I’m sure at one point or another everyone has experienced having an unexpected guest or guests knock at your door? What do you do when that happens in Saudi Arabia? And what do you do if those guests who have knocked are Saudi? And what do you do when you open the door to find these Saudi guests with a big smile on their face? Actually, it’s pretty simple. First of all, relax and give them a big smile back. Saudis are known for their hospitality and will never turn a guest away, invited or not. In fact, it can also be viewed as a high compliment if a Saudi is comfortable enough with you to come by without thinking to first call. That indicates they are comfortable with you and perhaps view you more as family, which is an honor.
Welcome them in with a warm smile. If they come as a couple (such as husband and wife) you’ll be the best to know whether they prefer segregation (men in one room and women in another). If they are at ease with being together as a couple, then my preference is to take them to our family room rather than the majlis room used for formal entertaining. This is my own way of also showing these guests that I, too, view them more as family.
Of course you want to welcome them at a minimum with glasses of water followed by some juice. At the same time, start Arabic kawah (coffee) or tea. Usually my spouse will chat with the guests while I go into the kitchen to throw some nice edibles together. If I’ve been visited by only female guests, I’ll usually present them with one of my tabletop photo journals to peruse while excusing myself to the kitchen.
There’s no need to spend a lot of time in the kitchen and doing something extravagant or timely. The guests will understand for they also realize they did not call so you could plan in advance for their visit. What to offer can depend on what time of day. Most guests will drop in after the last prayer. They may or may not have eaten yet. But since they dropped in on you, you are not under an obligation to invite and prepare a complete meal for them unless you wish to do so.
Depending what I have in my kitchen and pantry (seeing as how I detest grocery shopping or any kind of shopping!) what I offer can be mixed. My offerings can be a variety such as fresh dates and mixed nuts. These are items which are easy to have on hand and can be served in lovely dishes when unexpected guests come by. If I have done some baking such as homemade cookies or fudge or divinity (some of my regular specialties) then I will offer those. However a quick favorite of mine to make and serve to guests is one of my creations.
I recommend that a refrigerator freezer always be stocked with frozen filo dough. One can quickly make a delicious treat in minutes with this dough. Begin by rolling filo out flat as seen in the image. Then spread or pour some melted butter over the dough. After that add even mixtures of brown and white sugar (or you can use either brown sugar or white sugar only). Sprinkle some crushed walnuts or crushed pecans atop the sugar. After that coat lightly with honey. Now roll the dough up as a roll on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle top lightly with white sugar and just a little bit of honey. Bake in an oven (300 degrees) for 7-9 minutes. Remove from oven, add just a little bit more honey over the top of the warm roll. Cut into pieces and serve on attractive plates. My guests have always enjoyed this treat of mine. And it surprises them because it is not a typical American treat nor it is a standard Arab treat in the manner which it is made.
Another offering to share with very good friends and to show them you view them as family is to also prepare a quick “mezza” with what you have on hand. This can include an offering of olives, dates, white cheese, hawala, scrambled eggs, ful and warm Arabic bread. These dishes would be offered on a large serving tray with the edibles each in their own small dishes.
So next time unexpected guests arrive at your door in Saudi Arabia, don’t panic. Enjoy!