Saudi Arabia/Yemen/USA: Yemen from the view of an American

Intro: My name is Katherine Abu Hadal and I am an American who has been married to a Yemeni man for nearly 4 years. We lived in Yemen for three years and now we live in the US, and this is a snippet of what life is like in Yemen from my perspective. I really do love Yemen, and I enjoyed life there very much. However, I also want to give you a well-rounded picture of what the advantages and disadvantages are of living there. You can find more about me at, where I show people how to make Yemeni food in English and Arabic.

yemen 1


Yemen’s beauty derives from its antiquity and the charm and grace of the people. Old Sana’a, Wadi Hadramout, and Jibla are just a few of the ancient cities which seem to be preserved perfectly in time. The odd-sized steps and the tiny doorways in many of these old homes are details which instantly transport one to another place and time. Yemenis recognize the value of the ancient heritage and these old homes are among the most prized and desirable. Sana’a is also known as Shem (Sam) city; Shem is the son of Noah and he supposedly founded the old city. As often happens, architecture mirrors its people, and the Yemeni people reflect a set of traditional and decorated values. Honor and generosity to guests are some of the highest esteemed values.  This generosity extends not only to fellow Yemenis or Arabs, but is often magnified for those deemed as “foreigners,” usually synonymous with “non-arabs.”

I first traveled to Yemen in 2009 as a student studying Arabic. I can’t say exactly why I wanted to travel to Yemen, other than I wanted to travel off the beaten path of the usual westerner travel agenda. Plus I wanted to learn Arabic and Yemen is (or at least it was at the time) supposedly one of the better countries to go to learn Arabic. Not long after I arrived, I met the man who would later become my husband. We would hang out with friends and slowly we got to know each other. It’s not the usual way for relationships to develop in Yemen, but Esam didn’t (and still doesn’t) care much for rules or societal pressures.

After some time, I just knew Esam was the man for me. He had known from the beginning and he was ecstatic that I had finally realized that too. It took a bit of work convincing each of our families, but I am proud and happy to say that my Mom absolutely adores Esam and his family also loves and respects me a lot.

Yemen is most often in the news for the drone strikes and occasional high-profile terrorist incidents. It’s often portrayed as tribal and lawless, not only by the west but also its gulf neighbors. The word tribe carries a different connotation when translated into Arabic, however, and I will attempt to explain to you a little bit about its meaning as I understand it. Tribes (qabail) are organized political structures in Yemen. They exist alongside and at the same time integrated with the official government which is a Republic. People in Yemen often associate tribal lineage with pride and a high social status. Tribes are very powerful because they have the ability to mobilize many people quickly and they also control financial or other resources. They have certain powers and rules outside the scope of the government. Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh exercised much of his power through tribal lines.   yemeni tribes

As far as how tribal power is exercised, it is neither through dictatorship nor coercion. Instead, it is a mutually beneficial relationship which is subject to change by either party. Tribe members have the responsibility to mobilize for a cause when required by the higher-ups. Tribal leaders, or shaykhs, have the responsibility to mediate between disagreements between tribe members as well as to be generous in hosting social events and feeding the less fortunate. Despite a shaykh’s higher social status, they cannot force tribal members into action if what they are requesting seems unreasonable, and Yemenis, like anyone else, maintain their independence. A north Yemeni who spent many years in Al-Jawf described tribal figures’ limitations in this way, “No shaykh can even tell a child what to do.” (North Yemeni as cited in Koehler-Derrick, 2011)

Not every Yemeni has a favorable opinion of tribes. There are those that associate them with the uneducated and oppressive social structures which keep the powerful in power and others down. They are opposed to these structures which favor social ties, bloodlines, and loyalty over formal education and merit-based rule. A Yemeni in Aden, a former British colony, was quoted in 2009 saying,

“Most of what we have is what the British built when they were here. We haven’t gained anything from unification,” says a former colonel in the PDRY army, voicing a common sentiment as he waves his hand towards a row of bleak buildings. “I would rather have had the British here for 400 years than be ruled by Saleh and the Sanhan [President Saleh’s tribe]…Now everyone who has any power is a northerner,” he says. “The young people here have no chance to find decent jobs because they don’t have the tribal connections required to get them.”  (Horton 2009).

Unemployment and economic strife are major problems in Yemen. My husband was from I guess what you might call a middle-class Yemeni family. They were not the richest or the poorest in the neighborhood and they lived comfortably. But middle-class in Yemen also translates to what would be below the poverty level in the US. If we lived in Yemen, there would be no way to really save and get ahead and also be able to travel on that kind of salary. As a foreigner with a degree and who spoke English and Arabic, there are more opportunities for me to find work, but there are still not a lot of jobs which would pay a salary comparable to what I would make in the US.

We know many Yemenis that travel to the gulf countries for work, especially Saudi Arabia. That arrangement has been threatened over the years, however, (the first was after the first gulf war) and now “Saudi Arabia, home to about nine million foreign workers, began the crackdown this year to boost the proportion of Saudi citizens in private sector jobs from the current 10 per cent.” (Gulf news, Yemen does not possess the large oil reserves that its neighbors have. The bleak economic outlook combined with an explosive population growth and other factors such as lack of water has many analysts predicting an impending economic disaster for this country of nearly 25 million.

For all the troubles of Yemen, there are still things about it which makes it an easier county to reside in compared to the other gulf countries. I have traveled to Oman and Dubai and I have observed the hierarchy among the people, with westerners, Indians, Asians, foreign Arabs, and local gulf Arabs each in their own class with different rules which apply to them. Interaction between locals and guest workers is limited and can often be prejudiced. I have also read stories of foreigners married to Saudis who face discrimination and are not able to fit into Saudi society. In Yemen, I never once experienced this feeling as a foreigner. I was always welcomed into people’s homes as one of them. I also know many other foreigners (both arabs and non-arabs) who were also treated as such. To my disbelief, some people even mistook me for Yemeni. (Although I think it was a actually a way of being polite and giving a compliment)

yemen woman driving     Secondly, although Yemen is a conservative Muslim country like Saudi Arabia, it does not have the kind of religious policing which is present in Saudi Arabia. Women are allowed to drive in Yemen and many do. There is a social pressure to dress modestly, but I know many western women that don’t cover their hair or wear an abaya when they go out. Yemen is technically a republic which means that it has elections and is a democracy. Although it doesn’t seem to be a fully functioning democracy quite yet, it is one step ahead of the gulf monarchies in achieving a full democracy. People are not afraid to criticize the government or political leaders and there are several active political movements and parties.

Yemen has a sense of fierce independence and a long history which gives the country a kind of security, despite the signs of impending doom which are knocking at its gate. After all, Sana’a is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world. If it has made it through the floods of Noah, I suppose it will make it through today’s challenges.

Below is a recipe for Yemeni shakshuka, which is a popular egg and tomato dish in the Middle East and North Africa. In North Africa, it is usually eaten with poached eggs but in Yemen, it usually has scrambled eggs and is made with green chilis so it is spicy. They also eat a similar shaksuka in Saudi and the gulf countries, but I am not sure exactly how it is different. Served with milk tea and malawah bread or Yemeni roti, it makes the prefect breakfast or quick dinner.


5 eggs

3 plum tomatoes, chopped (or uncooked canned tomato sauce)

1 chopped onion

1 green chili (more or less to taste)

½ tsp. hawaij

2 tablespoons oil

Salt to taste (about ¾ tsp.)

Ground black pepper



1.      Heat oil, onions, chilis, and salt in a pan and cook the onions until they are slightly brown.

2.      Add the chopped tomatoes, hawaij and black pepper and cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes.

3.      Lightly beat the eggs and add to the tomatoes. Let the mixture cook until half-way set, about 3 minutes, then stir the mixture slightly to ensure even cooking.

4.      Serve with bread and tea!



Horton, Michael. (2009). The Christian Science Monitor.  Why Southern Yemen is pushing for secession.  Retrieved November 9 2011 from


Koehler-Derrick, Gabriel. (2011). A False Foundation? Tribes and Ungoverned Spaces in Yemen. West Point: Combating Terrorism Center



yemeni tribes symbol:

 yemen woman driving:


Saudi Arabia: Meet Renowned Italian Chef Igles Corelli

La Cucina Welcomes Legendary Chef and Creator of Modern Italian Cuisine

igles corelli

-Chef Igles Corelli to Host Celebration of Italian Cuisine at Riyadh’s top Italian restaurant in Al Faisaliah Hotel-

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 15th April 2013:

Riyadh’s trendiest Italian restaurant located in the renowned five-star Al Faisaliah Hotel, La Cucina is set to welcome one of the world’s most celebrated chefs and a founder of modern Italian cuisine, to offer residents and guests of Riyadh a new and exclusive taste of Italy.

Chef Igles Corelli, a Michelin-starred chef, restaurant owner in Tuscany, bestselling author and recipient of many international awards, will host a series of unique and inspired lunches, dinners and interactive cooking classes from 21st– 25th April at La Cucina.

A native of the province of Romagna in Italy, Chef Corelli is one of the forefathers of what is recognised today as modern Italian cuisine.  Breaking away from the traditional presentations of Italian dishes favoured in old fashioned hotels and restaurants, Corelli proposed the use of local and seasonal ingredients to create dishes that burst with flavour and encouraged creative flair. Employing avant-garde technology years before it entered the kitchens of Europe, Corelli is a pioneer in molecular gastronomy.

La Cucina’s five-day celebration of gourmet Italian cuisine created by Corelli will include some of the master chef’s signature dishes using game, fish and wild herbs. Three-course lunches and four-course dinner menus will allow guests to savour the finest flavours and ingredients sourced from Italy and crafted by Corelli into culinary masterpieces. Participants in the chef’s cooking lessons conducted in the kitchens at La Cucina will earn a certificate of achievement personally signed by Corelli.

La Cucina, located in the renowned five-star Al Faisaliah Hotel, A Rosewood Hotel, has enjoyed a reputation for exceptional contemporary Italian cuisine since the day it opened, and is currently under the direction of talented Chef Marco Devicentis.

Erich Steinbock, Regional Vice President for Rosewood Hotels in the Kingdom, and Managing Director of the Al Faisaliah and Al Khozama Hotels said: “We are delighted to be hosting Chef Igles Corelli at La Cucina, and to be offering our guests an opportunity to enjoy truly unique and inspiring Italian cuisine from a world master. This will certainly be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

To make a booking at La Cucina, call: +966.1.273.2222 or email: [email protected].  Al Faisaliah Hotel is owned by Al Khozama Management Company (Al Khozama) and operated by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.


About Al Faisaliah Hotel, A Rosewood Hotel

Riyadh’s most luxurious property opened at Al Faisaliah Hotel in May 2000. In a city that gracefully melds tradition with sophisticated style, Al Faisaliah Hotel defines the ultimate in modern elegance and prestigious location. The stunning hotel boasts the largest column-free banquet and meeting facilities in the Kingdom. With the introduction of dedicated 24-hour butler service, the 330-room and suites property has elevated the art of personal service to new levels. Perfectly suited to the discerning business traveler, Al Faisaliah offers spacious accommodations, technologically advanced in-room communications systems, five culinary venues, with “La Cucina” being the sixth addition, a state-of-the-art health club and easy access to world-class shopping.

About Al Khozama Management Company

Al Khozama Management Company (AKMC) was originally founded as the direct property investment and management arm of the King Faisal Foundation. AKMC is a property investment company, based in Riyadh, developing and investing in prime, modern properties and providing property asset management to third party property owners across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. AKMC owns Al Faisaliah Hotel and Hotel Al Khozama, and manages Al Shohada Hotel in the holy city of Makkah, as part of a larger portfolio. For more information on AKMC, please visit

About Rosewood Hotels & Resorts®:

Founded in 1979 and headquartered in Dallas, Texas, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts® manages one-of-a-kind luxury properties in the world’s most desired destinations. Rosewood properties embrace the company’s A Sense of Place® philosophy, reflecting the history, architecture, scale and sensibilities of the destination. The Rosewood collection includes some of the most legendary hotels and resorts in the world, including Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek® in Dallas, The Carlyle in New York, Rosewood Little Dix Bay on Virgin Gorda, as well as contemporary classics such as Rosewood Sand Hill® in California, Rosewood San Miguel de Allende® in Mexico, and Rosewood Tucker’s Point in Bermuda. Rosewood also offers Sense® spa – featuring treatments reflective of the location’s culture and natural environment – available exclusively at select properties.

Saudi Arabia: Mark Your Calendar’s for Janadriyah

janadriyah 2013


It’s almost Janadriyah time!  The Janadriyah festival is the annual highlight for both Saudis and expatriates in the Kingdom.  It is the annual cultural festival which showcases the traditions and customs of each Province within the Kingdom.  It is the best event that is produced and held in the Kingdom and provides the best image of Saudi Arabia.

The Janadriyah festival begins on 04 April and will last for 17 days.  There will be separate hours and/or days for men, women and families so be sure to check out the schedule.

Each year the Janadriyah festival will have special events oftentimes featuring different countries with which Saudi Arabia has special relationships.  This year the Janadriyah festival will feature a 2,000 square meter China Pavilion.  In addition to Saudi Arabia, visitors will also receive a taste of China.  The China Pavilion will feature traditional Chinese handicrafts, artifacts, clothes and textiles, along with modern products using state-of-art methods and devices of display.

camel race


Another hallmark of the Janadriyah Festival will be the annual camel race.  This race will have participants from throughout the GCC, Sudan and of course, Saudi Arabia and showcase the different camels.

The first four days starting Tuesday, April 4 through Sunday, April 7 will be for single men and the remaining 12 days will be for families, from 4 p.m. to 12 midnight. Students have been allotted three hours starting 9 a.m. during April 6 to 10.

The Janadriyah festival is one event anyone in the Kingdom or who is able to travel to the Kingdom will not want to miss.  It’s too bad Saudi Arabia does not allow tourism visas for the Janadriyah festival showcases the best of the Kingdom and could bring in thousands of visitors to the Kingdom just for this specific event.

Saudi Arabia’s food supply

Saudi Arabia has a very hot climate and very little arable land. Yet it is home to 16 million citizens and about 9 million ex-pat workers. Where do they get their food?

Saudi Arabia grows some of it’s own food, and it has farms for poultry and cows, but most of the food is imported. Saudi Arabia spends about 6 billion a year on imported food. And food for the poultry, sheep and cows is also imported.

saudi milkproduction

Keeping cows in the desert is a very expensive project.
The Afu-Safi diary farm in Saudi Arabia originated in the 1970’s. It was modelled on a dairy farm in California, but is twice the size holding 38,000 cows. Each cow requires 30 gallons of water per day for drinking and cooling. Oil drilling technology was used to reach aquifers beneath the desert.

There is also a growing ”outsourcing” of the food supply. Saudi Arabia’s Hail Agricultural Development Company, Hadco, stopped producing wheat in 2008 and is purchasing land abroad. Hadco has already purchased 9,239 hectares of land in Sudan, and is considering purchasing another 32,755 hectares in Sudan within the next five years to grow wheat, corn and other crops to be used for feeding livestock. In January 2009 Saudi Arabia received the first batch of rice produced abroad.


Middle East countries including Saudi Arabia, and Asian states, have purchased a total of over 20,230,000 hectares of land suitable for arable crops in Africa in the past years, about ten per cent of the farmed land in Africa. This would secure food supply and stable prices for the wealthy importing countries. The likely outcomes for exporting countries like Sudan, which are unable to feed their own people, appear less favourable

saudi sheep

A Naijdi sheep costs twice as much as an imported sheep.

Saudi Arabia has indigenous sheep, but at least 75% of the sheep consumed are imported.
Saudi Arabia imports close to 18 million sheep and goats per year. More than a million sheep are imported for Hajj and eid alone.
To feed all these sheep Saudi Arabia also imports enormous amounts of Barley, mostly from Russia and the Ukraine.
One reason why barley imports in Saudi Arabia are so high are subsidies. The Saudi Government encourages a sheep fattening industry. Economically it makes more sense to import lamb and feed it on subsidized barley than importing grown up sheep.
This industry is mostly located in Jeddah and other coastal cities, not in traditional livestock rearing areas.
Beside this industry barley subsidies are also important to feed the camel and sheep of Bedouin in rural areas and ensure tribal loyalty there.


Animal activists complain about the horrible treatment of animals sent on ships to the middle east, a yearly loss of 2 million animals is considered a sustainable risk by the companies who deal in them. Many animal lovers also complain about the way these animals are slaughtered, which is considered animal abuse.

With an ever increasing population and no chance to ever be able to grow enough food to be selfsufficient Saudi Arabia is in a very dangerous position. One could imagine when the oil dries up, and no other industry of note there would be nothing which could keep the Saudi population alive. They would have to either mass emigrate, or die of starvation.



Saudi Gazette

Oil for food

Arabian gazette

Saudi Arabia: The Effects of Westernisation on Dietary Habits in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

saudi diet


Contributed by Lily Lowton for American Bedu blog

The modern people of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are descendants of ancient nomadic goat-herding tribes whose traditions have filtered down through the centuries but are becoming diluted by western culture and influenced by rapid economic development. The traditional diet in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabiaconsists mainly of food readily available in rural areas; unleavened bread made with barley flour, chicken, lamb, spices, yoghurt, milkand dates. Diet is strictly governed by Islamic tradition and it is forbidden to eat pork or consume alcohol in Saudi Arabia. Islamic principles are unlikely to be diluted by western culture but aspects of diet not related to religion are changing rapidly in the region and continue to do so. Meat is consumed in larger quantities than it is the western diet and must be prepared according to Islamic principles and tradition. Tea and coffee are the preferred drinks but this may change as western influences increase.

There are many different varieties of bread in the traditional diet, the most common being Fatir which is a barley-flour flatbread eaten with most meals. A traditional blend of spices known as Hawayij and consisting of peppercorns, caraway seed, cardamom seed, saffron & turmeric give Arabic cuisine its distinctive flavour and aroma. Chicken is widely consumed and makes up a large proportion of the traditional diet. Lamb is also popular but tends to be the meat of choice for special occasions and family celebrations. It is rare to find a vegetarian in Saudi society but, with the massive influx of westerners into the region, that fact is likely to change. Western influence and rapid economic development, especially in urban areas, will lead to a continued move away from traditional cuisine and the possibility of more Saudi citizens adopting western attitudes towards food. Rural areas tend to be more traditional and remain largely untainted by western culture but this is also likely to change.

Changing diet

Following the discovery of oil in the region in the late 1930s and the rapid growth and development of the Saudi economy since that time, the diet of the people has changed and continues to do so, mostly in urban areas, where populations have become more cosmopolitan and the influences of western cuisine are causal to a shift away from traditional foods for younger generations. Fast food restaurants are becoming common-place in the cities and the food they serve is dramatically different from traditional Saudi cuisine. Nutritionists are worried by this shift as disease related to the consumption of westernised foods is rapidly on the increase. In recent years the incidence obesity in Saudi adolescents had increased due to a shift away from traditional foods & an increase in the consumption of saturated fats, sugar and carbohydrates. The rapid development of the economy in the Kingdom has brought with it a more modern lifestyle in young Saudi Arabians who are increasingly following a more sedentary way of life than their ancestors were used to.

Health considerations

In 2006 a study carried out by The Saudi German Hospitals Group amongst adolescents in Jeddah discovered that almost half of those studied were overweight. The study concluded that this was due to a move towards western cuisine and a tendency towards a more sedentary lifestyle much like their western counterparts. The study recommended the promotion of a healthier lifestyle within the age group studied as a counter-measure against future incidences of diabetes and other diet-related diseases. There can be beneficial effects on health due to western influences; a possible increase in vegetarianism could result, however, extremes in diet, be it towards an unhealthy increase in consumption of carbohydrates and saturated fat, or towards extreme diets promoted in the western media can lead to problems. Balance is required in diet to promote a healthy population and less strain on health resources.

It is clear that the influence of western society upon Saudi Arabian lifestyle has had mixed effects, both detrimental and beneficial. Diet is one of the areas in which the effects on Saudi culture are marked and obvious. Younger generations in urban areas are affected most as their exposure to non-traditional influences is much greater. Globalisation will continue to dilute the differences between cultures the world over, however, there are some aspects of society, governed by strong tradition and religion, which will stand up to this apparent shrinking of the world and preserve the identities of countries such as The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia: The Bi-Cultural Hostess


It is always a pleasure to receive queries and requests for posts from American Bedu followers.  Today’s query comes from a Westerner who is in a relationship with an Arab.  Her partner frequently has his friends come over to visit and sometimes stay with them.  She wants to know how to be a good hostess.

Arabs take great pride in demonstrating their hospitality.  No guests are turned away whether expected or not.  The best dishes will be prepared and offered.  The host and hostess will never give any indication whether they have another commitment or not.  While they have their guest, the guest receives the full attention.

It is always important to offer drinks and refreshments to guests.  In Saudi Arabia, it is common to first offer a guest water and then follow up with a selection of fresh juices.  Many Saudis will also start out with sweets before offering anything more savory.

I had a tendency to combine both Western and Saudi cultures when hosting guests.  I would always offer something to drink but usually have a variety of choices on a tray, to include water, fruit juice or soft drinks.  I’d also mix up the “finger foods” too.  I’d like to have several platters with selections that offer a sweet tray, vegetable tray, mini sandwiches or something simple like mini-pizzas.

In Saudi Arabia it’s not a bad idea to keep items on hand which can be prepared easily and quickly in the event of unexpected guests.

While guests would enjoy their drinks and finger foods, I’d coordinate and begin preparations for a meal.  Usually I’d prepare a basic kupsa (chicken and rice dish) with a traditional Arabic salad.  Lasagne is also a popular and easy dish to put together for unexpected and hungry guests.  These are also dishes that both Westerners and “Easterners” like to enjoy.

If you are not a quick cook or prepared to cook, then it is okay to slip to another room and place an order for delivery.

One of the biggest cultural considerations to remember when entertaining Saudi or other Arab guests is to make sure that whatever you offer does not contain any alcohol or pork products.

In addition to providing appealing food and drink, the hostess is generally expected to serve and attend to the needs of guests.  If the guests are staying overnight then their room(s) should be prepared with fresh sheets, flowers and perhaps one basket with appetizing snacks and another with a selection of toiletries.  Fresh towels and face clothes should be either in the room they are staying in or clearly designated for them in the washroom.

In most Eastern cultures, the guests are not expected to make up their beds.  This is due in large part that many have domestic help who see to these tasks.  If the hostess does not have domestic help, my recommendation is that she go ahead and make up the beds after guests.  Again, the key is hospitality and showing the guest they are always most welcomed.

Some houseguests will offer to help out.  The Saudi way is to politely turn down their offer.  If the guest is sincere, he or she will help out regardless.

I hope that these tips are useful and provide some insights into traditional Saudi hospitality.

Saudi Arabia: Should Customers Be Levied an Additional Charge for an Unfinished Meal?


One Saudi restaurant owner has posted signs within his restaurant stating that if any customers do not finish their meal, leaving food on their plate, they will be charged an additional fee.  The basis for his decision is seeing how much food has gone to waste yet knowing of food crisis elsewhere around the world.  Taking matters into his own hands, he now levies a “fee” for any clients who leave food on their plates.  The monies collected are put into a box and then distributed to differing charities.  The restaurant owner hopes that other restaurants will follow his example.

Personally, I do not have a problem with a customer paying a fee, especially if the client chose to leave food rather than request a ‘to go’ box.  At the same time, I can attest that many Saudi restaurants are very generous with their portions and understand why some individuals are unable to finish their meal.

There are poor everywhere, including in Saudi Arabia, who go hungry.  Sadly though, most countries (to include the United States) are prohibited by law from giving away excess food to the poor.  However, in Saudi Arabia and especially during Ramadan, many families would distribute excess food to poor families.

Leftovers are not a common practice in Saudi Arabia.  My own husband would have our leftover food distributed daily.  We lived in an all-Saudi compound which had third country nationals working for minimal salaries as drivers or compound maintenance workers.  These employees had their own “communal” lodgings and my husband would take the food to them.  This was not food directly from an unfinished plate but rather excess that was still from the original dish. They were always very appreciative of his actions.

I should also add that since hospitality is a high priority among Saudis it is customary for many families to also prepare additional food in the event of any unexpected guests.  Among some families, it would not be unusual for family members to pop in for a visit and they would be expected to stay for the meal.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,277 other followers

%d bloggers like this: