RAFHA: For many locals, winters in Saudi Arabia mean venturing out with family and friends to camp in the wilderness. The National Center for Vegetation and Combating Deserticification has marked 63 sites in various parts of the Kingdom, with space for more than 30,000 campsites for government agencies and individuals.
To make any trip memorable in the Kingdom, one needs good weather, good company and good food. Food is an important part of the country’s heritage and highlights its culture and traditions.
Authentic Saudi food consists of a lot of rice, milk and its by-products, meat and flat breads. With simple ingredients and fewer spices, Saudi cuisine boasts a richness of flavor. Due to the simple nature of the food, locals enjoy cooking a host of traditional dishes from their region on their excursions. While some use modern cooking techniques, others prefer traditional cooking methods.
Two of the most popular dishes that people enjoy cooking — and eating — on these excursions are “kabsa” and “jamriya.”
“Kabsa,” a staple main course, is widely popular not only in the Kingdom but also in the Gulf and abroad. “Kabsa” is made of rice, meat or chicken and a mixture of simple spices that give the dish a distinct smell and flavor. It comes with a side of tomato and coriander sauce, and a yoghurt and tahini (sesame) dip.
“Jamriya,” a popular dish from the northern region of Tabuk, is made of flour, water and salt. It is kneaded, rolled out into circular shapes and then left to dry for about 10 minutes before being placed on top of hot coals for several minutes. Raw, chopped onions are sprinkled over this then butter and milk is poured over it.
“Cooking in the wilderness has a different flavor, especially in winter and spring,” said Tami Hawas, a teacher. However, the location has to be right. If rain is expected, Hawas looks for medium-altitude areas in the sand dunes, otherwise he and his friends find a spot in the valleys where they can cook and enjoy the view of the water.
“I like to eat “kabsa,” “hamisa,” “raghfan” and “jamriya” on these trips,” he said.
Hawas prefers to prepare his own “hamisa,” which is primarily made of meat seasoned with animal fat or vegetable oil and onion slices. He also enjoys cooking “raghfan,” which is made up of equal portions of wheat and white flour. In an earthen pot kept on firewood, Hawas seasons the flour with salt, adds milk and olive oil or ghee, and lets it cook on a low flame.
Anifa and Al-Anoud, two sisters from the small village of Aewej in northern Saudi Arabia, celebrated the visit of their older sister, Moneefa, who was visiting with her husband and children from Riyadh, by going camping.
Anifa did the initial preparation at home by slicing onions and chopping tomatoes and other vegetables to save time.
“I want to be ready when we arrive at the camp for cooking, and enjoying, while gorging on dates and sweets and drinking coffee and tea,” said Anifa, adding that Al-Anoud loves to make big batches of “jamriya” during such trips. Moneefa said that they also enjoy cooking “marqooq” in a big pot on firewood. “Marqooq,” another popular dish from Najd, is made with meat, pumpkin, ghee, nigella seeds and peppers.
When Faleh Al-Ramadan, a government employee, and his colleagues go hiking and camping for a few days, they make sure they have all cooking equipment and ingredients such as rice, local sheep meat, vegetables and rice spice before embarking on their trip.
Al-Ramadan’s colleague, Saad Alqasoomi, said that the meat of small camel was used to cook “madghotat al-lahm,” which is very popular on wilderness trips. “The meat is cooked inside a closed pot with vegetables and spices. It tastes very delicious.”