Iran and Saudi Arabia have been embroiled in conflict for years as each country vies for dominance over the Middle East, and things have grown worse in recent months. In January, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran and also announced a travel ban and a trade embargo. But despite all that, a culinary exchange is still taking place: Restaurants serving Iranian food remain popular in Saudi Arabia, according to the Associated Press.
The AP's report centers on a popular Iranian restaurant chain, Shayah, that has 13 locations in Saudi Arabia, mostly in the capital city of Riyadh. The Saudi-owned company originally employed Iranian chefs who taught their Saudi counterparts how to prepare Iranian dishes like saffron rice and lamb skewers, but now the restaurant's general manager says all its Iranian employees have left the country; these days, Iranians would be unable to obtain work visas.
Despite its signs that proclaim it a "House of Iranian Cuisine," Shayah continues to draw crowds of hungry Saudis, proving that one need not agree with a nation's politics in order to enjoy its food. Some have suggested the restaurant ought to remove the reference to Iran from its signs, though, and all locations now display a framed letter which explains that the company is both owned and financed by Saudis.
Meanwhile in Israel, one restaurant is hoping to foster peace in the Middle East through food, by offering Arabs and Jews who dine together a discount on their bill.