Sustainable, Local and Socially Beneficial

In the heart of AlUla, a succulent orange bursting with flavour is carefully picked by a farmer from one of the oasis's 200,000 citrus trees. Its brief journey from tree to a nearby café, where it is squeezed to sate the thirst of passers-by, epitomises the oasis-to-table ethos, a concept enthusiastically supported in AlUla by chefs, farmers, and visitors alike.

It all began centuries ago, thanks to the ingenious agricultural techniques initiated by the Nabataean kingdom; among their many achievements, the way they harnessed and managed water stands out, especially given the region's challenging desert climate. Through qanats (underground channels) and wells, the Nabataeans developed a network that could sustain the oasis, ensuring a consistent water supply even in periods of drought. In doing so, these ancient desert architects not only transformed AlUla into a verdant oasis through adept water management but also established the groundwork for a rich and sustainable food culture.

AlUla's agricultural heritage also serves as a vibrant testament to the Incense Road's bustling trade, where native ingredients and exotic spices once journeyed across continents. As a key hub on this historic route, merchants gathered in AlUla to trade a range of goods, including sought-after spices like black pepper, dubbed ‘black gold’ for its sheer value. This vibrant exchange enriched AlUla's culinary palette, introducing a fusion of flavours that contin ue to inspire its cuisine.

Today, AlUla’s fertile oasis fields enable local restaurants to adopt a sustainable culinary approach that emphasises locally sourced ingredients, ensuring each dish is fresh and delectable while honouring the profound bond between the land and its bounty. Currently, AlUla’s soil supports a variety of crops and over 2.3 million date palms, yielding an impressive 90,000 tons of dates annually. The diversity of citrus trees, including the ancient Torounge, and the Moringa Peregrina tree, with its coveted oil, highlight the oasis's agricultural richness.

One spot where the oasis-to-table approach is thriving is Tawlat Fayza. Set in a restored mudbrick building with rooftop views overlooking the oasis, Tawlat Fayza revives Arabic recipes passed down by restaurant owner’s grandmother, Fayza. Using produce grown nearby maintains the connection between the soil and the plate and imbues each dish with an authenticity and a warmth that comes from the family kitchen, creating a flavour tapestry that spans generations.

Far from the grandmother’s table sits Alain Ducasse, one of the most respected and acclaimed chefs in the world. The culinary icon is lending his considerable support to the concept of oasis-to-table eating by opening a restaurant at AlUla that relies on local ingredients. Ducasse was impressed when he visited AlUla Oasis and saw the produce being grown, especially dates, green vegetables and citrus fruits. The legendary Frenchman with 20 Michelin stars to his name has opened Ducasse, a pop-up restaurant at Jabal Ikmah. Along with the rich harvest of local farms, Ducasse was also pleased to see agricultural training programmes in place that will help farmers supply AlUla’s burgeoning restaurant community with fresh produce.

Elsewhere, the Slow Food movement has also been involved with AlUla’s oasis-to-table approach. Chef Giovanna De Vincentis, a Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance member, hosted an Italian dinner at the Heart of the Oasis restaurant, celebrating locally sourced, ethically produced, and environmentally sustainable ingredients. Silvia Barbone of the Royal Commission for AlUla’s Partnerships said, “AlUla’s long-term goal of establishing, cultivating, and celebrating a food scene that promotes great local produce and encourages our community to support local farms, suppliers, and restaurants shares a lot in common with the goals of Italy’s Slow Food Movement.”

With even a single orange, AlUla’s farmers and chefs perpetuate the legacy of the pioneers who cultivated this land into a bountiful oasis. Each meal in AlUla pays homage to the civilisations that shaped this soil, merging ancient flavours with modern techniques to create dishes that delight the contemporary palate.