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Cruising the aisles: A guide to food shopping in the Saudi city of Riyadh

Updated 25 Jun 2010

While there are plenty of restaurants and fast food options available for expats living in Riyadh, dining out can become draining after a while and there’s no better way to start immersing yourself into life in the Kingdom than to listen to your stomach. Here are some tips to help you get your hands on the ingredients you need to start cooking at home:

Grocery Stores of the western variety are plentiful in the Kingdom. If you are looking for local and imported items; wide aisles where you can push a huge grocery cart; a “one-stop shopping” location where you can buy produce, bread products, dairy, meat, dried goods, and packaged items, this type of shopping experience is right up your alley. Grocery store chains to look out for are: Tamimi, Panda (and it’s mega version, Hyper Panda), Othaim, Carrefour, Danube, and Halwani. When you are in the produce section, don’t forget to bag your items and have them weighed before you venture further in the store (produce does not get weighed at check-out).

  • Pros: one-stop shopping, familiar items, labels often in English

  • Cons: can be expensive, supports importing of items that negatively impacts the environment, supports large corporations

Vegetable Markets are great options if you’re interested in getting the freshest produce and interacting with the locals. Expats can find high-quality goods, typically from nearby sources, while having the chance to support independent shopkeepers and take a step toward immersion in a new Saudi climate.

Every neighbourhood has their own local markets where relationships are built with the seller. Prices may be negotiable and may drop even further if you become a regular. Sure, you can buy a watermelon at the grocery store; but, will the man behind the counter in his perfectly pressed uniform strategically cut out a wedge without compromising the entire fruit, allowing you to taste it to ensure their promise of a delicious purchase?

The Hara district of Riyadh has lovely vegetable markets if you want to venture outside of your neighbourhood. This district is the home to many Indian and Pakistani transplants, so in addition to local produce you will also find Indo-Pak favourites such as mangos.

  • Pros: inexpensive, freshest produce, supports local businesses

  • Cons: no labels (may be difficult to communicate if you do not speak Arabic)

Coffee & Spice Shops can also be found in every neighbourhood. You can easily spot one by the sign above the shop, which usually has a picture of coffee beans and a traditional Saudi copper coffee pot or a cup of coffee. When you look into the window of a shop a coffee roaster and huge grinder can also be seen.

Various types of Arabic coffee beans can be purchased in Riyadh; it is a personal decision whether to buy them whole or have them ground. Spices that go with kawa Arabi (Arabic Coffee) can be purchased as well, such as cardamom, cloves, and saffron. Dried fruits and nuts of various flavours are also sold in bulk.  Simply roasted and/or salted nuts such as pistachios and almonds can be found along with flavoured roasts like lemon pumpkin seeds.

  • Pros: great variety, supports local businesses

  • Cons: no labels (may be difficult to communicate if you do not speak Arabic)

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