Nestled quietly beside the sea-side lives what looks like a real life sand castle mirroring the look of the coarse sand from its tan and rough texture surrounding its wall. But if you look closer, the isolated palace looks like it’s protecting something precious, keeping away enemies.
Through the architecture, we can already tell the story the castle is telling.
This is the Heritage Village in Dammam, Saudi Arabia.
Though not a real castle housing a royal family, it does protect some of the most historic items that are worth preserving for as long as possible. Not only that, it holds a delicious restaurant that allows you to experience the Saudi way of dining with traditional Saudi food. Protecting the authentic taste of Middle Eastern cuisine.
Once we’ve awed at the beautiful architecture, we saw intimidating wooden double doors twice our height open to step into.
Here, our senses of sight and smell start to trigger.
The kind hospitality of the staff instantly makes us smile.
The various lighting coupled with the exotic decorations and art work makes us feel like we’ve stepped back to ancient Saudi Arabia.
The hint of Arabic perfume hits our nose but isn’t strong enough to hide the dancing flavours of spices from the in-house restaurant across the room.
The assembly of the dining tables and private dining rooms let us know that the whole floor is the restaurant itself. Tables in the centre of the room are open to all visitors dining.
For reservations for a private room to have a cultural dining experience, you get to sit on the floor while you eat with family and friends. The servers usher us towards a table while they greet us with their best English phrases.
Not to worry if you are a foreigner visiting and not fluent in the Arabic language, the majority knows enough English to converse.
The tranquility inside the castle we noticed only after sitting down felt peaceful. We went in the late afternoon during a weekend but the village was serving only a few customers. It felt like the castle was only open to us and had been patiently waiting for us to visit.
The beautiful interior architecture with traditional designs and vibrant mosaic windows remind us that it is a place of significance.
Once we were seated, we looked over the menu to order and decided to start our lunch with a pot of Arabic mint tea (SAR 22 ≈ 25 MYR)while we waited for the food to come.
Served in a humble metal kettle with small glass cups, we shared it together.
The tea had just the right sweetness with the freshness of the mint to balance the light bitterness of the tea leaves.
It was an addictive beverage that instinctively made us go for seconds and thirds and fourth. Some might not enjoy the flavour of mint in general, but this tea might just be able to make you turn sides.
We realised when we were ordering that some of the main and popular orders took at least 30 minutes to be prepared.
The portions for traditional Arabic dishes also come with big portions as they like to share and eat together. So, we ended up trying half a regular Briyani Chicken (SAR 42 ≈ 47 MYR) and half of the Makbos Chicken (SAR 27 ≈ 30 MYR).
Makbos Chicken, also known as Kabsa, is a popular Saudi Arabian rice dish made with either lamb or chicken.
Both the Briyani and Makbos were similar to me. They were both spiced rice and chicken.
The briyani was delicious with it’s tender chicken and fried shallots but it tasted similar to other briyani we’ve tasted before. It felt like it was missing something.
Instead, we were more attracted to the Makbos Chicken with its unique plating design. The rice was wrapped with a bread dome on the top and baked until a crisp layer formed. We couldn’t wait to dig into the dome and find out what mystery lay under. The chicken turned out to be juicier and more moist thanks to the thick and savoury marinade which the briyani lacked.
It’s definitely a win for the aesthetics but up to par with the scale of flavour.
But of course, we can’t just eat rice. To eat along with the rice, we ordered side dishes of Grilled Shrimp (SAR 58 ≈ 64 MYR) and a refreshing Green Salad (SAR 18 ≈ 20 MYR).
The price was a little expensive for the shrimp. But remembering how we’ve never been disappointed whenever we ordered grilled shrimp in Dammam, we decided confidently and we were right!
We could tell the shrimp was fresh from it’s scent and had the perfect amount of char on its shell. It was served with sliced pickled onions and french fries. The shrimp had a nice soft texture and a hint of natural sweetness from its tender meat.
The green salad was a great finish for the meal to clean our palate with another last splash of tea before you leave.
The dishes seem quite dry without any sauces to complement all the carbs we’re digesting. But in fact, when you order Arabic dishes such as rice and chicken, it usually comes with fresh tomato chutney. It gives that tangy and fresh flavours needed to complete the meal.
The destination is quite far from the main city and quite isolated from popular destinations. You have to go by car but the parking space is never full and there’s a beach right next to the castle to enjoy next if you desire. It’s also important to note that they open only after 12 PM until midnight.
Remember, the effort to come here is worthwhile as you can indulge in both food and sightseeing.
I also recommend trying their assortment of fresh juices such as mango and orange. It’s amazing how easy it is to find such sweet and fresh juices from around Dammam, so definitely a must try.
And with that, we conclude The Heritage Village is… MONCH Approved!
Address: Corniche Walk Way, Ash Shati Al Gharbi, Dammam 32411
Article by Dina Ghazali
Photos by Dina Ghazali