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Moving to Riyadh, KSA

After a 4 month break from CH, while sorting out pesky real life, Husbang has finally got a gig in KSA.. a bit of a change from our last one in Lae, PNG!!!

So I am actually not too sure whether I'll even be able to access to the board from Riyadh (with the Saudi Internet filters and this place having info about alcohol), so I thought I best get in while I can.

Any info on restaurants of note?

Best hole in the wall?

Spice souks?

Supermarket shopping?

Compound shopping/restaurants of note?

If you know it, or have been there, gimme the good oil (pun intended)!

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  1. Gotta burqua? Seriously -- you may need to be completely covered when you go to any of these places -- supermarket, spice souks, etc.

    1 Reply
    1. re: roxlet

      That's not true. Non-Muslim women are only required to wear a black abaya (long, flowing dress), and it would draw less attention if you wear a headscarf in places like Riyadh, tho it's not required.

      Muslim women who are not Saudi Nationals are only required to wear a black abaya and a headscarf.

      The only women required to cover their faces are Saudi Nationals, which should tell you how much of this "law" is based on culture and how much is based on religion.

      I know many Muslim women who have travelled and/or lived in Saudi, and most of them do not cover their faces because they actually face more problems when they do.

    2. So here I come looking for places to eat in Boston, and lo and behold someone is asking about Saudi Arabia!

      You can live and eat in Saudi Arabia. In fact you can live and eat pretty well. We have a well-established expatriate community who can help you get your feet on the ground.

      We have nice European supermarkets, Carerfour, Panda, and others as well as supermarkets that cater to Asian and Arabic tastes. In the same way, we have all the standard Amercian fast-food and chain places (McDonald's, Starbucks, Tony Roma's TGI Friday's, Fudruckers).

      If you poke around you will find good eating. I am a fan of the weekend seafood buffet at the Holiday Inn (of all places).

      As you will not be working outside of the home, this may be a good time to polish your cooking. I mastered cheesecake to my waistline's regret in Jeddah. Good Western kitchen hardware is available at Ikkia stores.

      Relax! You can do this! Exploring and finding what you need is half the fun!

      Now who knows a pork barbeque (or a Jewish deli) in Back Bay Boston?

      1. There is a very interesting article in the August Vanity Fair about Maureen Dowd's visit to Saudi Arabia. She is an op-ed columnist for the NY Times, and recently visited there. All I can say is that you can have your burqua in any color as long as it's black!

        4 Replies
        1. re: roxlet

          Ladies here have an elaborate code of what to wear where. I do not pretend to understand it. Western-looking women can more or less toss a robe over their clothes and button or unbutton it as required. They rarely cover their hair and I have never met one who covered her face.

          The dress code is not as burdensome as you might think. I suppose you can get used to anything.

          1. re: PaulinSaudi

            Thanks paulinsaudi. I am picking up my abaya on Sat. We move in about 6 weeks. I DO actually hope to work a few days a week. I hear Nurses are highly prized! Seafood buffet, you say? **notes it on list of things to do**

            How accessible are the markets and the spice souqs? Can I walk around them alone?

            I am polishing my Saudi cooking, with Kabsa and I am trying to master al mhandi smoking without a pit.

            Thanks for the tip on the kitchen hardware, I was wondering whether to pack my mezzaluna and my Le Creusset!

            1. re: purple goddess

              Having lived in Cairo, I would say that if you have the option to take your pots, pans and utensils, do so. Saudi may be different, but I found it extremely difficult to find quality pots and pans as well as things like utensils and cutting boards. For the most part, upscale Egyptian women have "servants" (as they refer to them) to do all the kitchen work, so that they don't care about what the batterie de cusine looks like. Saudi may be different, I don't know, but I suspect that sourcing western, high quality goods may be difficult.

              BTW, I found the Carefour to be sadly lacking in many of the things I needed. It was sort of like a Walmart with inexpensive, mass-market goods.

              1. re: roxlet

                Of course the difference is that in Saudi we have a long tradition of catering to America and European expats. While there are certainly things you cannot find (Why did they stop bringing in Jimmy Dean beef sausage?), you can work your way through the gaps. When you see an item, but it while it is in stock.

                I cannot imagine why you would want to practice ME cookery, as you are about to go where they have a lot more experience.

                As for things electrical, you will find your kitchen has both US- 100 volt and some sort of 220 volt outlets. Know one from the other. Buy appliances being aware of what sort of outlet you will use.

                Before you leave, get a half-dozen little gray plugs that let you plug your three-prong computer and stuff into old-fashioned two prong with no ground outlets.

        2. Hi,
          Firstly, good luck with the move. You must be coming over quite soon now. I suppose that the obvious to say about food at the moment is that it's Ramadan, so make sure you don't eat or drink during the day in public. It's quite a strange time here - it becomes a bit nocturnal.

          My favourite supermarkets here are Danube. Unfortunately I think there are only two of these in Riyadh, and I can't remember the name of the mall now where one of them is but there is definitely a good one at the Hiyat/Sahara Mall Complex. But there are other chains that are okay; Carrefour and Euromarche are quite popular. I'm not sure where you're from, but if you're Australian then you'll be happy to know that one of the Tamimis sells Vegemite.

          I'm not sure whether you should bring your own cookware or not. I'm sure it will cost a lot of money for you to buy good stuff here. If you get a reasonable relocation allowance then maybe you should. I suppose it depends how much you value quality cookware. I'm sure you can make do with what's available here.

          I go to places alone here and I rarely have any trouble. Although you do have to be careful - I know someone who was mugged recently around Deira Souq. But generally I feel really safe here. People will stare at you but they mostly leave you alone. I've never been approached by the Mutawa here in over a year, but almost everyone I know has. Make sure you always take your headscarf with you - you don't have to wear it but if the Mutawa are around you must have one with you so it can put it on if they ask you to. Apparently this is more common around Ramadan.

          There's a place called Najd Village that sells local food that might be a good place to check out. Unfortunately it's only open for families/women on Fridays, but I'm sure you'll have a free Friday at some point!

          If you want sushi, then there is a pretty good place called Yoshi Sushi. Never buy sushi from the malls here - it's horrible.

          I don't really know what else to tell you. There are a lot of fairly average restaurants that serve 'western' food here. The lebanese restaurants are usually a good bet (Mama Noura is one that springs to mind).

          Anyway, like I said, good luck with the move. Be prepared for a wall of heat when you get here!

          1 Reply
          1. re: missbealiba

            It is certainly hot and humid here in Dammam. I wonder if she made the move.

          2. Purple Goddess was an Australian blogger and poster on CH. I followed her zany and recipe laden blog for years but in 2011, Dec. I think, she stopped posting and stopped blogging. The last blog entry comes from Lae, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. Anyway, I miss her. She had a unique personality that shined through her writing. I can only hope she's OK and enjoying life.

            Here's a link to one of the last posts she made here:

            Sep 7, 2011 02:00 PM, the last time we heard from her:

            2 Replies
            1. re: Gio

              I thought I'd post a link to PG's blog site if anyone is still interested:

              1. re: Gio

                Seems like she hasn't posted on that for a while either. :(

            2. This is an old post, but for anyone looking for recommendations in Riyadh here are my two cents:

              1 - Kitchen supplies are very easy to find (UK/European/US brands) but they will be more expensive so you may want to bring something like your Le Creuset. FYI you can easily find a mezzaluna here. It is called a "makhrata" (that is the Egyptian word but I was understood fine). Check with the compund where you are living re: voltage and outlets. Where I live we have dual wired house so half of the outlets are US 110v and half are UK 220v (you'll need to use those small plastic plug adapters if you have European two prong appliances).

              2 - For shopping, the Tamimi chain of supermarkets is the best. They have a lot of items imported from the US (including, oddly, Safeway and Kirkland brands) and also a good selection from UK and some other European items, good cheese selection, good though hit-or-miss produce with a lot of imported items that are expensive and not always fresh. Kingdom Compound has a small supermarket with good selection of imported items but not sure about policy for entrance if you don't live there. Also Ikea is good for smoked salmon, Daim, and licorice in their little food shop by the exit. Check Le Gourmet as well. They have nice imported things from France in their small food shop next to their famous bakery by the same name (they sell good croissants).

              3 - Yes, you will wear Abaya and up to you whether you want to cover your hair or not. If you want to go to souks and the like you will probably be more comfortable covering your hair but it is up to you.

              4 - There are some good restaurants here. Baalbek is great for Lebanese (get Kharouf Mahshi lamb with rice), Borj al Hamam for Lebanese, Sushi Yoshi is nice for American-style sushi (always fresh, well packed, nicely presented), Golden Dragon good for Chinese (try the Coriander prawns), Nafoura good for middle eastern style seafood, La Villa for hole in the wall Thai, Chico's is average Tex-Mex with AMAZING tortilla chips and guacamole, Gad has all the Egyptian favorites (foul, taamiya, molokhiya, mixed grill, tahina, etc.), and I've heard Shawermer is good for shawerma. If you google you can find recommendations for Filipino but I've never tried them. FYI for all restaurants we almost always order to-go so I can't comment on ambiance. Most restaurants have a section (& separate entrance) for men only("singles") and a section for mixed groups ("families").

              - For sweets and cakes Cannelle (like the famous one in Lebanon) is good. I also got a really good chocolate cake from the Four Seasons. Saad el Din is famous for middle eastern sweets and they also have amazing savory biscuits with cumin, sumac, and black seed (nigella).

              Good luck!

              2 Replies
              1. re: alyssay

                Oh, I haven't thought about Gad since we left Cairo 4 years ago. I used to make a little joke/pun -- Gad is great.

                1. re: roxlet

                  Gad in Riyadh has similar sorts of things as the Gads in Cairo. I don't think it's actually related to the Cairo chain but it's pretty decent and they have aish balady which is a big plus!!