Is Latin American cuisine the next big thing in Saudi Arabia?

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Empanadas are deep-fried, moon-shaped pastries filled with savory or sweet stuffing. (Shutterstock)
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Asado is a meat meat lover’s dream.
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Alfajores: These shortbread-like biscuits are filled with a layer of jam or mousse
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Dulce de leche is a sweet treat like no other.
Updated 04 September 2017
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Is Latin American cuisine the next big thing in Saudi Arabia?

DUBAI: While American restaurants are wildly-popular fixtures on the restaurant scene in both Jeddah and Riyadh, Latin American food has not quite caught on yet, despite the cuisine’s growing popularity around the world.
However, it seems that things are changing as diners in the country widen their palates in line with global tastes.
Chef de cuisine at Jeddah’s Pampas restaurant, the country’s first Argentinian restaurant, which was recently reviewed by Arab News, shares his take on the trend.
“Latin American food is evolving in Saudi Arabia and I think at Pampas we are educating the audience about the cuisine and it will become more and more popular,” Lucas Adrian Farias told Arab News.
His own journey from Buenos Aires to Jeddah — via Dubai — may well be testament to this.
“I began my career in Buenos Aires, where I got the opportunity to work with the owner of the acclaimed restaurant ‘Olsen’,” he said. “I learned a lot from the brilliant Chef (Germán) Martitegui and he pushed me to join the best culinary institute in Argentina (the Instituto Argentino de Gastronomía).
“After this, I worked at ‘Sucre’ with a chef who was the consultant chef for the ‘Gaucho’ restaurant chain, which is where I learned about authentic and creative Argentinian cuisine.”
Following this, stints with the Sofitel Hotels & Resorts group in Buenos Aires and at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray on the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai led to him landing in Saudi Arabia, with a mandate to help diners “live the South American experience with all the senses.”
So, what exactly is this South American experience that seems to have taken the culinary world by storm across the globe? According to Farias, “Latin American cuisine has introduced the world to a whole new range of fresh ingredients and traditional cooking techniques. I think this, along with influence from global cuisines and modern adaptations of the traditional, is responsible for the current trend.”
This sentiment is echoed by some other notable Latin American chefs, such as Virgilio Martínez Véliz and Jaime Pesaque — both of whom have restaurants in Dubai — who have said as much in earlier conversations with me. According to Peruvian chef Pesaque, “our restaurants are like small embassies of our culture.”
Fellow Peruvian Martinez, whose restaurants hold Michelin stars and are rated among the world’s best, agrees. “When you go to a Latin American restaurant, you find a whole new world,” he said. “People want to catch a piece of that knowledge and culture. Just take Peru for example — people may know the ingredients, but even we don’t know how many different cultures we have within the country. Every community has a different recipe for life.”
But despite all this regional diversity, the over-arching commonality in Latin American cuisines is a focus on ingredients, global influences that date back centuries and, of course, deliciousness.
“Latin American flavors are simple and rely on the quality of ingredients,” Farias explained. “Key elements have been gained from experiencing different cuisines. For instance, Argentinean cuisine has a big Mediterranean influence — from the ingredients to the social eating habits.”
Given the social style of eating that is intrinsic to Arab culture, combined with the evolving tastes of diners, the Latin American trend may well be here to stay.
“Jeddah seems to be becoming more cosmopolitan with food choice, I think this is due to tourist influence as well as the locals trying different cuisines,” Farias opined. “The Saudi traveler has experienced food from all over the world and we need to ensure that they are getting the same quality in their home country too.”
And speaking of home countries, one restaurant that Lucas would love to see opening in Saudi is upscale international Argentinian steakhouse chain, Gaucho — there is a popular outpost in Dubai — which does an excellent job of translating Argentinian culture on to the plate.
“I would like to see Gaucho in Saudi Arabia as it has a special place in my career and it is globally renowned,” he said.
His Argentinian roots are also evident in his personal dining preferences as his favorite restaurant in Jeddah is Turkish — another cuisine known for celebrating meat. Speaking like a true chef, he said, “I like Saraya Latif because I appreciate the freshness of the food and it is an example of good quality Turkish cuisine.”
As a chef who has encountered many cuisines and culinary styles throughout his career, his ethos is probably what sums up not only the essence of Argentinian cuisine best, but also the secret to successfully introducing new cuisines to diners: “I’m a chef who respects the quality of a product, mixed with traditional cooking skills and techniques.” So with that in mind, why not try some Latin American food?
Popular treats to try
Popular dishes across this large and diverse part of the world vary, but here are some of the top dishes from Latin America to try.
Asado
Argentina’s go-to dish is a meat lover’s paradise. Also known as parrillada, it consists of a variety of meats grilled over an open fire. Expect to savor succulent beef and lamb topped with chimichurri, a green salsa made of parsley, oregano, onion, pepper flakes, garlic and a spritz of lemon.
Empanadas
Thought to have been passed on by the Moors to the Spanish and then to the Argentineans, this satisfying snack is popular across Latin America. Empanadas are deep-fried, moon-shaped pastries filled with savory or sweet stuffing.
Alfajores
These shortbread-like biscuits are filled with a layer of jam or mousse and come courtesy of the Moors from the Arab world who introduced the sweet treats to Spain during their rule. The snacks were brought over to Latin American during Spain’s conquests.
Dulce de leche
A sweet treat like no other, dulce de leche loosely translates as “milk jam.” The thick caramel is made of condensed milk, reduced and sweetened until it is gloriously thick and sticky.


Gaming addiction classified as mental health disorder by WHO

Updated 3 min 31 sec ago
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Gaming addiction classified as mental health disorder by WHO

  • Addiction to video games has been recognized by World Health Organization as a mental health disorder
  • The International Classification of Diseases now covers 55,000 injuries, diseases and causes of death

GENEVA: The World Health Organization says some obsessive video gamers may really have an addiction.
In its latest revision to a disease classification manual, the UN health agency said Monday that compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a mental health condition. The statement confirmed the fears of some parents but led critics to warn that it may risk stigmatizing too many young video players.
WHO said classifying “Gaming Disorder” as a separate condition will help governments, families and health care workers be more vigilant and prepared to identify the risks. The agency and other experts were quick to note that cases of the condition are still very rare, with no more than up to 3 percent of all gamers believed to be affected.
Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO’s department for mental health and substance abuse, said the agency accepted the proposal that Gaming Disorder should be listed as a new problem based on scientific evidence, in addition to “the need and the demand for treatment in many parts of the world.”
Dr. Joan Harvey, a spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society, warned that the new designation might cause unnecessary concern among parents.
“People need to understand this doesn’t mean every child who spends hours in their room playing games is an addict, otherwise medics are going to be flooded with requests for help,” she said.
Others welcomed WHO’s new classification, saying it was critical to identify people hooked on video games quickly because they are usually teenagers or young adults who don’t seek help themselves.
“We come across parents who are distraught, not only because they’re seeing their child drop out of school, but because they’re seeing an entire family structure fall apart,” said Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a spokeswoman for behavioral addictions at Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists. She was not connected to WHO’s decision.
Bowden-Jones said gaming addictions were usually best treated with psychological therapies but that some medicines might also work.
The American Psychiatric Association has not yet deemed Gaming Disorder to be a new mental health problem. In a 2013 statement, the association said it’s “a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion” in its own diagnostic manual.
The group noted that much of the scientific literature about compulsive gamers is based on evidence from young men in Asia.
“The studies suggest that when these individuals are engrossed in Internet games, certain pathways in their brains are triggered in the same direct and intense way that a drug addict’s brain is affected by a particular substance,” the association said in that statement. “The gaming prompts a neurological response that influences feelings of pleasure and reward, and the result, in the extreme, is manifested as addictive behavior.”
Dr. Mark Griffiths, who has been researching the concept of video gaming disorder for 30 years, said the new classification would help legitimize the problem and strengthen treatment strategies.
“Video gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view,” said Griffiths, a distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “Gamblers use money as a way of keeping score whereas gamers use points.”
He guessed that the percentage of video game players with a compulsive problem was likely to be extremely small — much less than 1 percent — and that many such people would likely have other underlying problems, like depression, bipolar disorder or autism.
WHO’s Saxena, however, estimated that two to three percent of gamers might be affected.
Griffiths said playing video games, for the vast majority of people, is more about entertainment and novelty, citing the overwhelming popularity of games like “Pokemon Go.”
“You have these short, obsessive bursts and yes, people are playing a lot, but it’s not an addiction,” he said.
Saxena said parents and friends of video game enthusiasts should still be mindful of a potentially harmful problem.
“Be on the lookout,” he said, noting that concerns should be raised if the gaming habit appears to be taking over.
“If (video games) are interfering with the expected functions of the person — whether it is studies, whether it’s socialization, whether it’s work — then you need to be cautious and perhaps seek help,” he said.