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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Kuwait

Historic Diet

Kuwaiti Food - Hummus
Hummus

Since Kuwait is primarily desert, the number of foods they have available locally is severely limited. Due to this, the historic diet is almost wholly limited to animals, their byproducts, and a small number of fruits or vegetables. The most common land animal in the region is the camel and camels have been used for their milk for centuries, but also used for meat on special occasions. More prevalent in the historic diet is the sea life in the surrounding waters, which include grouper, mackerel, nagroor, shrimp, crab, and lobster among other animals. Among the plant life the only true source of food is the date.

Culinary Influences

For most of history there were few alterations to the Kuwaiti diet as the people, primarily the Bedouin desert-dwellers ate nothing but dates and camel milk, plus whatever could be found. Later in history, as the land became a trading post the diet was substantially changed due to the influx of foreigners.

The most important influence on Kuwait's food came with the arrival of other Arab people as Levantine (also known as Lebanese) cuisine arrived. This brought hummus, tabbouleh, and spices that are now common in Kuwait.

The region also changed its food due to the influence from others who came and went with the trade. The Persians, Indians, and even the Europeans from the Mediterranean arrived with new ingredients and influences. This led to the greater prevalence of rice in the dishes and again new spices and ingredients arrived in greater numbers.

In the modern age foods from abroad have again altered Kuwait's diet, but not so much in the sense of changing the traditional foods as in the addition of new foods. Most traditional dishes remain the same, but "ethnic" foods are now more common and available, including Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Italian, and American foods. This is growing in popularity partially due to the fact that people from these countries live and work in Kuwait and partially due to the fact that the Kuwaitis enjoy these foreign flavors.

Staple Foods

Hummus: a dip consisting of mashed chickpeas (garbanzo beans), tahini, garlic, and lemon
Rice: numerous types of rice exist and it tends to be either a side or a base for many dishes
Tabbouleh: a "salad" generally made of parsley, bulgur, tomatoes, garlic, and lemon

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Falafel: fried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) balls served with vegetables in bread
Kebab: numerous styles exist, but usually with a base of roasted lamb or chicken and vegetables in pita bread
Machboos: the national dish of rice topped with chicken, lamb, or fish and sometimes also a tomato sauce
Qouzi (or ghoozi): grilled lamb stuffed with meat, rice, eggs, onions, and spices

Dining Etiquette

When eating in Kuwait there are a couple etiquette rules you must know and follow since Kuwait is a Muslim country. First, dress on the conservatively side (see our Kuwait Culture Page for more details). Second, in conservative homes and even some restaurants, it is not acceptable to eat with a person of the opposite sex unless it is your child, sibling, or spouse. While this is uncommon in Kuwait today, to some conservative Muslims, and in some restaurants, this is important so observe the local restaurant's situation and follow a local's lead. Since sometimes men dine only with men and women only with women, don't bring a guest of the opposite sex to any meal unless you are specifically invited to do so.

Try to arrive on time for a meal and if eating in a local's home remove your shoes at the door if others have done so. Greet the elders first then everyone else by shaking each person's hand individually. Prior to sitting down you may be asked to wash your hands or if others wash their hands, follow their lead. Let your host seat you and when sitting be sure to keep your feet flat on the floor or pointed behind you as pointing the soles of your feet at another can be offensive.

Once the food is served, again follow your host's lead, but likely you, as the guest will be served first, followed by the elders. Try a bit of everything offered as turning down food or drinks can be offensive. Eat as the locals eat: in many houses this means eating with your right hand (don't touch any food with your left hand), while in most restaurants this means eating in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left). As you finish your food, leave a bit on your plate to show there was more than enough and place your fork and knife together in the 5:00 position. However, the meal isn't truly over until the host indicates it is by standing up.

If dining in a high end restaurant or a hotel restaurant be sure to check the bill for a service charge. Many restaurants include a service charge that will replace the tip, but if no service charge is included, leave a tip of 10-15%.

Celebrations & Events

Although numerous small celebrations are cause for traditional foods in Kuwait, the country has two major religious holidays that are cause for celebration among all others. Eid al Fitr is an event filled with numerous foods, which differ from family to family, but generally consist of various meats and fish as a base with other grains and vegetables on the side. This celebration occurs immediately after Ramadan, a religious holiday that requires fasting for 30 days.

The second major Muslim celebration in Kuwait is Eid al Adha, which is only celebrated after a pilgrim returns from haj, the mandatory journey for every able Muslim to go to Mecca. Again, this festival contains a large number of rice and meat dishes, including many of those served during Eid al Fitr.

Drinks

Kuwait offers all the international favorites, including coffee, tea, milk, soft drinks, and juices. Coffee, tea, and juices are the local favorites depending on the occasion and the season, but nearly any non-alcoholic drink is readily available in Kuwait.

As a primarily Muslim country, Kuwait has no alcohol available as it is illegal.

The tap water is generally safe to drink in Kuwait, however confirm this with your hotel or guesthouse outside of Kuwait City. If you do drink the water, many people may have trouble adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to if you are not from the region.

This page was last updated: March, 2013