Traditional Ramadan dishes of Saudi Arabia

In the past in Saudi Arabia, people opted for simple but hearty Ramadan dishes. (Shutterstock)
Updated 13 June 2018
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Traditional Ramadan dishes of Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: Around the world, Ramadan is a special time for Muslims to get together with family and loved ones and share meals that take on added significance during the holy month. The culture in Saudi Arabia is diverse, and the people are keen on preserving and upholding the traditions. The older generation often reminisces about the good old days, when things were simpler — including the food.

Um-Khalid, who is 77 years old, and Abu-Khalid, 80, from Hail, have been married for more than 55 years. They recalled simpler times gone by, when the region’s harsh conditions meant that people opted for simple but hearty Ramadan dishes.

“Iftar during Ramadan was usually simple,” said Um-Khalid. “We’d break our fast over Arabic coffee and dates that we would buy in Buraidah, which is known for the best types to this day. We would then either eat a good, hefty meal after Taraweeh prayers or before, depending on my husband’s liking.”

“I always had a sweet tooth,” said Abu-Khalid. “I like having hanini, which is a mix of dates, wheat flour, ghee and sugar. Sugar was a commodity in those days and we rarely had any but Um-Khalid would use it specially for me during Ramadan.”

“He still loves hanini to this day,” adds Um-Khalid. “For large gatherings, thareed was the dish that you’d always find on our table. We made thareed when had a good collection of vegetables, and it’s based on small pieces of lamb cooked with zucchini, carrot and potatoes, placed on thin bread.”

Um-Majid comes from the lush, green, mountainous region of Rijal Almaa in the southern province of Asir region.

“We grew up tending to our sheep and crops from an early age, so it was more tiring during the days of Ramadan,” she said.

“My mother would wake up early in the morning to tend to our iftar meal. Khubz, which is your typical bread made with wheat flour, was made fresh everyday alongside our aseeda. It was a two-person task, where my mother cooked pitted dates in a deep pan filled with water and mixed in with wheat flour on a low heat for at least at hour. The mix thickens and when it resembled a gooey dough, it would be served with ghee and sometimes honey. It was a hearty meal, which she said would keep our bones strong and healthy for our daily tasks.

“Our Arabic coffee was slightly different from other regions. It’s slightly bitter because we infuse it with crushed cloves for a stronger flavor.”

Makkah and Madinah are historically significant cities in Islam. Um-Ghassan remembers traveling between them, as her father was a merchant.

“The house was always busy,” she said. “Growing up in a family of nine children, the boys would tend to my father’s store while we girls stayed with our mother.

“The majlis was always in tip-top shape — or ‘metabtab’ as my mother would say. Zamzam water in a clay jug was always infused with incense from Mastik gum, with silver tu-tu cups too.

“My sisters and I helped my mother prepare our favorite Ramadan dishes, always after Dhuhr prayers. We made buff samboosa (samosa), foul (made fava beans) and grain soup, and there was always subya juice, which my father made himself,” she added.

“Subya was made by immersing in water cut, dry loaves of wheat bread, sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and yeast and letting it sit overnight. Since we didn’t have a modern fridge, it was made daily. My mother said it replenished our bodies so we wouldn’t be thirsty the next day.

“The table was always ready when the men came back from breaking their fast in the Holy Mosque. There’s not much difference on today’s table — except for maybe chicken nuggets, of course.”

Um-Lama recalled her grandmother’s tales about Ramadan, when their tribal caravan traveled around Al-Ahsa region in the east, long before King Abdul Aziz reunified the land.

“I learned the best desert dish from my grandmother,” she said. “She remembered Ramadan as a young child to be in the cold winter months and they’d always have a sweet dish called al-safseef ready. It contained a lot of small razeez dates from local farms, with date syrup or honey, a bit of ginger powder, and sweet cumin brought in from abroad. Nowadays, we add almonds for decoration.”


No joking: Ben Stiller directs gritty prison drama

You have the freedom to tell these kind of stories on TV and work in a way that is not just about bringing huge audiences to the theaters, said Ben Stiller. (Reuters)
Updated 16 October 2018
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No joking: Ben Stiller directs gritty prison drama

  • Stiller puts on his auteur hat to tell the gritty and fascinating tale of a woman who helped two murderers escape from an upstate New York jail near the Canadian border
  • Stiller, whose films have grossed nearly $3 billion (2.5 billion euros), said it would have been impossible to “do all the nuances of (prison) reality in two hours” on the big screen

CANNES, France: Hollywood star Ben Stiller put away his clown face Monday to premiere his directorial debut in Cannes, a stranger-than-fiction prison-break drama that is based on a true story.
The American actor best known for the “Zoolander” and “Night at the Museum” films directed all eight episodes of “Escape at Dannemora,” the first of which was screened at MIPCOM, the world’s top television and entertainment showcase in the French Riviera resort.
With a stellar cast that includes Benicio del Toro, Patricia Arquette and Paul Dano, Stiller puts on his auteur hat to tell the gritty and fascinating tale of a woman who helped two murderers escape from an upstate New York jail near the Canadian border.
Their 2015 break-out from the Clinton Correctional Facility at Dannemora riveted America.
The interest grew still more intense when it became clear that middle-aged female supervisor in the jail, Tilly Mitchell, was having sex with both men and was smuggling hacksaw blades and burger meat into them.
Stiller, whose films have grossed nearly $3 billion (2.5 billion euros), said it would have been impossible to “do all the nuances of (prison) reality in two hours” on the big screen.
“You wouldn’t have been able to tell the stories of all the characters... or have the chance to lay out their world and build the tension,” he said after the screening.
“Television is now the place where you can make the kind of movies we are not making anymore,” he added.
Imagine, he argued, trying to get over the reality of Mitchell working with a lone guard in a room “full of 40 murderers and rapists, each with a pair of shears, working for 35 cents an hour” for an outside company that was making a fat profit on all their backs.
Stiller spent nearly two years working on “Escape at Dannemora,” visiting the surviving escaper David Sweat for five hours and shooting in the prison yards where he plotted the break with the Machiavellian Richard Matt, a talented painter who wrapped other inmates and prison guards round his finger.
He said the script was based on the anti-corruption report written by New York inspector general Catherine Leahy Scott, which Stiller said “read like a novel.”
“It is hard not to identify with the protagonist in a prison escape, but we wanted to show who they were as people and why they were in jail,” Stiller added.
“You have the freedom to tell these kind of stories on TV and work in a way that is not just about bringing huge audiences to the theaters,” said the 52-year-old actor.
“It is the kind of story that I have wanted to tell but I’ve never done until now.”
The first episode of “Escape at Dannemora” will go out on Showtime in the US on November 18.