Most beautiful memories I have from my life in Saudi Arabia are connected to the desert.
When we were invited to join Prince Bandar for a falcon hunt followed by dinner in the desert, two hours outside of Riyadh, we could not say no. And what an experience it was! We were greeted by Saudi men (dressed in dark winter thobes) offering Arabic coffee, or qahwah arabiyya ( قهوة عربية), pastries and dates.
Arabic coffee is flavored with cardamom and served in a dallah, the traditional coffee pot. Saudi Arabia is one of the largest producers of dates in the world. I was never a big date lover until I lived in Saudi Arabia, where I discovered date cookies, date jam, date vinegar and dates dipped in chocolate (calorie bomb alert!). But my all time favorite, my Madeleine de Proust was and still is the date filled cookie called mamoul.
After coffee, we were entertained by Prince Bandar, who told us all about his falcons. We even saw them in action. The falcon is the national bird of Saudi Arabia. A powerful bird, called “the hunting dog of skies”, or Saqr in Arabic, has thin and long wings that allow it to fly at high speed and high altitude.
After following the falcons’ flying and hunting in our 4×4, we were invited to join Prince Bandar’s table for dinner after the sunset prayer.
Gorgeous rugs were laid on the cool sand, we were offered soap and warm water to wash our hands and were seated. Kabsa, a Saudi dish made of rice and lamb was served, along with salad and fruit.
The evening ended around the fire pit, under the stars, sipping mint tea and listening to the beautiful silence of the desert (and the entertaining stories of Prince Bandar).
You can find out more about the desert, culture and hospitality of Saudi Arabia in my novel, The Polar Bear and the Palm Tree