Machboos: All about Kuwait’s National Dish

Last updated on October 6th, 2023 at 02:38 pm

Machboos, the national dish of Kuwait, is a culinary delight that has captured the hearts of many. This flavorful rice-based dish, often compared to biryani or pilaf, is a staple in Kuwaiti households and an integral part of their rich cultural heritage.

Our team at Remitly created this guide as part of our series that celebrates the traditional foods of our global customers.

The History of Machboos in Kuwait

The origins of Machboos trace back to the Bedouin tribes who roamed the Arabian Peninsula. These nomadic people needed hearty meals that could be prepared over an open fire. Thus, Machboos was born—a simple yet satisfying dish made from readily available ingredients like rice, meat, and spices.

Over time, as trade routes expanded and new ingredients became accessible, Machboos evolved into the complex and aromatic dish we know today. It’s not just food; it’s a testament to Kuwait’s history and its enduring spirit.

Ingredients Used in Traditional Machboos

A traditional Machboos recipe calls for long-grain rice—usually basmati—cooked with a variety of spices such as turmeric, coriander, black lime (loomi), and bay leaves. The choice of meat varies but can include chicken, lamb or fish.

What sets Machboos apart is the use of Bzar spice mix—a unique blend often containing cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper among others—and dried black limes which lend a distinct tangy flavor to the dish. Fresh vegetables like tomatoes and onions are also used along with generous amounts of ghee for richness.

The Cooking Process of Machboos

Cooking Machboos involves several steps that require patience but yield rewarding results. First off is preparing the meat by marinating it with spices before browning it in ghee. Onions are then sautéed until golden brown followed by tomatoes cooked down into a thick sauce.

The meat returns to this mixture along with water to simmer until tender while the rice is soaked and drained. The final step involves layering the rice over the meat and cooking it all together until the flavors meld beautifully. It’s a labor of love that results in a dish bursting with flavor.

Variations of Machboos Across Kuwait

While there’s a standard recipe for Machboos, variations exist across Kuwait reflecting regional preferences and available ingredients. Some versions might use different types of meat or fish, while others may include additional vegetables like bell peppers or potatoes.

In coastal areas, seafood Machboos is popular, using fresh catch from the Arabian Gulf. Regardless of these variations, the essence of Machboos—its aromatic spices and hearty nature—remains consistent throughout.

How is Machboos Served?

Machboos is typically served family-style in large platters meant for sharing. The fragrant rice forms a bed for the tender meat which is often garnished with fried onions or raisins. A side salad called Daqqus—a spicy tomato sauce—is usually served alongside to complement the rich flavors of the dish.

Eating Machboos isn’t just about nourishment; it’s an experience that brings people together, fostering a sense of community and shared heritage.

Occasions for Serving Machboos

Machboos isn’t reserved for special occasions—it’s enjoyed regularly by Kuwaitis as part of their daily meals. However, its presence becomes more pronounced during festivities such as Eid al-Fitr or national holidays when families gather to share this beloved dish.

It’s also common to serve Machboos at large gatherings or events as it can be easily scaled up to feed a crowd without compromising on taste or quality.

Influence of Machboos on Other Cuisines

The popularity of Machboos extends beyond Kuwaiti borders influencing other cuisines in the region. Similar dishes can be found in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and UAE where they’re enjoyed with equal fervor.

Despite these influences, each country has its unique take on the dish, reflecting their culinary traditions and local ingredients. Yet, the essence of Machboos—its comforting warmth and rich flavors—remains universally appreciated.

Personal Experiences with Machboos

Machboos is more than just a meal—it’s an experience that evokes memories and emotions. Whether it’s the anticipation of watching the rice steam or the satisfaction of sharing a hearty meal with loved ones, every encounter with Machboos is unique.

For many, it’s a taste of home—a reminder of family gatherings and festive celebrations. For others, it’s an exploration of new flavors—an introduction to Kuwaiti culture through its most beloved dish. Regardless of personal experiences, one thing remains certain: once you’ve tried Machboos, it leaves an indelible mark on your culinary journey.

Recipe for Traditional Kuwaiti Machboos

Machboos is a dish that requires time and patience, but the end result is worth every minute. Here’s a simple recipe to help you recreate this Kuwaiti favorite at home.


  • 2 cups of basmati rice
  • 1 kg of chicken, lamb or fish
  • 3 tablespoons of ghee
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Bzar spice mix
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 dried black limes (loomi)
  • A handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
  • Water as needed


  1. Rinse the rice under cold water until the water runs clear. Soak it in warm water for about half an hour then drain.
  2. In a large pot, heat the ghee over medium heat. Add the meat and brown on all sides. Remove from pot and set aside.
  3. In the same pot, add onions and sauté until golden brown. Add garlic and cook for another minute.
  4. Stir in tomatoes along with Bzar spice mix, turmeric powder and salt. Cook until tomatoes are soft and spices are well blended.
  5. Return the meat to the pot along with dried black limes and enough water to cover everything by an inch or two.
  6. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover the pot and let it simmer until meat is tender—about an hour for chicken or fish; longer for lamb.
  7. Once meat is cooked through, remove it from the pot leaving behind the broth.
  8. Add drained rice into this broth along with chopped coriander leaves; stir gently ensuring all grains are submerged in liquid.
  9. Cover again and let it cook on low heat until rice is tender and all liquid has been absorbed—about 20 minutes.
  10. Arrange the cooked meat over the rice, cover and let it sit for another 10 minutes before serving.

The Broader Cuisine of Kuwait

Kuwaiti cuisine is a reflection of its rich cultural heritage—a blend of Bedouin traditions, Persian influences, and Indian flavors. It’s characterized by hearty dishes made from locally sourced ingredients like fish, rice, and dates.

Popular Dishes in Kuwaiti Cuisine

Beyond Machboos, there are several other dishes that form an integral part of Kuwaiti cuisine. Harees is a popular dish during Ramadan—a creamy wheat porridge often served with sugar or cinnamon. Mutabbaq samak is a spiced fish stew while Majboos diay is a chicken pilaf similar to Machboos but with different spices.

Desserts too play a significant role in Kuwaiti cuisine with favorites like Luqaimat—deep-fried dough balls drizzled with date syrup—and Halwa—a sweet jelly-like dessert made from starch, sugar and rose water.

Influence of Trade Routes on Kuwaiti Cuisine

Kuwait’s strategic location along ancient trade routes has greatly influenced its culinary landscape. Spices from India, rice from Persia, coffee from Yemen—all found their way into Kuwaiti kitchens shaping the flavors we associate with this cuisine today.

Despite these influences, Kuwaiti cuisine retains its distinct identity—one that celebrates simplicity without compromising on flavor or richness. Whether it’s the comforting warmth of Machboos or the sweet indulgence of Halwa, every dish tells a story about Kuwait’s history and its people’s love for good food.

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