Thanks to the International Club of DC — an organization that sets up many embassy parties to foster cultural understanding — I was able to get myself a ticket to a special reception and dinner at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia! As a nation that hasn’t fostered tourism and is the site of Mecca, there’s quite a bit of mystery surrounding it. I was interested to learn about their cuisine and culture, because sadly, I can’t obtain a visa to visit. I’m a Jew with an Israeli passport stamp and their law forbids such people from entering the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I hope that one day the policy will change, even though I can barely imagine the chaos and national turmoil that would precede such an event. At any event, if the Ambassador or Cultural Director wants to come to my place for tea, the invitation is out there! Diplomacy has always started at the table and somebody has to go first. I have lots of different teas.
The evening started with a juice reception in front of different glass cases with special cultural displays inside. Religious Muslims can’t drink alcohol and Saudi Arabia is where Islam started. They feel a special responsibility to uphold traditions.
Then, a slideshow, traditional dress demonstration, along with question and answer period followed. Some of the audience asked pointed questions about their national policies, including regarding women not being allowed to drive.
I would have liked to have heard some Saudi traditional and modern music; it would have added to the party atmosphere and it would have been my only opportunity to experience it.
A dinner buffet followed that had familiar items to me, having eaten at Moroccan-American, Afghan-American, Lebanese-American, Egyptian-American and Israeli restaurants. However, I noticed a distinct difference in their recipes. After speaking to a Moroccan at the dinner, he explained how some Middle Eastern countries – like his — were more influenced by Mediterranean cuisine and being on the Spice Road. Saudi baklava isn’t made with phyllo (Greek) dough, for example. It’s flavorful cuisine, but not spicy. Onions, garlic and parsley were the flavor enhancers.
Nowadays, they’re using their abundant solar power to desalinate water and grow beautiful fruits. Cuisine there is Halal — conforming to Muslim dietary requirements — including no pork.
There was a replica of a traditional tent where people could enjoy their meal if they wanted, but it was with cushions on the floor and I was wearing a dress.
They served this excellent dessert not on the menu, kind of a crepe with orange flower water and honey. If I were alone at home with that in the fridge, I eat it and eat it and eat it!
Here was the menu:
Feta and olives Salad
Boneless Breast of Chicken Kabob with onions and colorful peppers, Wedding Rice (Basmati) with pine nuts and raisins
Boneless Leg of Lamb with cucumber sauce
Fried Cauliflower in lemon brown butter
A Fresh fruit display with Melons, Pineapple, Kiwi, Strawberries, and Grapes.
Pita Bread and Rolls
Middle Eastern Almond, Honey, and Butter cookies
An Assortment of Fruit Juices, Waters, and Ginger Ale
Coffee and Mint Tea upon Request