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Al-Balad is the place to be in Ramadan
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 27 - 07 - 2012

A vendor makes kibda, a chopped liver platter, which a favorite among visitors to Al-Balad. — SG photos by Amer HelabiSaleh Fareed
Saudi GazetteJEDDAH — Downtown Jeddah, known as Al-Balad is the place where thousands of Saudis and expatriates go to experience authentic and traditional festivities during Ramadan.
For residents of this Red Sea coast city, evenings during the holy month in Al-Balad are distinctly different from any other time of the year as they walk around the area, shop and enjoy the festive atmosphere of Ramadan and Al-Balad's low prices and endless stalls serving traditional Hijazi food.
As one walks around, immediately noticeable are the stalls managed by men in traditional Hejazi garb who can be seen stirring sizzling platters of chopped liver or kibda and onions or serving up cups of balilah, a dish made of boiled chickpeas, pickled cumcumbers and topped off with various spices.
Nasir Al-Qahtani, a Saudi resident from Riyadh spoke to Saudi Gazette about his Ramadan in Jeddah.
“It is a really different atmosphere and me and my family are really enjoying it. We have heard about the Ramadan festival in Al-Balad and are here shopping and tasting traditional Hijazi food; it is lot's of fun!"
Jeddah resident Adel Bukhari said he enjoys visiting Al-Balad in Ramadan every year. “It is part of our family tradition to come to Al-Balad and eat Kibda and Balilah. Most of the time I come with my friends but I also bring my family who really enjoys it too," he said.
Mahdi Al-Omari, also known as Abu Ahmed, is one of the many Saudis who sells the traditional kibda dish during the holy month. Abu Ahmed has said he has been operating a Ramadan stall for the past 7 years.
“It is a wonderful time and we enjoy it despite the difficulties we are facing with Jeddah Municiplaity, which enforces increasingly strict rules on us every year. We understand their rules but it is not like it used to be in the past."
Abu Ahmed's neighbor, Saeed Basalim, also a kibda vendor, said Ramadan is the best time of the year for vendors.
“It is not about how much money we make from the stall but about Ramadan nights, crowds and the different types of food available."
The Al-Balad Municipality has approved the licenses of more than 500 Ramadan stalls this year, according to Sami Nawar, head of the Al-Balad Municipality in Jeddah.
As people were enjoying the traditional food, municipality inspectors could be seen checking every stall and speaking with vendors to ensure that the proper health regulations were being followed.
“We are mostly concerned about the cleanliness of the stands and stall workers' commitment to health regulations and sanitary conditions. For example, we are making sure that clean plates and utensils are being used and disposed of properly," said a municipality inspector on condition of anonymity.
While walking in the old district along with his family, Marwan Shihi, said, “When you come to Al-Balad, eating liver is a must during Ramadan, as it arouses feelings of nostalgia about old Jeddah and its traditions."
Balilah vendor, Mahmoud Shaheen who lives in the southern part of the city, said that he has followed his father's steps by selling the dish in Ramadan.
“We consider it part of our culture and heritage. Just being here is enough for me to keep the tradition alive."
Most of the vendors at food stalls wear Hijazi clothes, which is comprised of a white thobe, turban and vest – as a mark of their deep-rooted customs and traditions.

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