Kuwait (from the Arabic for a ‘fortress built near water’) is an Arab state on the northwest shore of the Persian Gulf, and is bordered by Iraq to the north and Saudi Arabia to the south. Covering an area of almost 7,000 square miles (nearly 18,000 sq. km.), Kuwait has a population of approximately 3.5 million people.
Kuwait’s geography is characterized by desert that is practically flat. Summer is extremely hot, while winter is cool but short-lived. The abundance of sand leads to sandstorms, mainly in spring and summer. Kuwait City is a busy metropolis landscaped with skyscrapers, luxury hotels, mosques, parks and museums, although many of the artifacts in museums were damaged during the Iraqi war.
Arabic is Kuwait’s official language, with people speaking the local sub-dialect, Kuwaiti Arabic. Nevertheless, English (taught as a second language in school) is widely understood and often used for business.
Kuwait is the world’s 15th richest economy by GDP (nominal) per capita. Before oil was discovered in the late 1930s, pearl-fishing was a major part of the country’s economy, declining once pearl-farming emerged from Japan. Once Kuwait gained independence from the UK in 1961, however, oil underwent formidable growth, with oil and petroleum products now responsible for almost 95% of revenues from exports. Key exports include motor vehicles, machinery, medical Instruments and various chemicals.
Gastronomically, foods from all from all over the world are found in Kuwait, particularly those from other Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, such that Kuwait has become a melting pot of foods typically found around the Arabian Peninsula and the Mediterranean, as well as in India, with Iranian and Lebanese foods widely found. Ever since spices were transported between India and Europe, spices have played a crucial role in the spice trade between India and Europe and spices have remained an important ingredient of Kuwaiti cuisine of Kuwait. Seafood is a centuries-old staple of the national diet, while many dishes are heavily influenced by Arab and South Asian cuisine. Typical Kuwaiti dishes include Machboos, a national dish consisting of mutton, chicken or fish served with a large portion of rice cooked in broth and garnished with nuts and raisins.
An essential experience for anyone visiting Kuwait is the ‘Shisha’, which is smoked in cafes.
Kuwaiti cuisine has become a melting pot for foods of the Arabian Peninsula, India, Persia, and the Mediterranean, provides a wonderful way to taste the world. Machboos, for example, is the national dish of Kuwait and consists of chicken or lamb served on top a bed of lightly seasoned rice that was cooked in the broth of the meat and garnished with nuts and raisins. A typical cake is Gers Ogaily, which is flavored with cardamom and saffron.
Kuwait’s culture has also been heavily influenced by Islamic and Arab culture, which is reflected in its customs, art, music, architecture and traditional costume. The family is extremely important within Kuwaiti society, with folk music and traditional dances playing an important role in celebrations and community activities.
Kuwait, together with Bahrain, is known for a blues-based genre of music known as ‘sawt’. Lutes, drums, the oud (a string instrument) and the bagpipe are frequent components of Kuwaiti music, which most recently has been influenced by European pop genres and even techno, partly due to the introduction of satellite TV. Several Kuwaiti pop bands have become popular in other Arab states and even among non-Arab cultures.
Islamic culture has had a huge influence on Kuwait’s architecture, with the most significant landmark, Kuwait Towers (designed by Swedes and built by Yugoslavs), combining both Arab culture and modern design.