I have learned quite a bit here in Saudi Arabia and I’ve only been here for 2 weeks. One of the most important things I have learned is, where to get good food.
Every day at work, shortly after the lunch time call to prayer, dhuhr, we head out to lunch. I have been adopted into a group a guys that usually eat lunch together. There are 5 of us in total. Sometime in the morning an email conversation will go around deciding where we will be eating and at the appropriate time we’ll head out.
So here’s what I’ve learned – my personal favorites:
- Best soup and salad => The Steakhouse
- Best shawarma => Sailor
- Best Pizza => Grillo
- Best Lebanese => the Lebanese restaurant (I don’t know what it’s really called)
- Best fried meatball dumpling things => the upstairs Lebanese restaurant (I don’t know what this one is really called either, sorry)
- Best place when we can’t decide where to eat => Subway
Eating here has been quite an adventure. Lunch is a very busy time for the restaurants so they are often crowded and quite a sight to see. We usually line up before they open, all businesses close during prayer times, and we end up in the middle of the chaos.
The dining rooms in all restaurants are divided into two sections, single and family. Since we are a group of guys, we go into the single section. The sectioning of the dining area can add some interesting aspects to the dining space. Let me explain..
Subway is a really small restaurant space but they still have a “family section”. In order to line up to the counter to get your sandwich you have to go around a small corner and do an about face to step up to the counter. Are you confused? That’s ok, because most of the people in Subway get confused too. This country is not known for its ability to form lines or stand in a line so it usually ends up being a crazy mob that backs up halfway into the dining area. Then behind the counter there are the busy crew working to make the sandwiches. Now don’t interpret this as a racist or derogatory comment because it is not in reference to size, race, or anything like that, but behind the counter there is a mass of busy little oompa loompa’s working as fast as they can and not getting much done. It’s often quite entertaining. The service is quite slow and it takes a long time to get the sandwich made.
Yesterday, I had another fun experience, the “upstairs Lebanese restaurant”. We call it this because it’s a Lebanese restaurant and well, it’s upstairs, up an elevator actually.
Problem… a couple clean cut western guys in their khakis and dress shirts, trying to order from a menu written in both Arabic and English to a Lebanese waiter who doesn’t speak much English.
Solution…. Point at the item on the menu and hope he sees the right item and can understand what we want.
Result… Fried meat ball dumplings instead of French fries. Now don’t get me wrong, they were really good, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. They were exactly as I titled them… A pretty good sized meat ball covered in a nice breading deep fried to a crispy perfection, with some interesting seasonings that included cinnamon and lots more.
Now, we come to today. Grillo… Our motley crew of guys were behind 5 other people so we thought we would have no problem getting our food in time to return to work in an hour. I bet you can guess where this is heading. Well, just wait for it.
We each order our food at the cash register, get our receipt and find a seat. By the time we sit down, there is a huge line of guys behind us and the chaos erupts. The process is supposed to go: order, get receipt, sit down, waiter takes receipt, submits the receipt to kitchen to cook, and then brings food out. Somewhere this process was flawed. Probably by the gentlemen who come in and simply want a take-out order and walk up to the cook counter and give the cooks their receipt and order directly. The result for me, I got my French fries but not my shawarma. Fortunately the guys in my group had ordered a couple pizzas and had plenty to share. So after asking for my food way too many times to count, we ran out of time for me to taste my shawarma and had to return to work.
Ahhhh… Just another day in “adventures at lunch”