When asking for fan suggestions on where to visit, Anthony Bourdain didn’t take the easy choices, instead opting for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, stating “Of all the choices, Saudi would be the hard and challenging thing…[with] prejudice and misconceptions to overcome”. Upon arriving in the country, he finds a place ready to challenge him to see how regular Saudis live their lives, treat their guests, and (of course), eat their food.
Anthony Bourdain visited Saudi Arabia to film season 4 (episode 13) of No Reseravations; it was his only on-screen visit to this Middle Eastern country, though not his only visit to the region.
As he often asked you to do, it’s important to set aside your notions of Saudi Arabia if you’re considering a visit – or just curious about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Saudi Arabia. Below you’ll find a breakdown of each place he ate during the episode he filmed there, as well as the foods he tried.
Unknown Cafe, Souq Minara (Jeddah)
Tony begins his journey in the city of Jeddah, a desert city that can’t grow fast enough. Here he meets his host for this trip, Danya Alhamrani, the first Saudi woman to be granted a production license for film without a man being present.
Having breakfast in the souq amongst the market stalls, Bourdain is served furda & kaleeji (liver and kidneys) with ghee, tomato, red onion, parsley, and chili sauce, as well as kaware, a soup of sheep’s hoofs simmering in a broth of onion, garlic, and bay leaves, and spiced with cloves and cardamom.
Nassif House (Jeddah)
Returning to the capital city, Tony’s next meal is at the ornate and historical Nassif House, where the rooftop dining room beholds arguably one of the most spectacular views of Jeddah.
Here, the dish served is a Middle Eastern staple – whole lamb, roasted in a traditional coal-fired oven dug into the floor. The dish is spectacular, served on a bed of rice, garnished with pickled cucumbers, and with an assortment of sides including hot sauce, mixed salad, yogurt, and honey.
In traditional fashion, the meat is pulled from the bone and eaten with the hand, or pinched between folded bread called khubz, a type of Saudi flatbread that is oven baked. With the meat being tender, juicy and flavorful, Tony as a guest of honor is given the tongue and the brain to sample. “Irony and humor,” he quips, “are not an unknown quantity in Saudi Arabia.”
Al Baik Fried Chicken (Jeddah)
A less traditional dish next, as Bourdain is taken to the sprawling Red Sea Mall. Following a busy afternoon featuring a water show, a bevy of stores selling Western brands, and air hockey, he is treated to the local take on fried chicken courtesy of the Al Baik chain of restaurants.
In this Saudi version of KFC, though the seating arrangement may differ, the chicken on offer here is made with real chicken breast and thigh pieces (rather than reconstituted), and is served with creamy garlic sauce as standard.
Local Dining Experiences Tony Had in Saudi Arabia
In addition to the restaurant experiences mentioned above, Bourdain had several local dining experiences in Saudi Arabia that are worth mentioning for the foods he tried.
- Private fishing boat, Red Sea – Despite not having the best of luck when it comes to fishing scenes, Tony is nevertheless pleasantly surprised when the next meal, a barbeque of freshly caught seafood, is served aboard a fishing boat in the Red Sea off the Saudi coast: a selection of grilled yellowfin, jackfish, parrotfish, grouper, tuna, and with not a frozen octopus amongst them!
- Desert trip, unknown Bedouin camp – With the cuisine, culture, and daily dress all being in some way reflective of the harsh landscape just outside the cities, Anthony Bourdain next ventures into the vast expanse of the Empty Quarter, the sprawling desert which takes up 95% of the country. Dressed in a local thawb (“I dig it for the ventilation factor”), he dines with local Bedouins. The dishes here are not what you would find elsewhere, however. First is a starter of dob, otherwise known as lizard. Pulled from its daytime nesting holes, the animal is first charred over an open flame, then cut into chunks and stewed for hours in a pot together with tomato and onion. The main course is no less typical of the harsh desert environment – camel. Stripped of its hair and placed into a large pressure cooker, camel meat is cooked through hours of high-pressure simmering. It is then served together with saleeg, an accompaniment of rice cooked in milk, and eaten with the hands. As Tony finds out, the most tender meat is where else but under the hump.
- Private family meal, home of Danya Alhamrani – It seems only right that Anthony Bourdain’s final meal in Saudi Arabia is at the family home of the viewer who brought him here. Danya’s friends and family gather to give a display of the Saudi mentality wherein all stops are pulled out for guests, and the dishes reflect this. Following a barley soup with yogurt (similar to Armenian tanabour), there is Al Kabsa, chicken spiced with cloves, nutmeg, cumin, and coriander, served with rice and considered a national dish. Two kinds of dumplings stuffed with spiced meat follow, before the main course of Aish Bel-Lahm – bread with meat, also known as Saudi pizza, which is flavored with ground black pepper and cumin.
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