and a major lamb dish - a leg of roasted lamb with some sauce. The best part was a small tray of Moroccan desserts.

                        3. We went to a very popular Lebanese restaurant where we ordered a mixed mezze appetizer, mixed shawerma (chicken and lamb), and two sandwiches, and fresh fruit juice. Everything was quite good. My Dubai host said that his Lebanese friends say this is the best Lebanese in Riyadh. Sorry I don't have the name.

                        4. Another we had a similar meal at another Lebanese restaurant near our hotel (Executives Hotel near the Kingdom Tower) and the food quality was lower.

                        5. I went twice to the food court in the Kingdom Tower and unfortunately both times ended up eating at the lone Indian take out place - food was so so - the tandoori half chicken was good, but other items were nothing to write about. I wish I had explored the Persian restaurant on the second visit instead.

                        If someone has new recommendations for Riyadh, Jeddah, or Damam, I would love to hear them.

                        1. re: suvro

                          Came back from a trip to Saudi Arabia at the end of March - early April.

                          Day 1: KAUST campus - Thuwal - since this is a isolated campus, no options but to eat on campus. Since I arrived on Friday, most things were closed. Had a mediocre lunch on the campus Indian fastfood place called Spices. I can make better biryani at home. For dinner, I went with another of our panelists to the Marina club. While it looked very swanky (with bowling lanes, squash courts, etc.) the food was quite mediocre.

                          Day 2: Lunch at the KAUST cafeteria - it offers a wide variety of choices. I had a nasi goreng plate, which was decent, but not great.
                          We went to Jeddah for the night halt in Le Meridien. I had wanted to go to the shisha bar and seafood restaurant on the Corniche, where in 2010 we had a great seafood dinner. But the traffic inside Jeddah was terrible, so we chose to walk to a nearby shisha bar called Titanium. The food was quite pedestrian.

                          Day 3: Mekkah - we were visiting Umm-al-Qura university, and since they have built a new science, engineering, and medical campus outside the forbidden zone, we were able to go there (big road signs on the way saying non-Muslims cannot go beyond this point). We were surprised by a visit from the Mayor of Mecca, on his way to London. Lunch was fastfood that the hosts ordered from some chain restaurant. We then flew via Riyadh to Dammam, arriving quite late in the night - so dinner was whatever we could grab at Riyadh airport.

                          Day 4 - Visited KFUPM, and then had the best meal of the trip at the Fusion restaurant inside the Le Meridien in Al-Khobar, where we were staying. It was quite pricey, but the sushi and other dishes were excellent, and very elegantly presented. I would definitely go back here if I have the opportunity.
                          We asked for a seafood recommendation and were told that Al-Sanbook on the Corniche was the place to go. It is a very nice location on the water. This is also the first restaurant where I saw mixed gender tables in the main dining space - no "family" rooms hidden away. They had great seafood on ice which you could buy by weight and they would cook it to your specifications. However these were very expensive, so we chose to eat off the regular menu. It was good, but not a great value.

                          Day 5 - Transit to Riyadh. On the way out to the airport, we grabbed lunch at a popular Turkish restaurant. The other panelist, who goes often to Riyadh, ordered. Food was OK - I have had better Turkish food elsewhere.

                2. re: luckyfatima

                  Thank you very much for your very informative details, however, i am in saudi arabia at present, and i very much agree with suvro's information. Almost all dishes serve in the restorants are either Labanese, Egyptian, Yamanise dishes. There nothing left for any saudi dish!! to be inspired. Most of the restaurants and eatries are owned by saudis and non of them at the cooking side. However, Lucky Fatima, very informative details you have provided to us readers.

                  1. re: luckyfatima

                    Thank you to everyone on this great chain of posts and greetings from Toronto.
                    Hmmm - I wanted to invite a Saudi neighbour for a Saudi (and, if I needed to expand the menu, North African/Middle Eastern themed) dinner on Canada Day weekend, this weekend, and I just started to look into Saudi dishes and found this board.

                    I would welcome any suggestions for a Saudi-themed menu that I could pull off.

                    What's my kitchen ability? Well, my cooking skill level on a home-cooking scale of 1-10 for European (French-Italian-British) is around 8/10, but my mum and husband do all of the Asian (Indian) cooking - because it has to taste like mum's food - and I am not even going to try.
                    I can pull of Chinese and some Japanese and also lots of Central and South American dishes quite well.

                    Am I biting off more than I can chew? I can probably get all the spices I need very easily - after all, this is Toronto.

                    thank you in advance for any advice on what to cook.

                    1. re: carriesmum

                      Hi carriesmum - in your shoes, I would probably try to cook Lebanese middle-eastern food - your Saudi guest will be familiar with it.

                      The only Saudi food I have eaten in my 6 visits to Saudi Arabia have been in Riyadh restaurants where you sit on the floor and they bring a number of dishes to be communally shared - and a heavy emphasis on goat/lamb dishes.

                      I am not sure what a more homely Saudi meal will be like. I had hoped a couple of Saudi individuals we became friends with would invite us to their home for meals, but I think that is not likely to happen.

                      1. re: suvro

                        Dear Suvro -
                        thanks very much for your advice. I will go with a roast lamb dish and then various Lebanese side dishes and dessert.

                        all the best, Carriesmum

                  2. I lived, and still do part of the time in Saudi Arabia. I taught Saudi cuisine for 23yrs in Saudi Arabia, If you have any questions on Saudi food, do not hesitate to contact me.

                    1. In my admittedly limited experience, straight-up 'Middle Eastern' cuisine is not the same as the Levantine tradition of cooking which covers places like Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria. The flavors are quite different, though I may not be able to explain why. Near where I live there is a Yemeni restaurant (echoing luckyfatima's post above) that is quite a departure from what I expect from Lebanese cooking. Maybe less reliance on lemon, parsley, raisins or sweeteners?


                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Steve

                        Hi Steve...If that Yemeni resto has a decent reputation maybe we should have a CH dinner there. Would you recommend the place?
                        I am not sure which cuisine I would define as "straight-up Middle Eastern" because all regions in MENA (Mid-East-North Africa) have their legitimacy and each has a unique history that shaped the cuisine. The "why" they are different: The MENA region is not at all monolithic in anyway, be it historically, culturally, religiously, linguistically, and least of all with regard to cuisine. Arab cuisines differ vastly from each other. To understand why, one has to look at factors like topography and climate, but more importantly, history. Who are the original pre-Islamic populations in each Middle Eastern region-Berbers, Copts, African tribal groups, and others in Africa, and then you have the pre-Islamic populations of the Levant, and then into Iraq and on into the Arabian Peninsula. You have to see how each population was Arabized during the original spread of Islam to each region (and there are unique cuisines among various minority groups and sects). Then you have to look at other factors like Persian influence, Bedouin population (more prominent in some countries than others), trade (some places like the Arabian Peninsula have strong trade and cultural ties to South Asia and East Africa in addition to Persia and this is visible in the cuisine), many distinct times of specific regional empire and affluence in which cuisine flourished, Mongols, Turks, Persians adding to the mix, and then in more recent developments in the Middle Eastern cuisines you have the main defining factors: Ottoman occupation (huge influence on Levant cuisines, most of the famous 'mezze' dishes are Ottoman-Turk in origin, that influence was simply not prolific in the Arabian Peninsula and in some cases not present at all), and then more recently European occupations: French, British, and Italian in various places. And then in places that are very developed and connected more to the global capitalist economy we find very recent yet prolific North American influences. (Gulf people love pizza and pasta and they are not getting it from the Italians! Gulf people eat this food in their homes regularly, so is it still 'foreign' for them?) Also, within each country there are regional cuisines. So the 'why'-It would be like explaining why Cajun and Creole cuisines are different from local cuisine in New England.

                        1. re: luckyfatima

                          About 12 Chowhounds got together for Lunch last year at Al Jazera. Link below. It was a mixed bag with some dishes being very good, especially startes but not so much the dried out lamb dishes. I've been back a couple of times, and interestingly enough the dishes change depending on who is doing the cooking. I've had wildly different 'fata,' for example. The 'glowing yellow' preparation that we had at the lunch, for which the sauce is heavily whipped, is difficult to pull off, so that was a real treat.


                          1. re: Steve

                            I wouldn't have pegged any of the dishes you guys selected from the appetizer selection as Yemeni (except sambosa)...just the main dishes. I'll probably give that place a miss based on your CH group review and also Yelp. I saw there is a Tunisian resto somewhere in Arlington, maybe we can keep that place in mind.