Ziryab Restaurant: Celebrating a 7th-century musician, food connoisseur

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Lebanese chef Fadi said the Mediterranean quinoa salad is quite popular.
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The mashawi mushakal (assortment of grilled meats) is a customer favourite, according to chef Fadi.
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An in-house specialty: Fish baked in a coat of rock salt and lemon mustard sauce.
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The Ziryab Restaurant in Alkhobar celebrates the 7th-century revolutionary food connoisseur, Ziryab.
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Popular dessert options include panacotta with pomegranate coulis and chocolate ball with ice-cream and chocolate sauce.
Updated 21 April 2017

Ziryab Restaurant: Celebrating a 7th-century musician, food connoisseur

Abul Hasan Ali bin Nafi, better known as Ziryab, was a 7th-century oud player, entertainer and gastronome. He has gone down in Arab history as the man who changed the lifestyle of the royal court of Cordoba, Al-Andalus, in present-day Spain.
As the originator of the “fifth string” in the oud and inventor of the “three-course meal,” Ziryab is known to have introduced several revolutionary changes in music, fashion, dining and grooming. Before Ziryab, the prevalent Byzantine custom in Spain was to pile different types of food on bare, wooden tables. Everything was consumed together.
Ziryab revolutionized the art of dining and table setting by declaring that palace dinners be served in a sequence, starting with the lighter broths or soups, moving on to meats, and finishing with bowls of nuts, fruits and desserts, a precursor to the three-course meal that we know today. According to Robert W. Lebling’s "Cities of Light," the English expression “from soup to nuts,” can be traced back to Ziryab’s Andalusian table.
Having created several innovative dishes, he has to his credit modern-day versions of taqliyat Ziryab (a white bean stew), zalabia (sweet fritters) and ziriabi (a fried dough and meatball dish). The Ziryab restaurant in Alkhobar is a celebration of this revolutionary food connoisseur.
The restaurant marries elements of Arab and Andalusian culture to create a unique dine-in experience. Iraqi chandeliers, paintings and ceramics are a reflection of Ziryab’s origins and an oud on a pedestal signifies his connection to music.
Following Ziryab’s idea of a three-course meal, we first tried the lentil soup and bite-sized olive bread with sour cream. The dynamite shrimp (a popular choice) is a dish of fried shrimp tossed in a spicy mustard sauce. The soup of the day and dynamite shrimp are priced at SR19 and SR35 respectively.
Tajin Samak, a cold appetizer, is a Mediterranean staple fish smothered in sesame paste and spice, priced at SR27. Lebanese chef Fadi said the Mediterranean quinoa salad is a favorite with customers; the dish made from quinoa, avocado, lemon mustard sauce, mango and haloumi cheese always has them asking for more. The Mediterranean salad is priced at SR38. Other popular options include tapas and kibbeh sajieh (kibbeh with walnut and pomegranate molasses).
The main menu is extensive, and largely comprises fresh, organic and locally-sourced produce. It has options for everyone — burgers, pasta, seafood and steak. To experience food like that in the palaces of Andalus, we opted for oriental rice with lamb, which is accompanied by a gravy. The lamb and meat dish is priced at SR68.
Other dishes inspired by Ziryab are the salt-baked fish (an in-house specialty, with fish baked in a coat of rock salt and lemon mustard sauce), classic Spanish paella (seafood with rice and spices), chicken Ziryab (chicken breast stuffed with basil and nuts), and the mashawi mushakal (assortment of grilled meats) ranging from SR68 to SR120.
Popular dessert options include panacotta with pomegranate coulis, sizzling brownie with homemade ice-cream, chocolate lava cake and chocolate ball with ice-cream and chocolate sauce. The dessert menu ranges from SR25 to SR30. The restaurant offers an innovative beverage menu with mocktails, milkshakes and hot drinks ranging in price from SR12 to SR30.

Ramadan recipes: My Egyptian grandmother’s old school kunafa

Updated 27 May 2018

Ramadan recipes: My Egyptian grandmother’s old school kunafa

CAIRO: Believed to have originated in the Levant, kunafa is said to have been introduced to what is now known as Egypt during the era of the Fatimids.

However, if you spent any time at all in my grandmother’s household, you would think that she herself invented the deliciously crunchy dessert, she is such an expert.

She often tells me of how, when growing up in Cairo, she would purchase the dough from a street-side man swirling the batter round and round on a drum-like furnace made of clay.

My generation has revamped the age-old favorite and a range of outlandish fillings — from mangoes, to Nutella and avocados — are now available across Egypt and the wider Middle East.

Ramadan is the perfect time to try this popular dessert and while it is easy as pie to pop to your local bakery, there is nothing quite like making it at home.

The original gangster of the kunafa world will always reign supreme, in my humble, well-fed opinion. So read on and give it a go for iftar today.


• Katafi (shredded phyllo dough).
• One-and-a-half cups of granulated sugar.
• One cup of water.
• One juiced lemon.
• One teaspoon of rose water.
• 1/3 cup of finely chopped pistachios.
• Ghee as needed.


Grease an oven dish with melted ghee then place the shredded katafi pastry in a bowl and mix it with ghee. You can cut the already shredded pastry further if needed.

Take the mixture and layer it into the greased pan by pressing lightly with your hand.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350F.

On the side, prepare the sugary syrup by adding one cup of water, the granulated sugar and lemon juice to a pan. Stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Let the liquid simmer until it reaches a syrupy consistency. Remove from the heat, let it cool and add the rosewater (or even a few drops of vanilla essence).

Let the shredded pastry cool and drizzle over with the syrup, before you add a sprinkling of the finely chopped pistachios.

If you're looking for something a little different, bear in mind that Ramadan is kunafa season in Egypt and every year, the shredded wheat dessert gets tens of creative makeovers as bakers across the country — and indeed across the Middle East —buck tradition with their innovative fillings.

Why not try one of these delicious variants of the kunafa?


When Ramadan began coinciding with the summer season, mango kunafa emerged as a tradition-breaker. The sweet fruit became a popular filling, replacing longtime favorites, such as nuts, cheese and cream. It combines spun-shredded wheat with whipped cream in a dish that is topped with chopped mangoes. 


This recipe proved irresistible to many when it first caused a storm on social media. The kunafa is filled with hazelnut chocolate filling and is served in various forms, such as chocolate kunafa cones or the molten volcano kunafa. Some bakers even add a layer of peanut butter on top to seal the deal.

Red velvet

This type of kunafa emerged during the recent red velvet craze that swept Egypt.  The creation combines a layer of red velvet cake with shredded wheat and whipped cream.   


This one’s sure to please avocado-loving millennials. Last year, a small bakery in Egypt became the talk of the town when it began using avocado as a kunafa filling. It may not be as popular as various other fillings, but it definitely got tongues wagging.


Oreo cookies are being used to update the humble kunafa this year. Delectably crunchy Lotus biscuits are also being used to create achingly sweet kunafa treats.


Yes, you read that right! Another seasonal fruit has just joined the club. It remains unclear if the trend will endure, however, as the idea of combining watermelon with shredded wheat is quite unusual. It is ideal for the soaring temperatures this summer, but will it win over dessert lovers? Only time, and empty plates, will tell.