Gulf cuisine is the cuisine of the Arab countries, the traditional food eaten in all the countries of the Gulf peninsula, except for Yemen, which has its own distinct culture. Gulf cuisine is a blend of Mediterranean and Indian food, with a dash of heat. Originally, the bedouin roaming the deserts of Saudi Arabia relied heavily on a diet of dates, with little variety (except for an occasional, expensive camel or goat), and with a heavy emphasis on yogurt products, such as leben (yoghurt without butterfat). However, wandering merchants brought a wide variety of imported foods and cooking methods.
Arabian cuisine today is the result of a combination of richly diverse cuisines, incorporating Lebanese and Indian cooking, and many foreign items which were imported on dhows and caravans. There is a strong emphasis on lamb, yogurt, mint, thyme (often in a mix called za'atar), tea (Ceylonese for choice), sesame, curry powder, saffron, turmeric, garlic, and cinnamon, rice (the staple), and, in coastal
areas, fish. Gulf cuisine often uses hot sauces and every variety of pepper (often used as seasonings for entrees), as well as cucumbers, eggplants and onions, and fruits (primarily citrus). It shares many spices with Indian cuisine, as a result of heavy trading between the two regions.
Unlike the West, Arabs primarily use cinnamon as a seasoning for meats. Desserts including variations of rice pudding and fried dough are abundant in recipes enjoyed in Arabia. Ground nut mixtures are common fillings, and saffron is used in everything, from sweets, to rice and beverages. Fruit juices are also popular.
Hospitality is essential to any cooking in the Arabian Peninsula. Meals are generally large with much sharing and a great deal of warmth over the dinner table. Formal dinners and celebrations generally involve large quantities of lamb, and every occasion entails large quantities of tea.
A visitor might expect a dinner consisting of a very large common platter with a vast mountain of rice, with lamb, chicken, or both, as separate dishes, as well as heavily spiced stewed vegetables, , sometimes with a tomato sauce. There will probably be several other less substantial items. Tea would accompany the meal, as it is almost constantly consumed. Coffee would be also be served.