Exquisite, decadent cuisine can be found on many menus in Madinah.
There are many lavish, decadent dishes here that can satisfy the most discerning taste buds. The warm tradition of hospitality that welcomes visitors to the city stems from its people’s desire to delight all guests.
The culinary traditions in the city have borne some beautiful dishes meant to be experienced when dining in Madinah; these are hours in the making, and use only the finest ingredients to produce subtle yet captivating flavours.
Yet, some of the most rewarding dining experiences in the city also come from more humble backgrounds. These are the traditional, everyday foods loved for so long by the city dwellers.
These are the same foods that will be enjoyed centuries from today as they were centuries ago. They are the recipes passed from generation to generation. They are timeless dishes, and so evocative of this beautiful city.
The Sweetest Dates and All that is Made From Them
Long ago, travellers arriving in ancient Madinah would have been greeted by the many date sellers that traded here. These sweet morsels would have been a welcome reward for the long journey along commercial trading routes from the Southern Arabian Peninsula.
Date groves have flourished in Madinah for many, many centuries. Rows of date palms can still be seen outside the city: their fronds rising majestically from the dusty earth, tantalising fruit ripening below the luscious green canopy.
Weary travellers did, and still do, welcome the sight of Madinah’s date palms. Harvests were abundant from these groves, even in times when other food was scarce. So Madinah became a place of rest and respite from long and arduous journeys, where the humble date could help restore energy for the onward trip.
The warm hospitality these travellers found still continues in the city today, and the date remains symbolic of this. The delectable fruit may be served as an appetizer, with qahwa (coffee), or as an important ingredient in a resplendent dessert that pays homage to the fruit’s unparalleled sweetness and mellow flavour.
More than 100 varieties of the finest dates are expertly cultivated here by knowledgeable growers. They have made an art of producing the sweetest produce from Madinah’s fertile soil. A visit to a vibrant Madinah market leads today’s travellers to these delicious fruits.
The Humble Flatbread
This most simple of bread is served with almost every meal. The flatbread’s place in the food culture of Madinah is certain, timeless, irreplaceable.
A dough made of flour, water, oil and a little sugar and salt is kneaded until perfectly smooth. For the bystander, this may seem effortless. Yet in reality, years of experience and knowledge passed through generations contribute to the perfection they witness.
Few smells are more evocative than those that come from this dough baking in a hot oven. Warmth and homeliness seemingly waft in the air wherever these breads are cooked. It is the signature scent of the genuine hospitality of Madinah and its affection for visitors.
Whether they are baked to accompany a simple soup or a lavish feast, these flatbreads satisfy the appetite, bringing warmth and comfort to all those who taste their rustic charm.
The Most Wholesome Ful
Ful’s popularity in Madinah peaks during Ramadan.
Just before dawn, and again before sunset, it is the aroma of this dish that awakens the senses in preparation for the breaking of the fast. The citrus notes from the dish’s lemons reinvigorate; the scent of cumin, pepper and chilli spices tantalise.
It’s not just the alluring aromas and confident flavours of this dish that appeal. Local affection for this dish stems from its ability to satisfy. Fava beans, the main ingredients of the dish, restore strength and energy. They nourish.
At suhoor (pre-dawn) and iftar (before sunset), the city’s vendors begin preparing this dish. Queues of eager customers arrive at their favourite vendor, drawn by the alluring smells that rise from the steaming pans of beans.
Soon the customers’ hunger will be satisfied and they can continue with their business, energy fully replenished. They will return soon; this dish will be eaten time and time again during Ramadan.
Visitors to Madinah may notice two distinctive methods of preparing ful. One contains the whole bean, while in the other, the bean is crushed. Preference is subjective, and both should be experienced.
Food symbolises the welcome visitors receive in Madinah; any dish, however simple its ingredients, will be served with attention to detail and an unparalleled desire to please.
Ali Ozbay is the Director of Marketing for Shaza Hotels. The 5-star Shaza Hotel in Al Madina combines sophistication and location in effortless style, with each suite being, by intention, an emphatic expression of generous warmth and Eastern hospitality.