JEDDAH: Ramadan is marked by many local traditions in Saudi Arabia, with food and drinks specially prepared during the month, including the refreshing sobia drink.
Made from simple items found in all kitchens, the drink is said to have found its way to the Hijaz region thanks to the Egyptian pilgrim caravans that arrived there centuries ago.
It has grown in popularity among Hijazi families over time and has become the homemade Ramadan drink of choice due to its thirst-quenching properties and taste.
Due to the high demand, sobia can be found for sale on the street, but only connoisseurs know where to find the best.
The recipes for the drink have been passed down from generation to generation, with each family adding their own personal touches and preferences.
Some of the most famous Hijazi families are Al-Khosha in Medina, Al-Khodari and Al-Hussaini in Mecca, and the Hanbazaza family in Jeddah.
In search of the best sobia, Arab News spoke to Essam Hanbazaza who has been making and selling the drink with his sons for over 40 years in Jeddah.
Their stand is tucked away in an alley in the city’s Al-Bawadi district.
Hanbazaza, 65, a retired Saudi airline electrical engineer, provided Jeddah residents with his special homemade recipes.
He makes sure that the best quality ingredients are chosen, even while testing and tasting the product months before the start of Ramadan so his customers can be sure to enjoy it.
After graduating from college in 1985, I started making sobia for my family members and they were in awe of the good taste, he told Arab News. They encouraged me to start selling sobia in the neighborhood and I worked on my recipe for five years before selling it to my friends at the office. Gradually I started to gain popularity and people started to come for my sobia from Mecca and Medina.
During Ramadan, every day after 4 p.m., people go to the sobia vendors.
It comes in three traditional flavors, including the white version made with barley, flour, dry bread and sugar. The red sobia is made with the same ingredients but with added raspberry. There is also a version with raisins. Spices such as cardamom and cinnamon are sometimes added.
It is prepared two days before. Ingredients soak in an airtight container for at least 24 hours. The drink is then passed through cheesecloth or gauze to remove impurities.
Although Hanbazaza has kept the authenticity of the original taste by offering the three main flavors, it has created special varieties to follow the preferences of the new generations when it comes to experimentation.
I added raisin chunks to the raisin sobia so that people could drink and eat at the same time. I also created barley sobia flavored with
natural fruits like mango, peach, red berries of Taif, strawberry and watermelon.
Sobia’s prices range from SR12-17 ($ 1.6 to $ 4.5) and the drinks come in an old-fashioned, plastic bag packaging.
Loyal customer Feras Muhammed said he was introduced to Hanbazazas sobia by his uncle, who worked for Saudi airlines years ago. I come here every Ramadan to pick my favorite raisin sobia, he told Arab News.
Hanbazaza is also known to be an enthusiastic chef.
I have a huge passion for cooking because my father was the chef of the late King Abdul Aziz when he was in Jeddah and during my university studies in the United States I made traditional Saudi dishes for my roommates and they did. all. admire my talent as a cook.
It also inherited the art of pickle making and offers a range of traditional pickles made in the Saudi way, developing more than 13 types. Only a Hijazi would know how important the assortment is, as no table is complete without pickles.
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