Saudi coffee: The most delightful treat for all

Updated 16 February 2015

Saudi coffee: The most delightful treat for all

There is a phenomenon I’ve been experiencing a lot: Non-Saudis falling in love with Saudi coffee. Many people from other Arab nations, and from Pakistan, India, Philippines, Europe, all fell under its spell. Given the significant differences between Arabic coffee and other more widely consumed varieties, I must say I’m pleasantly surprised by this popularity.
Coffee in Arabia is an old part of its culture. Since childhood, we know that being a good host means satiating your guests with alternating rounds of coffee and tea. But whereas tea is simpler to prepare, Arabic coffee needs finesse to really shine. And when done right, I know no other beverage that can match its taste.
Why is Saudi coffee special? First, because it’s part of hospitality rituals. A host that doesn’t serve hot Saudi coffee commits a major faux pas. Even if the guest isn’t keen on it, it must be served. It would be like attending a football game without a ball: You might not particularly enjoy football or root for any team, but you know a ball must be present at least!
Second, it’s quirky: The dallah (coffee pot) has a distinct, instantly recognizable shape. The cups are tiny, and those who look at them for the first time are often amused or surprised at how small they are. “This sure looks like no coffee cup I know of!” is a familiar first reaction. The cup is small for a cultural reason: To ensure that the host keeps refilling it, another hospitality gesture. Another reason is practical: Coffee is extremely hot and doesn’t taste as good when it cools too much, so filling less than half of that tiny cup is a good balance, allowing the coffee to cool to drinkable levels in a short time.
The third reason is the taste. Ah the taste! Upon first tasting it, a first-timer might be put off by the taste. It’s bitter, and unlike any other commonly drank coffee. After a while it grows on you, especially when you combine it with dates: The bitterness of the coffee balances the sweetness of dates, which balances the bitterness of the coffee, and so on, a cycle of culinary delight.
Fourth, the freshness. Unlike a lot of other coffees, Saudi coffee is often roasted at home, brewed at home and made fresh at home. It’s not like coffees that are brewed in factories, mixed with preservatives (and other potentially harmful chemicals) and packaged, ready to be made either instantly or by use of a coffeemaker. Saudi coffee is all fresh, all handmade, all real. The recent introduction of instant “Arabic coffee” that only needs to be mixed with hot water is nothing short of coffee treason to purists!
Fifth and final reason Saudi coffee is special: Ingredients. Cardamom (hail) is an essential part of Saudi coffee. Cardamom is not only beneficial to health, but emits a pleasant and distinct aroma. Other optional additions are cloves (for a savory spice kick), saffron (for that golden hue) and maybe cinnamon in some regions.
If you haven’t tried it yet, I urge you to. Saudi coffee, especially with dates, is a most delightful treat!


COVID-19 lockdown brings out hidden kitchen talents of Saudi men

Updated 10 April 2020

COVID-19 lockdown brings out hidden kitchen talents of Saudi men

  • Curfews have provided opportunity for men to show off their kitchen catering abilities by cooking up some tasty meals

RIYADH: The famed home cooking skills of Saudi women have found a surprise challenger during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown — with men revealing their hidden culinary talents.

Curfews set up to help stop the spread of the virus have provided the opportunity for men to show off their kitchen catering abilities by cooking up some tasty family meals.

Quality auditor Ahmed bin Ibrahim has been staying at his family’s house during quarantine, and told Arab News that he had enjoyed pitching in on kitchen duties.

“I like to help my mother while she is cooking by cutting some vegetables, but I learned how to cook years ago when I was a student in the US,” he said.

His mom and YouTube became his culinary instructors during his time in America and his favorite dishes are kabsah, steaks and quesadillas.

“Lately, my dad has been cooking a lot and grilling in our back yard, so I’ve been helping him,” he added.

Ammar Albarakati, owner of Ammar Restaurant and TV presenter on Sabahcom on SBC. (Supplied)

Faris Al-Harbi, a college student from Tabuk, has been putting lockdown time to good use in the kitchen trying to create new recipes for his family to lighten the mood.

“Since home isolation started, I have cooked five dishes — mandi (a traditional meal with meat and rice), broasted chicken, pizza, grilled dishes, and pasta with pesto sauce.”

He said that it was only since the COVID-19 restriction measures had been put in place that his talent for cooking healthy food had emerged.

“My family really admires my cooking and loves the taste of my dishes.”

Al-Harbi added that he intended to continue cooking once the COVID-19 health crisis was over, but in the meantime had introduced a kitchen challenge for his cousins and family.

“Every day, a member of the family has to cook a dish and is evaluated by experts — my mother and father. This creates a bit of a competition which is nice. Everyone wants to cook something that is delicious and creative, which makes us excited to cook again.”

Abdulrahman bin Kasem, Saudi chef and food blogger. (Supplied)

He pointed out that under the current situation it was sometimes hard to find an alternative for some ingredients not available in the home. “It is also difficult to estimate the right amount of ingredients for the family. Preparing the dough and forming it is also hard.”

Al-Harbi’s brother Abdulrahman, an architect, had been challenged to cook madghout — pressure-cooked chicken and rice — for the first time for his family.

“It was the first time I had cooked, so I couldn’t say whether I was talented or not, but it definitely needed some focus,” he said, adding that his creation was well-received. “YouTube has a lot of cool Saudi chefs and their videos are so simple and easy to execute. It helps anyone who wants to try to cook.”

Al-Harbi’s sister Shahad told Arab News that she was surprised to see her brothers’ talent in the kitchen and would struggle to compete with them.

Speaking about her younger brother Khalid, who is currently studying in the US, she said: “He likes to try international foods and he uses fresh ingredients and different spices. He likes to make avocado toast, steaks, cheesecakes, exotic juices, and risotto.

Although a mess is inevitable in some kitchens as male family members go through a trial-and-error phase, most mothers will undoubtedly be proud and happy with the help they are receiving under the current difficult circumstances.