Country: Saudi Arabia
This is not about Hajj or any of my spiritual journey. It’s about the locals and their way of LOVE expression…thru the food they cooked.
Thruout our stay here, i had been blessed to eat from the air tangan of one of our top chef of the tour agency: Hajjah Halimah. The briyani dam was cooked fresh with the freshest local ingredients and especially the fresh korban meat. Tender,succulent,right spices all intertwined.It was the bestest ever.
The other intriguing meal was the hati unta goreng kering.That was an eyeopener. I had tasted the dried sliced camel’s heart before (probably 20years ago when my grandaddy went to hajj)when I was a kid but the hati was just a tiny little bit.I cannot even remember how it tasted like,except that it looked like a dried up raisin.But this time, when I saw it, my eyes were gleaming with excitement.
The hati was cut in bite sized and it came tray fulls loaded of them.It was not as I expected. I was expecting the texture to be somewhat dry almost like grainy sandy feel when its overcooked.It was nothing like that.Somewhat between paru and limpa.Slightly chewy n pejal. Fascinating.And its not that muak kinda thing.It was pretty good. I bet the Chef must be a genius to cook it well, just nice, not too overcooked nor undercooked it.There was no bloody kind of smell too…nor does it leave any aftertaste.Fascinating.
Anyway, I did not have much time in Mecca. And so, whenever the makciks started to go shopping,i too go about “shopping” but for the tummy.I love to roam freely and sniffed around. And alhamdulillah this nose did a great job. I found a small roti shop in a secluded corner.Selling its famous flat bread for just a riyal.Freshly baked,always hot n piping.Mostly men will be there…and so its kinda surprised to find me there but fret not, they are friendly lot and will serve you first.So gentlemanly.
Another thing that smells good is the roasted chicken.I have tasted a few.Tender,juicy,succulent, with their mediterranean spices properly marinated internal n externally in every part and crevices of the bird.Hot and piping and they will cut them in smaller portions for you. And Saudi flatbread (Fatir)a fluffy pita or naan-like roti will also be given too,free.
And when Im feeling adventurous, i did sneak into their open kitchens n just watched them do their fantastic job of serving customers nonstop. The people welcomed me with open arms (literally).I saw the men doing the “murtabak”.They called them Murtabak here too .There are 2 versions.One is vegetarian and the other is very meatyful. There are loads of spring onions leeks,eggs and spiced daging cincang in the fillings which are not as strong in flavours as Zamzam restaurant but it’s nice. The Murtabak skin is slightly thicker,not a favorite of mine but it helps when that craving for homefood kicks in.Again, it will be cut for you in bitesizes. You have to eat it fast or it will lose the “tastyness”. Another popular food items are beans, dhals…cooked in assortments of gravy n curries.Best eaten as a dip with warm and fluffy soft fatir
Medina was a blast.I had a longer time there.And i love it! I know the food cooked by our local chefs are great but sometimes, i slipped out n buy local foods. There were bakso poster everywhere, i reckon this is to entice the Indonesian jemaah to feel right at home in Medina. Ive also tasted the pizza…similar to normal western pizza,cheese and daging cincang but then again the pizza crust and bread here is much thicker than back home. So definitely when its hot n piping, and tummy is rumbling..everything tasted good.
One of the tour officers kept mentioning to me about “nasi mandi” that make me very intrigued. And so i walked far out with the crowd after prayers and sniffed my way to the restaurants and stopped at one fascinating street-restaurant so fullypacked with customers both female n male…everyone was so engrossed in using their own bare hands to eat that they did not noticed my stares and saliva dropping all over.
i was imagining it to be rice with pooled gravy like bathing….like the soaked prata that i loved so much(prata kuah campur)….but it was nothing like that.It’s simply rice with meat (mutton or chicken). I went in and looked at what they were having and almost drenched in my own pools of saliva. It was too packed that I decided to have it as takeaway.
I went to the takeaway counter n just point out what i wanted.i chose rice and chicken.The whole chicken looked good,it was grilled on embers …tasty and juicy. And it goes perfect with the “orangey-colored rice”, cooked to perfection with every grain of rice moist in meaty broth and coated with tender love from the heart. I saw how they handled the chicken and rice….prepared in utmost TLC.
They placed it on a wide rectangular spread of plastic and then tied it up in a bundle with the chicken. Very hot, very piping, very delicious!As i made my way to the Hilton hotel,i eat it almost immediately upon reaching.It was fantabulous.
I found out later that the dish is a national dish called Kabsa. The unrinsed basmati rice were cooked in onions,butter,chicken broth n stock,tomato (fresh or and pureed) with basic spices like cloves,cumin,coriander,cardamon,nutmeg,saffron and slivers of almonds, pine nuts and raisins (if you like). The basmati rice is buttery moist has a slightly sourish taste..
Meat for kabsa can be cooked in myriad ways. A popular way of preparing meat is called mandi whereby meat is anciently prepared by barbecued in a deep hole in the ground that is covered while the meat cooks. Another way of preparing and serving meat for kabsa is mathbi, where meat is seasoned n grilled on flat stones (placed on top of burning embers) and the third techniqueis called madghūt which uses Pressure cooker to cook the meat.
Another day,i walked further dan i think it took me a good 30mins walk from the hotel. I saw many men queuing up in a roti shop and the queue extended till the main street,wow! I have seen 2 types of bread here.One was Fatir,the flat bread made of toasted barley flour. The other one was Kimaje…tortilla like bread,very thin. I peeped in and saw many men hard at work, baking the bread in a somewhat clay oven. And everyone buys not just one but loads of them! My patience was not that great and so, i just enjoyed the fresh smells of the freshly baked bread…from a distance.
I’ve had kebab, a different rendition from the famed Istanbul kebab with a slightly sourish pickly vegetables in between… I’ve had been coming in and out with my camera in and around the Medina food locations that sometimes when familiar chefs saw me, they will give me some snacks for free…like the freshly fried curry puffed like samosas filled with meat….oh so shiok!
From the street food pleasures to restaurants to even fast foods…
Ive also tried eating outside ..in a kfc restaurant whereby there are curtains to shield the women from public eyes.I find it as a cosy eating place for the family in privacy.
Last but not least, the desserts. Aside from the glorious kurmas of various shapes,colors and sizes,I absolutely adore their sweet fudgey pistachio halwa and delightful ice-creams.Mmm…
It was sad to leave the place and its awesome wholesome experience .for sure, i was not able to cover all the local food but im glad im able to taste some.it brings me closer to the local people.to bring that smells,taste n adventure pegged to my spiritual journey.This time, not only my heart misses Mecca,Medina, in fact my every sense (tongue n tummy included) that were there all cried out in missingness. I felt like I was welcomed and embrace as a a part of a family,the locals by savouring the food they love.
So next time, when your feet landed you here,be sure to try out their local delicacies.Because in knowing their food, you get to understand the locals from their hearts.And do Continue eating halal food, people.They not only nourish our good bodies but mould our good characters and good akhlak as well.
Disclaimer: Food featured are subject to my personal taste. I hold no responsibility for your body’s gastronomical adventure.All food shown are either from Halal-certified or Muslim owned establishments(with no liquour/alcoholic beverages unless otherwise stated).Do ensure that the Halal-certificates are up-to-date,renewed (not expired) and displayed promptly before ordering/consuming. If in doubt,always ask the staff with a smile.Remember: Use ur senses especially your heart.But mainly, ask your iman (faith).Our body,your responsibility, check its HALAL authenticity.