Food & Drink
Local food is often strongly flavoured and spicy. The most common meats are lamb and chicken, beef is rare and pork is proscribed under Islamic law. The main meat meal of the day is lunch. Foreign cooking is on offer in larger towns and the whole range of international cuisine, including fast food, is available in the oil-producing Eastern Province and in Jeddah.
Things to know: Eating, drinking and smoking in public during the fasting hours of Ramadan will incur strict penalties. Restaurants have table service. There are no bars. Alcohol is forbidden by law, and there are severe penalties for infringement; it is important to note that this applies to all nationals regardless of religion.
National specialities:
• The staple diet is pitta bread (flat, unleavened bread) which accompanies every dish.
• Rice, lentils, chick peas (hummus) and cracked wheat (burghul) are also common.
• Kultra (chicken or lamb on skewers) is popular for lunch.
• Kebabs served with soup and vegetables.
• Mezze, the equivalent of hors d’oeuvres, may include up to 40 dishes.
• Arabic cakes, cream desserts and rice pudding (muhalabia).
National drinks:
• Arabic coffee and fruit drinks are popular alternatives to alcohol.
• Alcohol-free beers and cocktails are served in hotel bars.
Tipping: The practice of tipping is becoming much more common and waiters, hotel porters and taxi drivers should be given 10 per cent.
Apart from restaurants and hotels there is no nightlife in the Western sense.
Souks (markets) sell incense and incense burners, jewellery, bronze and brassware, richly decorated daggers and swords, and in the Eastern Province, huge brass-bonded chests. Bargaining is often expected, even for modern goods such as cameras and electrical equipment (which can be very good value). Shopping hours: Sat-Thurs 0900-1300 and 1630-2000 (Ramadan 2000-0100). These hours differ in various parts of the country.

Saudi Arabia occupies four-fifths of the Arabian peninsula. Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, the Gulf of Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen border it. To the west lies the Red Sea.

Riyadh (Ryad), the royal capital, is a modern city built on the site of the original town. Apart from the fort and a few traditional Najdi palaces near Deera Square, little trace of the old town remains.

The west coast is a centre for trade, but of equal importance is the concentration of Islamic holy cities, including Mecca and Medina. The region also includes the city of Jeddah, until recently Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic capital, which remains the most important commercial and cultural gateway to the country.

Mecca is the spiritual centre of the Islamic world. Places of significance to Muslims include the Kaabah Enclosure and the House of Abdullah Bin Abdul Muttalib, where Muhammad was born.

Priority has been given to the preservation of the ancient city of Jeddah, but leisure facilities have increased and the corniche has a ‘Brighton’ feel about it. The main meat meal of the day is lunch, usually either kultra (meat on skewers) or kebabs served with soup and vegetables

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