Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Al Qalzam Fish Restaurant

O ne evening we drove out of the city a short distance to have dinner at a popular fish restaurant called Al Qalzam.   Adnan’s whole family was invited to come, which in itself was unusual because mostly they all gather at one of the homes instead of a public restaurant.  But Adnan’s mom wanted to treat everyone to this fabulous fish dinner, so we piled into the car and off we went.

Restaurants here in Saudi Arabia usually have two distinct entrances and seating areas - one for families only and the other for single men only.  Even fast food places like Burger King are set up this way.  Usually there are clear signs directing customers to the proper entrance.

Many restaurants also provide additional privacy for families, such as individual dining rooms, screens, alcoves, or curtains.  The reason for this of course is because there is to be no mixing socially of the sexes, hence the separate entrances and seating areas.

Al Qalzam is not your typical Saudi restaurant, by any means. In fact, I had never seen one like it in my life.
It occupies several acres of land. As we drove in through the grand arched entrance, there was an outdoor family entertainment area, including a ferris wheel and various kiddie rides. This amusement area was surrounded on either side by neat rows of secluded individual dining ramadas and dining tents.

There was not one big building with tables where various groups of diners could eat like your typical restaurant.  Instead there were narrow roadways throughout and the whole place reminded me of a large trailer park, except instead of trailers, there were the ramadas and tents.

There must have been more than 100 units in all.  Individual dining areas stood neatly row after row, each one secluded from the others’ view, each one extremely private and each having its own parking space/s.  The restaurant's kitchen was off at the far end lining the perimeter of the property and it was huge, consisting of several large buildings.  Our group had a reservation for Tent #10. We drove down one roadway to the end, turned left, and #10 was just ahead.
We parked along the narrow roadway next to our rented tents. Most of the family had already arrived.
As I entered the opening, I saw that there was a large private outdoor patio area surrounded by tall hedges, but since the weather was warm, we didn’t make use of it.  There were benches and a large rolled up carpet here on the patio. I’m sure during the cooler months, it would just be lovely sitting out under the stars.

Our area actually consisted of two enormous air conditioned tents, complete with plush red carpeting with blue and gold squiggles on it.  The comfortable floor cushions were in the same color scheme in a bold wavy patterned design. all the way around the perimeter inside the tents, plus a satellite TV.  There were also 2 large tables with short legs for dining.  The inside lining of the tent was fashioned from a heavy bold Bedouin striped fabric in red, black, white, and gray.  Electric lanterns hung down from the ceiling of the tent, and florescent lighting hidden in the top walls of the tents provided additional indirect lighting.  In between the two tents was a large clean private restroom, with a toilet and a sink.
I’m guessing that each tent could comfortably seat about 25 people.  We all took up occupancy first in the tent to the right where we relaxed on the floor cushions, drank Arabic coffee (gahwa), and snacked, waiting until the rest of the family arrived.  Several of us decided to play cards down on the thick cushy carpet.
Once everyone else arrived, the pre-ordered feast was promptly delivered to our tent by a small battalion of waiters.  The meal consisted of at least 8 foil covered platters which were placed onto the low tables.
We all plopped down on the clean and comfortable carpeting, taking our places around the tables to enjoy the feast.  The meal consisted of at least three different kinds of fish, prepared different ways. There was fantastic grilled parrot fish, meaty baked grouper in a tomato sauce, and another yummy fish that was deep fried.   All told, there must have been at least eleven or twelve large whole fish served to our group.  Plus two kinds of rice, salad, hummus, pita bread, and a variety of sauces. There was plenty of food for everyone, so much so that we were all able to take home leftovers too.

After we finished the meal, we gathered up our belongings and adjourned to the other tent for after dinner tea and dessert of fresh fruits and baklava, while restaurant employees discreetly cleaned out the first tent we had occupied.  Some of us played more cards, others talked and a few of the full-bellied family members were content to just watch TV.
I was told that on weekend nights, the Al Qalzam Fisherie is packed with families and reservations are a must.  We went there on a weeknight, and although it wasn't packed to the gills, there was still a fair amount of patrons there.   This restaurant certainly does a booming business.  Wish I owned the place…


  1. Hey Susie Q -
    I just want you to know that I am here, reading and watching what you have to say and waiting for the next blog. And voting for you!!!!
    The more I read, the more I want to be there and experience that feeling again. The new adventure, the new smells, taste. I hope that your son will embrace what life is laying at his feet. This chance may never come around again.

  2. Wow - that sounds like a great place! Don't you just love those cushions on the floor and drinking that kahwa?

    I'm not so into fish - in fact, the family is kind enough to make sure the head is cut OFF when I'm over for dinner and that's the dish to be served. I'm such a wuss, but that eyeball just freaks me out.

  3. I suggest you try the other places down the road next time, Aqua park is good, its a little bit more expensive, but its also classier and the food is better. Its been a while since I've been to any of those places.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

  4. Awesome!My kids think going to Taco Bell is a treat....

  5. I am só hungry now!!!
    This restaurant looks fabulous! What a good idea!
    yummy fish!

    And you've been tagged! :D

  6. Susie,
    The chapter about the fish restaurant is fabulous. I could almost TASTE the fish. I eat no poultry, very little beef, a little pork (like in posole or carne asada) but i LOVE seafood - all kinds except octopus and calamari.

    I look forward each day to see the new addition fo your photoblog -- it is fascinating! If your life is as exciting as it is to read about it, you must be having a wonderful experience. I can't wait for the next chapter and try to guess what it portrays.

    Take a while to peruse this website. It is one of my favorites. Your wonderful photographs of the work of artisans, food markets, myriad fruits and vegetables remind me of similar Mexican art, food and culture. This site takes me back to the desert southwest. See if it does the same for you.


    Love and best wishes,

  7. Hi Susie,

    Wow, I loved this one very much. You have got me craving for some catfish or a filet-o-fish from Mickey D's. Thank you very much!!

  8. Hi Tina!
    I'm glad I am stirring up some nice memories for you. Thanks so much for your support.

    Hi L Oman!
    I do love the floor cushions - it's like a couch without legs and very comfy.

    Hi Q -
    Thanks for the recommendation. Since I'm new here, I just go along for the ride at this point.

  9. Hi Always...!
    I'm a Taco Bell fan myself - and I haven't seen one here yet!

    Hi Aafke!
    The individual dining tents were just so cool. I never imagined a restaurant like that before!

    Hi Billie!
    Thanks so much for the ego boost! And thanks too for the link to the Mexico website - very cool!

    Hi Jessie!
    Thanks - now go get yourself that fish fix!

  10. No matter how long I spend here on this fish loving island...I still prefer to have my fish...swimming in my fish tank. Other than the occasional tuna fish sandwich or salmon steak....just dont like fish. 21 years later...still catching flack over my sad lack of taste...lol.

  11. I think the individual tents are so cool and it really looks quite comfortable as well.

    Good luck with the competition!

  12. It looks great! Must be expensive too... how much?

  13. Dear Susie,
    I'm a french woman. I lived in Jeddah during 5 years. Reading you remind me so many memories of this city. A part of my heart stayed in Jeddah. Please continue...

  14. Looks fantastic, Susie! I don't suppose you've picked up some recipes to share?

  15. That restaurant sounds great! I never ate much fish before (besides tuna fish, like someone said, lol), but my husband's family eats a lot of fish. When I was pregnant with my children, I had it 3 or 4 times a week, and now I keep reading about how beneficial that is, so alhamdulilah.

  16. Susie,
    I continue to admire you and what you are doing. I love reading about your adventures!!!


  17. Susie...I have been lurking on your blog for a while... this looks so amazing...truly a wonderful family experience!

    I would love to visit this restaurant one day in Saudi!

    P.S. I love the fact the most of your pictures are full sized! It makes it so much more real!

  18. Hi CoolRed!
    I must admit I don't like every kind of fish myself. I like lighter, mild flavored and flakey fish, over the meaty kind. You might try cod, flounder or perch fillets. How the fish is prepared can make a huge difference too. I like it best when broiled with just a little lemon, butter, salt, pepper, and maybe some dill. I love it when prepared this simple way.

  19. Hi Solace!
    I thought the tents were really cool too. Thanks for your support!

    Hi Nuri!
    I tried to find out how much the bill was, so I'm not sure but I think it was in the vicinity of about $200 US and we were a party of 15. Plus we all took home leftovers!

    Hi Anonymous!
    I'm glad to hear that you are enjoying the blog and it brings to mind some happy memories for you. Thanks for commenting!

    Hi CairoGal!
    Unfortunately I didn't get any recipes from there - I'm not much of a cook, but I'll see if I can post some of my favorite recipes from my husband's repertoire - he's a fantastic cook!

  20. Hi Ann!
    I find that we eat a lot more fish here than lamb, which I'm happy about. I really prefer the way my hubby makes the lamb, and it tends to be so heavy. The family likes meaty fish made in a strong, heavy tamarind sauce, which I'm still trying to acquire a taste for. Have you had it like this? From all that I've read, fish is a very good thing to include in your diet.

    Hi Cheela!
    You're so sweet - thanks!

    Hi Jan!
    Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. I don't know if you know or not, but if you click on the photos in the post, it will give you an enlarged view.

  21. I don't think I've had it in tamarind sauce; they do it pretty simply. I like the big fish that's kind of meaty, without a lot of bones. I really love that grilled, with sweet rice (something they make occasionally, not all the time - and only with grilled fish).

    What I used to think was funny was that while I preferred the meaty, non-bony kind, the Kuwaitis inevitably chose the boniest kind as the best - the kind with tiny little bones EVERYWHERE. So when I had young children, my husband and I would spend most of the meal picking the bones out of pieces of fish, before giving it to our children. And when we missed some and they started choking on a bone, we'd have them eat a date, so it could sort of catch the bone and get it to go down... ;) (I had an American friend come eat with us once, and she said that when she was little, they always ate fish with bread, and that was the reason - so it would catch the bones.)

  22. Hi Ann!
    Yes, they love the fish with millions of tiny bones here too! I remember once when we were eating at a restaurant in Mexico, my mom got a small bone stuck in her throat and we had to take her to the emergency room to get it out! I've been paranoid of those little bones ever since!

  23. susie...mostly the reason I dont care for the fish here is because they seem to cook the heck out of it...as you mentioned...I prefer it cooked lightly with just a bit of lemon and flavour...but over here its cooked to death(lol) and heavily spiced. I just cant find a taste for it. And taking an hour to search for bones before I can even get a taste is just too time consuming for me....I always thought the hardest part of eating fish was catching it....lol....I dont remember fish back home being this hard to eat...but it has been a very long time since I ate rainbow trout etc...sigh!

  24. You have officially made me hungry... and I just ate!

    Looks like a fun place to go though!

  25. Those individual dining tents look brilliant - what a great idea especially when there is a big group of people wanting to go along together!

  26. That place sounds nuts!
    It's like a middle eastern Casa Bonita.
    I envy having the fish. That sounds sooo good.