We always knew it was lunchtime even before my mother called us to the dining table. There was a sequence in place that we gotten used to: the door would unlock, my dad would step into the house, there would be a rustle of plastic bags, then that delicious smell would hit.
Unmistakable, unavoidable, yet always welcome. It was a Friday and we were having broast.
Growing up in Saudi Arabia in the 90s was’t a lot of fun. There wasn’t much to do except probably eating your way through the weekend or going to a mall. And our lives pretty much revolved around that there.
I still blame my father for the reason I get so hungry around bakeries because he used to take me to one as a little girl,exactly at the time they were making fresh bread. This is a smell I can never forget no wonder where I go and what I do.
But another smell I can never forget is the one of broast- what we have always called broasted chicken that came from Al-Baik. I didn’t even call the place by its real name until I was well into my teenage years. It was always implied.
A bit of a background here: Al-Baik is a fast food chain in Saudi Arabia that specializes in fried chicken but also expanded its offerings to nuggets, shrimps, and fish to cater to a larger audience.
What makes this place even more unique is that it is limited to the Western Region of the country, so it’s almost exclusive to Jeddah, the place I was born and grew up in. I once asked a friend who had grown up on the Eastern side of the country if he had ever had Al-Baik, and when he said no, I proudly told him you’re missing out on so much!
To me, and probably a lot of the people, Jeddah does not make sense without Al-Baik and Al-Baik does not make sense without Jeddah. The two will be forever associated.
For just 12 Saudi Riyals (3.20 US dollars), you could eat the most delicious chicken, fries, and soft drink. It’s truly what you would call the poor man’s feast.
When I say delicious, I mean the kind where the chicken is too flavorful, with herbs kicking in at every bite and the meat is so wonderfully cooked it melts in your mouth. And it was so much food, about four different pieces, that by the end of the meal, you’d need to lie down and not do anything.
The tradition of having broast at least once a month started when I was very young, in the first house we lived in there. It was always on a Friday because my dad would be off from work and he’d be able to go and pick them up. He would return with plenty of bags, filled with our chicken and seafood orders- and also their delectable hummus bi taheeni.
I could always never finish my meal, so my mother used heat up the leftovers the next day in a sandwich, making my face light up. It was even better than fresh!
Even after we moved to Lebanon, we still returned to Jeddah in the summers and it was the first thing I requested to have. Even after I made the decision to only eat white meat, I still had my favorite meal- but I switched to the spicy chicken nuggets (and when I say spicy, I mean it).
As I grew up and felt more and more disassociated with Jeddah and the place it was becoming, as my trips started getting shorter and shorter, it took one bite to take me back to when I was a kid with no worries and concerns, just hungry. To a city that was developing but still maintained its own identity, much like me.
I don’t go to Jeddah anymore. Life’s gotten in the way, and to be honest, I’d rather spend my limited vacation days exploring someplace new.
But whenever I know someone is coming back from Jeddah? I always ask for a meal of spicy chicken nuggets.
One bite, and it feels like coming home.
8 Comments Add yours
You share such special memories here. Thank you for sharing about broast. I’ve learned something new.
Thank you for reading. My mother was the one who called it broast (because with her limited English, couldn’t say broasted) and hearing her say it around the house as kids, the naming just stuck. I think it made it all the more special.
Oh my mouth already started watering at the mention of that delicious chicken! It’s good that you have tied down the memory of Jeddah to that special meal!
Mine started watering when I found the picture to go with this post. No matter how much I describe how good it is, I can’t get close. And yes, I’ve tied it down to Jeddah because it’s very unique to that place.
Thank you. It is 😀
I feel as if i could have written this post about me (except my visits are still very frequent), it’s the first meal I have every time I am back in Jeddah! I totally agree that Jeddah is Al Baik and al Baik is Jeddah!
I’m jealous of you only because you get to have Al-Baik! That red chick logo is imprinted in my mind!
Thanks so much for reading and relating to this post!