Al Baik. Saudi Arabia’s fried chicken fast-food chain. Ever since I saw the Saudi Arabia episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations I have been trying to get to Al Baik.
Getting into Saudi Arabia is nearly impossible as an American. There are no tourists visas and even if you are lucky enough to get in on a business visa, there is no guarantee you will be able to get into Al Baik – as a woman. When my female coworker was sent to Riyadh on business she was forbidden from entering Al Baik because they didn’t have a “family section,” which is a segregated section of the restaurant for women and families. As a single woman, she was not allowed to walk on the streets of Riyadh alone, and most of the restaurants in Riyadh were men-only, so she couldn’t join her male colleagues in those establishments either. She ate every meal in the hotel.
Flash forward a few years. I'm walking around the streets of Kuala Lumpur and what do I find? Al Baik! The chain has gone global and now the rest of the world, including women, can know the joy of this fried chicken.
The restaurant itself was pretty abysmal. A few Saudi families quietly dined on their homeland feasts. The bathrooms were appalling. There were only four items on the menu: 5-piece shrimp meal. 10-piece shrimp meal. 2-piece chicken meal. 4-piece chicken meal. At least that makes things easy. Once you order a meal all you need to do is request “original” or “spicy.” They were out of “original” chicken when we went, so that left “spicy.” Then you pick your drink. I chose Strawberry Mirinda. I got my meal to go since the thought of eating there depressed me.