Shopping in Saudi Arabia
There are almost no cinemas in Saudi Arabia, no alcohol bars, nightclubs, casinos and other Western amusements at all. Perhaps that is why they love shopping here so much – what else to have fun at your leisure? Scattered throughout the country are colorful souq markets with countless decorations, handicrafts and antiques, but modern shopping centers with elite and affordable products are also popular.
Note: according to allcitypopulation, the population of Saudi Arabia is 35.34 million (2021).
You can bargain everywhere, except for large supermarkets: the price is sometimes brought down by 30-40%, turning negotiations into an exciting game. Many stores have a system of discounts, but they can be increased after a dispute with the seller.
In Riyadh, it is worth a look at the Al-Tumayri market with goods in the national style, in Jeddah – at the famous El-Alawi, in Medina – at the indoor Taiba. On the shelves you will find skillful rosaries, richly decorated editions of the Koran, traditional arafat shawls that can turn into a fashionable unisex accessory. Curved daggers with elegant scabbards, coffee pots, colorful rugs and pillows, aromatic oils made from natural ingredients, leather sandals and jewelry with bizarre ornaments and Arabic script will remind you of the trip.
The best gastronomic souvenirs are Turkish delight, sherbet, baklava, dried fruits, spice sets, camel milk in sealed packages.
The most fashionable shopping center is the capital’s Al-Fayzaliya with luxury brand boutiques, food courts and recreation areas, and the largest is Arabia Mall in Jeddah. In the Burj Al-Mamlaka skyscraper there is a real “Women’s Kingdom” – men are not allowed to enter. Teenagers prefer Al-Basatin, fans of stylish accessories prefer Jeddah International, the mass market is represented in Panorama.
Shops are usually open from 9:00 to 20:00 (during Ramadan – from 20:00 to 01:00), 13:00-16:30 – lunch break, Friday – day off. Many outlets do not have a clear schedule.
Cuisine and restaurants
Residents of many Arab countries have been using the same recipes for centuries: due to the peculiarities of geography, climate and religion, the dishes are similar, although they can be called differently and supplemented with a national “raisin”. The cuisine of Saudi Arabia is also a child of different traditions, from Persian and Turkish to Indian and African. From meat here they prefer lamb, chicken, lamb and beef, pork is strictly prohibited. The most common processing method is frying on coals or hot pans without oil and fat.
Spices are responsible for the taste and aroma: pepper, garlic, honey, cinnamon, fragrant herbs, Maghreb harissa paste with chili, coriander, cumin and cumin.
Favorite meat dishes are skewers “tikka”, “kultra” on a skewer, shawarma, kebab, assorted “mezze” (up to 40 types of meat at once), pilaf “maklube”, lamb carcass “meshui”, meatballs with wheat “kebbe”, meat with rice and guzi nuts, stuffed vegetables. Dajaj with tomato sauce, al-mandi with honey, fragrant biryani rice, haris casserole, kibda-fireh pate and spicy jaj-tannuri are prepared from chicken.
For garnish – rice with raisins or onions, couscous, hummus, falafel, corn porridge “burgul” (not a single feast can do without it) and soaked peas “dahnu”. For dessert – candied nuts and fruits, rice pudding “megli” and pistachio “mehallabiya”, honey donuts “ligemat” and the original fried flour “asyda” with sugar and spices.
The most popular drink is coffee, classic black and Arabian light with cardamom, but strong tea with spices does not lose ground.
Arabian fast food is piping hot “laffa” cakes stuffed with minced meat, falafel or hummus, ubiquitous kebabs and kebabs, pieces of “sarid” bread soaked in broth, “murtabak” pies with eggs, minced meat and other fillings. Coffee houses, cozy family cafes are all around, in Jeddah, Riyadh and other large cities – pretentious restaurants, steakhouses and lounges. A snack in a cheap eatery costs from 20 SAR per person, dinner in a good cafe costs 100-160 SAR for two.
The country’s monetary unit is the Saudi riyal (SAR), in 1 riyal there are 100 halals. Current exchange rate: 1 SAR = 15.36 RUB (1 USD = 3.75 SAR, 1 EUR = 3.95 SAR).
Currency can be exchanged at banks, shops, change machines and money changers in offices located everywhere. Exchange offices at airports are open around the clock, most banks are open from Saturday to Wednesday from 8:00 to 12:00-13:00 and from 16:00-17:00 to 18:30-20:00, on Thursdays – until noon, Friday is a day off. It is most advantageous to turn to private money changers, the least attractive exchange rate is in hotels and airports. In some places, obsolete kurush coins are still found, but they can be paid off only in markets in remote provinces, only halals are accepted in stores.
Hotels set surcharges for services in the amount of 10-15%, so you can not leave a tip, but the staff will not refuse a well-deserved reward.
Credit cards of international payment systems are accepted in almost all major hotels, restaurants and shopping centers. Cash can be withdrawn from ATMs near banks and shops, but it is useless to carry travel checks: if you do not have an account in a local bank, it is almost impossible to cash them out.