While teaching in Jeddah, a couple of my students took particular interest in showing me around the region (which even included an impromptu trip to Mecca). One weekend – Friday and Saturday, mind you – we went gallivanting around the austere cliffs and valleys of Taif, viewing some spectacular landscapes. On the first night, they invited me to try the de facto Saudi national dish, kabsa.
Stemming from the Arabic word kabasaكبس)) meaning “to press/squeeze,” referring to all of its ingredients being squeezed into one pot, kabsa – or makboos (مكبوس), depending on where in the Gulf you are – consists of grilled meat, rice, onions, and a mélange of spices, served family-style.
To prepare kabsa, first, the meat – typically chicken, but lamb, shrimp, and camel are also common – is either cooked in deep holes in the ground (whose style is called mandi), or grilled over flaming stones (called mathbi). Add in a blend of ingredients – namely, black pepper, cumin, dried powdered limes, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and saffron, for flavor and color. Then, in a pot combine all of the above with long-grain/basmati rice. Sometimes, you will find the finished product topped with slivers of almonds, fried onions, raisins, and pine nuts.
Kabsa is typically enjoyed while everyone is seated on the floor, using their right hands to scoop up a mix of the tender meat, rice, and fried onions. Common accompaniments include hot sauce, pickles, a cucumber-yogurt sauce, a simple clear soup, and pita.
Have you tried kabsa/makboos? If so, where?