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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s culinary heritage is being placed under the international spotlight with the naming of the most popular dishes from each of the Kingdom’s 13 regions.
The initiative is part of the Culinary Arts Commission’s National and Regional Dishes Narratives project launched at the beginning of last year.
The commission started by naming jareesh as Saudi Arabia’s national dish and maqshoos as the national dessert.
CEO of the commission, Mayada Badr, told Arab News: “Saudi Arabia boasts a vast and rich culinary heritage, encompassing a treasure trove of culinary wonders.
“As part of the ongoing initiative, we are thrilled to announce a selection of regional dishes that highlight the culinary diversity of the Kingdom.”
Under the scheme, each of the dishes and their ingredients will be targeted for investment, trade, and promotion at local, regional, and international levels.
Jeddah-born chef Rayan Al-Ayesh told Arab News that he was excited by the initiative.
He said: “I know some of the people who actually worked on it and were on the team traveling around the Kingdom, trying to finesse these local recipes.”
Al-Ayesh is development chef for the Modern Food Co., which has nine brands operating in the Kingdom. He works in its Japanese sector covering the restaurants Robata, Myazu, and Kayzo by Myazu.
“I cannot wait to see Saudi cuisine represented and exported to the international community. I would love to see Saudi restaurants opening in cities like London or Paris among all the fancy and fine-dining spots,” he added.
By documenting recipes from the Kingdom, the commission aims to boost the foods’ circulation locally and internationally, while preserving it as an aspect of cultural heritage.
Saudi sous chef Donya Modir told Arab News that food was a powerful medium to tell stories, share traditions, and capture a nation’s identity.
Modir works on one of the Saudi Public Investment Fund-owned Al-Balad Development Co. hospitality projects and is a Ministry of Tourism ambassador.
She said: “Highlighting Saudi Arabia’s diverse culinary heritage can enhance that cultural image and promote cross-cultural understanding that the world is eager to know more about, and us as chefs want to showcase.”
Modir noted that authentic culinary techniques were living legacies passed down through generations, reflecting the history, values, and identity of the people in all 13 provinces of Saudi Arabia.
“Sharing and celebrating these dishes strengthens social bonds, fosters a sense of belonging, and connects us to our heritage and roots. Food opens minds to new perspectives and fosters appreciation for cultural differences,” she added.
Marqooq was chosen as the official dish for Riyadh, saleeg for the Makkah region, Madini rice for Madinah, and malehiya — rice mixed with local ghee — for the Northern Borders.
Saleeg is a creamy rice dish cooked in milk and spices, topped with boiled chicken.
Elham Shihab, a 62-year-old mother-of-three from Jeddah, told Arab News: “Saleeg is one of the easiest dishes to make, whether you are a housewife or a working mom.
“You need a whole chicken which you season with garlic, onions, and spices such as pepper, salt, cloves, cardamom, and a pinch of cinnamon.” She said a mix of chicken stock, milk, and salt was needed to make the rice.
For Jouf, the commission chose bakila, a dish consisting of the region’s famous opophytum plant, dates, and ghee.
Al-Maqnah bread was picked for the Al-Baha region, kubaybat Hail for the Hail region, and raqsh — made from wheat, broth, and meat —for Najran.
Kaleja was selected as the dish to represent Qassim, Al-Hasawi rice for the Eastern Province, Al-Mughash for Jazan region, Al-Sayadiyah rice for Tabuk, and Al-Hanith for Asir.
Badr said: “The process of selecting these regional dishes was meticulous, with the commission collaborating closely with each province’s authorities to establish criteria that considered each dish’s cultural, historical significance, and economic potential.”
She pointed out that the chosen 13 dishes had deep roots within their respective regions and possessed ceremonial aspects in terms of their preparation and presentation methods.
“We are not stopping here, the Culinary Arts Commission spent the last two-and-a-half years codifying culinary arts across the Kingdom and over 1,200 unique recipes and techniques to preserve these items,” she added.
The commission plans to publish its findings soon.
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