Traveling to the Wrong Destination is Still Traveling

Ever end up in the wrong city?  I ask this, because I read a story a few years ago about someone flying to the wrong “Taiwan.”  Which is to say, the passenger meant to go to the island, but ended up in Taiyuan, China instead.  Never mind that the two places are spelled differently – in both English and Chinese, that the former isn’t a city, and that the person likely needed a visa for China, but I decided to see how common this type of mistake was.  Indeed, it does happen from time to time, that folks end up in the wrong place– just ask these travelers.

Although China did for a spell have a thing for building its own versions of European hotspots – Austrian villages, anyone? – supposedly, the central government has put the kibosh on those.  Then again, it’s unlikely one would confuse Paris, Tianducheng for Paris, France…or even Paris, Texas.

And then we have Atlanta, which really doesn’t want you to get anywhere quickly if you’re looking for an address on Peachtree Street.  (Hint: there are no less than 71 streets with the name Peachtree in them.)

Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Located – I’m Shocked – on Peachtree Street

Thus, in the vein of this topic, I’ll pose this question to my readers– if someone offered you a trip to Mecca, which would you choose?:

Mecca, population ~ 7, 100, in California?  It is also close to the fascinatingly dubious Salton Sea, which I’ll get to in a later post.

Or…

Mecca, population ~ 1.5 million, in Saudi Arabia?

Suggestion: Having been to both, Saudi dates are the best I’ve ever tried.

Kabsa (كبسة), Saudi Arabia’s National Dish

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.

Camel Kabsa in Taif, Saudi Arabia

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?