Al Baik - Saudis' Favorite Fast Food Chain

I've been going into Jeddah quite a bit while I'm here and notice the same thing every time we drive past an Al Baik ... it's crowded!

The number one fast food chain in Saudi Arabia is Al Baik. The name is derived from  the title used to refer to an important person in Turkish – similar to “Sir”. It's meant as a respectful way to address its customers. 

The chain serves fried chicken, shrimp, and fish and you have a choice of regular or spicy coatings. They do not use chicken mince in their nuggets, instead they are whole breast meat pieces. Like Colonel Sanders and KFC, there is a secret blend of spices that are used in the coating. Finally, they have a signature garlic aioli that is served with everything - and it's pretty good!

I had a hankering for fried chicken last night and it's the only fast food that is not on the KAUST campus (surprisingly). Since I was going to Balad again, I decided it would be a good opportunity to try them out and battle the pressing crowds I always see.

But I was surprised because for the first time I was confronted by the gender segregation I'd so often heard about. Saudi Arabia has segregated stores and restaurants due to their strict adherence to Islam. That means that unaccompanied women cannot eat in the same area with any unrelated men. As a child I was always with my father, so I was accompanied by a male family member. Back then there were also not many places to go out to eat anyway. Yet I had often heard and knew that there was segregation in the restaurants. Better establishments had sectioned off rooms while other establishments would have men inside and women were stuck outside. Air conditioning and comfort vs none. 

Things are changing in the kingdom and you do see a lot more freedom of movement for the women here. It's especially easier for those that are still completely covered. As a Westerner, I go around without my head uncovered and I tend to think that if I had wanted to, I might have been able to go into the men's side to order. But frankly, I didn't want to. The men's side is chaos and I thought I might have quicker and better service if I just went to the women's side.

In the picture at the top you can see the men's side in the left, pretty crowded.  You can see the partition for women's side toward the right and how much narrower that side is.

The women's side was also a bit chaotic with only one register. Service takes a while and so I had to wait and ask the ladies to help me to recognize when my number came up. 

What about the food?  I actually carried it around while I continued shopping to save it for eating on the bus. No pictures because I ate in the dark.  I ordered a four piece chicken meal. It came with french fries and a bun. At first I thought, "oh, there's a biscuit in here!" only to find out it was simply a burger bun. I did not eat that. The fries were typical fast food fries and would have been better with more salt.

I ordered the spicy chicken and it did have some heat to it. I liked that it was a very different spicy than, say, Popeye's. More like a tandoori type of spicy. What impressed me was that it permeated deep into the meat. When I pulled apart the breast, there were streaks of red spice well into the center. The coating was good and probably crispy had I eaten it right away.

They have cocktail sauce and garlic sauce and I tried the garlic. I have to say, I'd love it if some American chains served garlic sauce.

It was definitely an experience. I doubt I'll go again unless my fried chicken craving is too strong. The ordeal of ordering and waiting is a bit much. Although, now that I think about it, I often deal with that at In-N-Out!