Not a lot of people know the real Kuwait. You may have heard of the country and assume it’s just like every other in the Middle-East, but it’s there that you are wrong. Kuwait has its own charm and many features which will draw you in, begging you never to look back. I nearly didn’t!
It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t start talking about the people, because without the famous kuwaiti hospitality, the country wouldn’t be like it is, and my trip wouldn’t have been the same.
Forget what you hear in the news, Arabs are the most generous. Kuwaitis however, go just that step further, I feel.
I was lucky to have the most amazing opportunity to be invited into not one, but three Kuwaiti homes, to see what they would eat during the fatoor; the meal that Muslims end their fast after sunset.
I don’t think you will be surprised to hear that I came out of each house, stomach full of food (at the time I honestly didn’t think I could ever eat another mouthful) and hands full of gifts. A prime example of the generous Kuwaitis.
I decided to fly with the National carrier because thankfully it’s direct and I’m not a fan of changing half-way through a journey. I will always fly direct if I can afford it! The price was pretty good apparently – £430ish for a return. According to the Kuwaitis I know, this was an usually good price for this airline. It may be because I booked it last minute, or the fact that I flew on a Monday and returned on a Sunday, but you can never truly tell with flight prices.
What can I say, the flight was good; nice and smooth with little turbulence. It was quite an empty flight both ways, so I was able to stretch out across the two empty seats next to me – bonus!
For plane food, it was good quality. I was offered a drink after take-off – a selection of juices or water? After much thinking, the lovely cabin crew guy said he could make me a cocktail of all of them. He even shook it with ice, like a proper cocktail! It was delish – so if you happen to be like me and have a problem with decisions, ask for a mix of all of them, you might find someone happy to do it!
I think after the juice, I was offered cookies and coffee or tea. And then for the main meal there was a choice of a biriyani or lamb stew – I chose the latter. The strange thing was that the choice on the menu was a bit different to what was offered – like the dessert was different. This didn’t affect my experience anyway, as I wasn’t too bothered about dessert.
On the whole, the service was pretty good. However, the only one thing which could have been improved was: I was asked if I was finished with my food, and I wasn’t, so they said they would come back, however they didn’t. I was left with my tray of food next to me for the whole journey. I mean, this isn’t a big problem, but it just made it a bit difficult when wanting to get out of my seat to go to the toilet. Apart from that, the service was good. The crew were really friendly. One little thing which I found really nice was when the lights were dipped at night on the return flight, and a lot of people, including me, decided to have a sleep (stretched out over all the seats); the crew came over a put a blanket over my body. It almost felt like a parent tucking you in a night! I was so snug and comfy. And I’m talking economy class as well! I would definitely fly again with this airline.
To book, visit https://www.kuwaitairways.com
Movenpick Hotel Kuwait
It may seem strange that I chose a Swiss hotel to stay in whilst in Kuwait, but the Movenpick Hotel seemed like a good choice to me in terms of location, price and amenities.
The hotel is located in Shuwaikh Bay in the Kuwait free trade zone. It does have that business hotel feel to it, but as I stayed during Ramadan, it was pretty quiet. It’s only a short ten minute drive to Kuwait International Airport and really close to the Avenues Mall. I took a taxi there and during peak traffic, it took about 20 minutes.
According to the website, the hotel offers a complimentary airport limousine, but I didn’t take up this offer because I had friends that were picking me up. That does sound very cool though – maybe next time!
In terms of facilities, the hotel has the main restaurant called Bays International Restaurant which offers a breakfast buffet, lunch and dinner. As I stayed during Ramadan, I didn’t eat there during the day. I could have since i’m non-muslim, however there was also the option of room service, which I would often call during lunch. The room service food was really good. On the first day, I ordered hummus with Arabic flat bread and fattoush (a typical Arabic salad). The delivery of the food was average, but the quality was good. The food always arrived hot and the friendly person delivering would always bring it straight into the room, placing it on my coffee table.
The hotel also offered a buffet in the early hours of the morning, for the Suhoor (the meal during Ramadan before sunrise). On my first night at the hotel I experienced this with my friends who had picked me up and brought me to the hotel. They were all fasting, so they needed to eat. The buffet was really good with a lot of choice, from traditional Arabic foods, to an array of International choices (there were naturally plenty of Swiss foods too – think hole-y cheese).
You can also opt to eat in the garden restaurant which serves lebanese food and plenty of shisha, which I had the opportunity to try many times. It was something I came a bit addicted to during my stay.. The cute thing about it is there are private tents you can sit in, since it’s still really hot outside in the evening. Inside the private tents there’s a table, long bench-style seats and a tv. The waiters come and take your order from the tent; I highly recommend the shisha flavours, grape with mint and berry.
There’s also Cuts Restaurant, a Brazilian style restaurant which I didn’t have the chance to try; Al Dente (italian) and a tea lounge which is just off the main reception. I was too busy eating out to try all of these unfortunately.
Outside there’s a ‘lagoon-style’ swimming pool which I didn’t try! I know, am I crazy? It was SO hot though, like 45 degrees most days, and stepping outside was effort. I think if I had gone in the pool, I still would have burnt to a crisp. However, I can’t say much but a pool is a pool – right? It did look inviting when I tried to sunbathe that one time, lasting only 10 minutes in the searing heat.
My room did have a balcony, so that’s where I spent most of my time when I was brave enough to leave the cool territory of my air-conditioned room..
I stayed in the superior room, which was quite frankly, amazing. At 41sqm, there was plenty of room for me on my own!
There was a balcony that looked right out onto the pool, where like I said, I would spend most of my time.
The bed was king size – so much space for me to spread out! There was a sofa and chair with a coffee table, which I found really useful when ordering room service; somewhere to eat and feel a bit civilised. A dressing table with a large mirror – useful for when I decided to straighten my hair. There was a large chest of drawers and also in the room off the bathroom, a large wardrobe with a safe, iron and ironing board; plenty of room for all my clothes.
I think the highlight of the room was the walk-in rain shower. There was also a bathtub and separate toilet room.
There was also the following facilities which I didn’t really take advantage of, but here they are anyway: free wifi, LCD TV, ihome MP3 player, kettle with coffee and tea, mini bar.
To book, visit http://www.movenpick.com/en/middle-east/kuwait/kuwait/hotel-kuwait/overview/?gclid=CLaD7fL9gNUCFREo0wodsMkHGA
Where to shop
The Avenues Mall
The Avenues Mall describes itself as ‘the ultimate shopping experience’, and they’re not wrong. I’d heard a lot about this mall before coming to Kuwait, and a part of me thought that it can’t be that amazing, can it? It’s just another shopping mall? I was SO wrong. The Avenues is like a dream. I could literally live in there. Here’s why it’s so amazing…
It’s made up into 7 sections. Let’s start with the 1st Avenue. The 1st Avenue is, I’m guessing, the older part of the mall. I’m only saying this because I know they built it in sections and keep adding onto it all the time.
The 1st Avenue is full of international and local brands, such as Boots, Bobbi Brown, The Body Shop, Mothercare, La Senza, Victoria Secret, H&M, Topshop… I could go on forever. There are more than 200 shops alone in this section! In terms of food, you can eat at American restaurants such as Chilis and Shake Shack, as well as Pizza Express and the famous Indian chain, Asha’s (did you know there’s randomly one in Birmingham? I used to think it was a one-off!) There are also millions of Starbuck’s to get your caffeine fix.
This section also has a Cinescape cinema. What I love about the design of this section is that you feel like you are outside. The design was inspired by the forms of the desert sand dune and the sky, giving you that outdoorsy feel.
The glass-roof lit 2nd Avenue focuses more on the mid – high-end international brands, such as Guess, Mont-Blanc, Baby Dior, Boggi, Ted Baker and Pandora. For little girls, there’s the super cute Hello Kitty Beauty Spa. I was so jealous as I wanted to go in there myself! Girls can relax, get a spa treatment and then chill in the Hello Kitty cafe afterwards. Talk about luxurious! This section also has a Carrefour supermarket, if you’re looking to get in some food shopping; a kid’s entertainment centre, two spas for the adults (thank you!!) For dining, you can eat at the Food World on the 2nd floor, which houses places like KFC, Cinabon, Hardee’s, Taco Bell, Elevation Burger, Entrecôte (see below for a review), Benihana and Wasabi, as well as many others.
The Prestige section says it all in the name. It’s full of luxurious brands, but don’t let this put you off if you think you can’t buy anything, because it’s worth walking around due to it’s amazingly ornate design. It houses brands like Chanel, Dior, Valentino, Prada. It doesn’t have many places to eat, but they do have Laduree which is one of my most favourite places to buy macarons from, so if you’re looking for a touch of France..
Now, the Grand Avenues section has been compared to walking down Oxford Street in London, or the Champs-Elysees in Paris. It’s lit by its transparent roof and is stone-paved and lined with palm trees, giving it that European feel. You really do feel like you are outdoors. It is 400m in length and full of major international brands that were debuted for the first time in the Middle East, such as Jo Malone, Abercrombie and Fitch and Jack Wills. You can eat at places like Godiva, Pinkberry and the Cheesecake Factory, which you cannot miss as it’s gigantic!
The Mall section is more traditional in style, however it does have a water fountain (as do most malls!) Here you will find many brands, as well as the ‘Jewellery zone’ and Kids Zania, a kids entertainment area. It’s also where you will find giant home stores such as Centrepoint and Home Center. So maybe head here first if you’re looking to deck out your home for a bargain of a price. Also, if you’re fancying dessert, this is the place as you will find the likes of Ben’s Cookies, Chocomelt and Nina’s Paris Tea Salon.
The Soku section, which stands for South of Kuwait, has influences from NYC’s Soho district. Its youthful style reflects on the shops it offers, such as Nike, Adidas, UCLA and Yamaha. It’s a great section to hang out in, offering places to stop at like Cafe Coco and Salad Works. Soku is also home to a men’s spa, so perhaps book your man an appointment here while you head off into the mall for an hour… or ten!
Lastly, the Souq section represents an old Kuwaiti souq; a market place selling traditional wares. The narrow alleys and low-roofs really contribute to the feel of being in a souq. Here you will find authentic cuisine at places like Haleeb O Hail, Bazza Cafe and Zwara Restaurant. Try some traditional sweets and dates from Albaraka Dates (I can vouch that these are amazing!), Babak Sweets, Hallab 1881 + many more. This section is a great place to buy souvenirs to bring home, as you’ll find Arabic spices, textiles, traditional clothing and the fantastic smelling Arabic oud perfume.
If you’re thinking is there any point there being another mall in Kuwait after Avenues, well, there is. The 360 mall is unique in its circular 360 degree design and also its brands. I didn’t spend as much time here as I did at The Avenues, but I did notice that they have a frickin’ Bloomingdales! That’s definitely one reason alone to visit. If there’s another reason to visit, then it’s for B+F Open Flame Kitchen (A.K.A B+F sliders). This place is literally food heaven. The burgers are to die for (see below for a review).
If you like to be entertained, why not head down to the Cinescape cinema or play a spot of bowling at The Bowl Room? Also if you’ve fancied yourself a pilot, there’s a flight simulator to have a go on! Nothing like some retail therapy and then heading off to navigate a Boeing 737!
One reason why you may be drawn to this shopping mall instead of the Avenues, is that it’s situated by the sea, surrounded by promenades that you can walk along after a day shopping. Open since 1998, Souq Sharq is more traditional than the other malls. Unfortunately I visited at the wrong time, during Ramadan when nothing was really open! However, here you will the usual shops like Debenhams, Mango, H&M, Mac and The Body Shop. There’s a food court overlooking the marina to refuel at, with places such as KFC, Applebees, Fatoosh, Starbucks and Haagen Daaz. For the kids, there’s a Cinescape cinema and outdoor playground. Definitely worth visiting to escape the crowds!
Souq Al Mubarakiya
Located between Mubarak al-Kabir and Ahmad al-Jaber and Ali al-Salem streets in Kuwait City, follow the smell of the sweet oud perfume mixed in with grilled, spicy Shawarma meat and fruity shisha smoke. This may sound like an odd mix, but it works. This is the smell of the traditional Souq. Souq Al Mubarakiya is one of the oldest Souqs in Kuwait and has been around for 200 years.
Walk down the market alleys in the evening and you will see hoards of people shopping for adorable mini thobes for their children; spices, vegetables, meat and fish for their dinner and then afterwards, resting outside, sitting in one of the many air-conditioned (with fans), water-mist-sprayed (cooling effect) outdoor ‘restaurants’ (they are more like shawarma shops that have extended to have outdoor seating – plastic seats and tables). It’s nothing fancy but it’s the best experience as this is the old way of living. It’s the traditional Kuwait.
Food and Drink
Kuwaiti Home Cooking
As I mentioned above, during my time in Kuwait I was lucky enough to eat at 3 Kuwaiti homes to experience the Fatoor (the meal eaten after sunset during Ramadan).
The most common foods that I ate during these 3 meals, were the following:
Jareesh (A.K.A Harries)
Jareesh is almost like a yellow porridge made with cracked wheat, mixed with meat. To me, it tasted like a very thick lentil soup. It was very tasty but very filling!
It was difficult for me to find information on this dish because of the name. It’s very popular during Ramadan, however as the name is the English way of saying it, I couldn’t find any results on how it is made. All that is left is the memories in my mind. I remember it being a dish made of bread, soaked in a tomato-y juice. It was nice however its soggy texture may be an acquired taste for some.
This must be the dish most eaten all over the Gulf. It can be chicken or lamb which has been cooked so the meat is falling off the bone, served on top of the best rice you have ever tasted! It’s a simple dish, but very moorish. 9 times out of 10, if you get invited to a Kuwaiti home, this is what you will eat. And you will NOT be disappointed.
This must be one of my most favourite dishes. It’s traditionally an Iranian stew made with herbs. It consists of parsley, leeks, bitter green leaves, coriander (you can’t taste it – i’m not a fan), and fenugreek leaves. It’s cooked into a sauce with lamb and served with plain rice. The lamb literally falls off the bone and is so succulent. You have to try it when you get the opportunity.
Similar to an Indian samosa, samboosa is a fried snack which can be filled with meat, cheese, potato – a variety of fillings. I tried these tasty snacks at all 3 houses, and each were different and unique in their own way as they were all homemade by the Mothers of the houses. You will be tempted to fill up on these before your main, so beware!
I was delighted to try this traditional Egyptian cake at one of the houses I visited, homemade by one of the daughters. This delicious cake is made with semolina and soaked in simple syrup. The one I tried was topped with crushed pistachios and a small flower head (see below). It was perfectly paired with a cup of Arabic coffee. I will have to give this recipe a try one day!
Another Egyptian dessert which is very similar to rice pudding. Umm Ali literally means ‘Mother of Ali’. It’s made of milk, double cream and nuts and has a sweet taste. It really is just like a thicker rice pudding. If you’re a fan, it’s worth trying and is very popular during Ramadan.
Balah El Sham
These little sweet fritters are very tasty. They’re so similar to the Spanish churros, apart from that they are dipped in sugar syrup and not sprinkled with sugar. They are typically served during Ramadan after the fatoor, with Arabic coffee of course.
Now these are similar to the Balah El Sham, but shaped into a ball. They’re described as ‘sweet dumplings’ and are made of flour, corn flour, yeast, sugar and water. Again, they are dipped in simple syrup, and can break your teeth if you’re not careful! Every house makes them differently, some leaving them plain, some topping them with sesame seeds – they are all however, very good.
Every Kuwaiti will offer you Arabic coffee, even if you have only just met. I would take up the offer because it’s an experience. I think it’s definitely an acquired taste, but one that I enjoy. It’s spicy because it’s made with crushed Cardamon pods, and is boiled in a special pot called a Dallah. It’s served in small cups, but I warn you not to have too much because it is strong! You’ll be up all night after drinking several cups – it’s worth it though.
Restaurants/Coffee shops to visit
Al Dhahia Juice
It’s so new, it doesn’t appear to have a website yet. You can find Pause Coffee on Twitter and Instagram: @pause.coffee
Pause Coffee’s rival (located on the same street), Toby’s Estate is MEGA popular right now. The famous Toby’s snapchat/insta picture in front of the Toby’s sign (see above) is like a rite of passage in this place. Their Spanish Latte is really good. It’s a lot creamier than Pause Coffee, but I think I prefer it because I like milky drinks. Again, it has that bar feel to it, with the friendly Baristas dancing to the reggae tunes they play through the speakers. Everyone is happy on coffee, and it feels good!
Follow them on insta: @tobysestatekw
The Chocolate Gate
Follow them on insta: @thechocogate
You may be thinking why I’m including TGI Fridays on this list, when you can easily visit in the UK. Well, in the UK we don’t have potato twisters. Potato twisters? I hear you say. Well, they sound simple but are SO good. It’s basically a plate of plain crisps topped with cheese and some sort of garnish. Like nachos, but better! I would go there just for this.
TGI Fridays has many locations. I visited the one in the 360 Mall.
With 7 locations in Kuwait, you can already tell this place is popular. Originally an American burger joint, you’ll know these burgers are good. I went for the simple Elevation Burger – two burgers with lettuce. The unusual thing is that they serve bacon there, which is strange for a Muslim country. Although on the website it notes that some places use beef bacon. I wish I’d tried that now as it sounds interesting.
Rock House Sliders
B+F Open Flame Kitchen
Located in the Grand Avenues, overlooking the Cheesecake Factory, this one-dish restaurant is perfect for those indecisive people. They only serve steak with a secret sauce with fries and salad. They do offer desserts, but for main, that’s what you’re getting. However despite this, it’s worth it because the steak is tender and the sauce is so good. I would describe the sauce as like a pesto but more vinegary. It’s really hard to pinpoint the ingredients, but it’s so good you won’t care. They also come and top-up your steak and fries when they see you are finished; perfect for big-eaters too!
They don’t seem to have a website but they have a Twitter account for their London branch: @LeRelaisLDN
Whilst in Kuwait I enjoyed shisha every night. I know, it’s bad for you, but it’s not like I do it every evening back in the UK. I don’t even smoke! I mainly smoked it back at the hotel, but one place I tried it outside the hotel was at the Al Sunawbar restaurant. This spacious restaurant is located in Salmiya and serves Lebanese cuisine, but you can also go there just for coffee and shisha, which is what we did. It’s really nice because it’s located by the water and the walls of the restaurant have a fountain flowing through it. It’s a really nice place to go and chill with friends, and the shisha is top-notch.
There’s no website for this place, but here’s a link to it’s location: https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Al-Sunawbar+Restaurantfirstname.lastname@example.org,48.0924858,15z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0xc21ee81ca3cc85ae!8m2!3d29.3279823!4d48.0924858
Things to do
Al Shaheed Park
If you’re into walking or just fancy an evening stroll, Al Shaheed park, the ‘largest urban park in Kuwait’ is the place to go. We went in the evening and enjoyed amazing views of the lit-up high-rise buildings. It’s a really good place to snap some skyline photos. Here you will also find botanical gardens and two museums; a visitor centre and a lake. At 200,000 m2 there’s plenty of space to explore!
The Scientific Center
Perhaps after some shisha at Al Sunawbar, you can visit The Scientific Center which is also located in Salmiya. This place is a great to take the kids…or the adults, like us! Buy a ticket for 5.250 KD and you can access the aquarium and Discovery Place. For both places it took us about 1hr 30 to go around, however with kids i’m sure it would take longer. The aquarium is pretty standard, but it does have some pretty funky looking sharks which had us in stitches for a while. At the Discovery place you can expect to find many hands-on science activities, which are always great fun. There’s also an Imax cinema but you have to add that onto your ticket price, so decide at the beginning if you want to go there.
Outside the center there’s the fantastic dhow harbour to look around. It was so hot when I visited (40 degrees in the evening!), that we didn’t look around properly, but it was did look very impressive. It gives some good insight to Kuwait’s heritage with the only surviving sailing ship from before the country became rich from oil, docked up in the harbour. Definitely worth a visit if you’re stuck for something to do.
Lastly, there’s the famous Kuwait Towers (apparently referred to as ‘Kuwait Tower’ even though there are 3 of them). You can’t miss them whilst driving into Kuwait city. Built in 1979, the towers are a symbol of economic boom as well as being a great tourist landmark. They also look pretty cool; almost a bit sci fi. The main tower offers amazing views over Kuwait at 187m tall. There’s a restaurant, cafe and lounge at the top, and the viewing deck spins slowly around – although it’s so slow that it would take you hours to get around the whole sphere. The cost is 4,700 KD.