A quick tour of what makes our food authentically Sharqawi.
The ingredients behind a dish say a lot about the way of life of the people preparing it. Sharqiya, for example, has a coastal culture with a rich history of trade and cultural exchange from all over the world. With time, the agricultural and cultural activities have changed, and no longer are people dependent on foreign merchants to bring in new flavors to try. As the lifestyle evolved, so has the most basic aspect of the culture in Sharqiya: the traditional cuisine.
Many traditional dishes are still served on our modern dining tables. The fishing industry played a major role in the life of residents here, therefore many of the popular dishes include fish, such as al wadmah (onions and dried fish), or fried kan’ad (mackerel). The traditional Saudi kabsa is also prepared with fish instead of meat.
Our reliance on dates naturally plays heavily in our meals. One of the most popular rice dishes include muhammar (rice prepared in date molasses). As for red Hasawy bread, its name tells you that the bread is from Al Ahsa and it has a red color due to the main ingredients of dates and whole wheat. Finally, one of the most popular dishes in winter is Al Mamrus: a dish made of dates, flour, butter and different spices designed to keep you warm.
Meanwhile, people have found new ways to prepare certain dishes. Harees used to require a lot of strength to prepare due to pounding of its main ingredients of wheat and meat until the mixture was porridge-like. Today, women use electric beaters instead or even outsource the pounding to local restaurants or stores.
Food is an essential part of Saudi culture and hospitality, so it’s natural to see so much creativity explode around it as people experiment with traditional culinary concepts and modern techniques. For example, Al Ahsa is rich with its date farms, but today, those dates can be served with caramel, chocolate and tahini sauce. Naqsa, a term used to describe the sharing of the household food with the neighbors is now a brand for women who cook from home and sell through Instagram. The family naqsa is shared with everyone, not just the neighbors anymore. Social media home pages have turned into menus.
It is truly fascinating to see Saudi dishes that date back to pre-Islamic Arabia prepared, presented and consumed today in a manner that would astonish those who created them. Their essence, though, remains truly authentic.