Traditional Saudi cuisine takes center stage at newly opened Aseil

Rima Al-Mukhtar

Published — Wednesday 6 February 2013

Last update 6 February 2013 3:03 pm

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In Arabic, Aseil means “authentic,” which is precisely the kind of experience the owners of the newly opened restaurant of the same name intend to give diners. Welcome, they want to say, to the real taste of Saudi Arabia.
The restaurant, located in the courtyard at Bin Suliman Center at the intersection of Prince Sultan Street and Rawdah Street, has a rustic charm to it, even if the palm trees are fake. The interior is designed to reflect life in Saudi Arabia in olden times, with wooden tables, ceramic floors and pale beige walls. Upon entering the eatery, diners are welcomed by waiters in traditional Saudi clothing who lead you between shelves full of traditional handmade crafts that can be bought at the restaurant. After being seated, a waiter welcomes you with the definitive Saudi tradition: a cup of Arabian coffe and dates.
The artwork conveys the well-known combination of the old and the new in the Kingdom. There are graffiti style paintings of King Abdulaziz Al-Saud painted by a Saudi artist and a special wall full of shelves that hold Saudi antiques and other vintage pieces.
Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant, allowing diners to enjoy their food and the fragrance of freshly baked buns without the distraction of cigarette smoke. Shisha is served outdoors only so that diners can enjoy the weather and not suffocate from all the smoke. The restaurant seats 160 indoors and 64 outdoors.
The menu offers a variety of dishes from all around the Kingdom. Wheat soup, which is the Ramadan specialty in the western region, is made with wheat grains, chicken, tomatoes and onions. The Saudi-style salad, made with fresh vegetables and sprinkled with and oil-and-vinegar dressing, is made with fresh vegetables. The tomato and onion salad is another Saudi specialty made with tomatoes, onions, shredded carrots, chili and served with lime and olive oil dressing.
For appetizers, the Buff is great as it is made with deep fried dough and stuffed with a mixture of beef, onions, eggs, leeks and Saudi spices. Aish Bel Laha is a special beef pie of baked dough made from brown flour stuffed with a mixture of meat, onions, black vinegar and leaks and served with tahini sauce.
The Mgalgal laham is by far my favorite appetizer at Aseil. It is pan-fried beef with tomatoes, onion and spices. You should also try the Lamb kbdah. Made with pan-fried lamb liver and tomatoes, onions and special spices, it is usually eaten at breakfast in the western region. The Kubaibat Hael is a specialty of the city of Hail but it has become a favorite of all Saudis. It is a plate of vine leaves stuffed with rice, vegetables and spices, making it a tasty treat for vegetarians.
Fattah and Lahuh are also famous in the western region. Both are made with bread or dough in different kinds of sauces. The Fattat Batenjan is highly recommended. It is made with grilled eggplant stuffed with lamb meat and cheese with tomato sauce and bread topped with yogurt. The Luhuh Bel Makhtoum is made with dough stuffed with lamb meat and served with tomato sauce and yogurt on top.
From the central region, and especially from the capital, come the main courses. Jereesh is a special kind of wheat and it is cooked with beef and caramelized onions. Aseil severs it with chicken and yogurt. They also have a cheese Jereesh but I am not a big fan. I liked the traditional dish more.
Qursan is another dish from the central region made with thick qursan bread mixed with vegetables and spicy beef. You should also try the Mataziz, which I highly recommend. It is made with a special dough, vegetables and meat in tomato sauce.
Kabsa, a Saudi staple, is a dish of special rice cooked in a pressure pot. Aseil offers choices of chicken, lamb or shrimp to be mixed with the rice.
From the western and the eastern regions come the fish dishes. Mandatory to try is the Samak Bel Tahina, made with Najel fish oven-baked in tahina sauce and served with white rice. The Samak Bel Humar is also Najil oven-baked with humar cause and also served with white rice.
For anyone with a sweet tooth, the best part of the meal comes at the end. For dessert, try the Jubniah, which is deep-fried dough made from flour and baladi cheese and served with sugar syrup. Dibyaza is a famous apricot pudding mixed with nuts and dried fruit. This is a favorite in the western region and is usually served on the first day of Eid.
Aseil is open daily from 1 p.m. to 12 a.m. On average, meals cost between SR120 and SR150.

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