Armenian cuisine at Saudi Arabia’s Lusin restaurant eclipses the competition
Armenian cuisine at Saudi Arabia’s Lusin restaurant eclipses the competition
When lavash, the unleavened flatbread, made it on to UNESCO’s list as an “expression of Armenian culture,” protesters in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan asserted that lavash does not originate or belong solely to Armenia. Similarly, did the lamadjo originate in Armenia, or do the Turkish make the most authentic lahmacun?
As the debate continues between Armenians and the Turks or the Azerbaijanis, one thing is for sure: Saudis cannot get enough of Armenian cuisine and its assimilation into Levantine cooking. Reputedly the first Armenian restaurant in Saudi Arabia, Lusin — with three branches in the country; Riyadh, Jeddah and now Alkhobar — bears testament to that popularity.
When owners Mira Foods Company found Saudi tourists frequenting Armenian restaurants in Jordan and Lebanon, they decided to bring Armenian fine dining to Saudi Arabia in 2009. Lusin, the Armenian word for “moon,” is a product of transporting the culture and cuisine of Armenia to Saudi Arabia.
Lusin’s restaurants can best be described as present-day Armenian, with modern elements like sleek light fixtures and a modish ambience coexisting alongside a rich heritage. The walls are tiled with the pink tuff stone found in the Yerevan region of Armenia. It is a peculiar shade of pink that is reminiscent of the Pink City, but it gives the interior the feel of an upscale restaurant.
Common in California, New York and Paris, Armenian food is now gaining traction in London and the Arab world. Typical to Armenian cuisine is the use of fresh and seasonal produce like pomegranates, apricots, prunes, apples, pears, grapes, eggplants, pumpkins, walnuts, pine nuts, herbs, and also cracked wheat, meat, and dairy products.
Developed by Armenian culinary expert and author Anahid Doniguian, the menu at Lusin is as close to Armenian heritage as you can get. To start our fine dining experience, freshly baked lavash bread was served with a creamy walnut dip. Soon after, we were given a rich pumpkin soup and crisp, fiery potatoes.
The authentic itch is a piquant red salad made with bulgur wheat, parsley and tomato sauce, which makes it a tantalizing treat for the taste buds. Departing from the usual dolma, try the yalanji grape leaves, stuffed leaves served with fermented matzoon yogurt.
Not to be missed are Lusin’s signature eggplant rolls: Chargrilled eggplant slices rolled and stuffed with a cream and walnut paste and pomegranate seeds, lending it a tangy flavor that complements the velvety texture and smoky flavor of the eggplant.
Moving on to the hot entrees, we tried the Lusin kibbeh, made of bulgur and meat and garnished with pine nuts and pomegranate molasses. The sujuc rolls — dried beef sausage baked into soft dough — are like nothing you will have tasted before.
“As Armenian winters are hard, natives are known to prepare food during the summer and store it in pots or in the cellar to survive the winter. It is said that Armenians can throw a winter wedding banquet without having to visit a supermarket,” Doniguian explains.
From the mains, we tried the house favorite, cherry kebab — spiced kebab served with a cherry puree — which makes for an interesting mix of sweet and sour flavors. However, the star of the evening was the gapama. “The traditional Armenian gapama is a wedding dish, usually presented to the newlyweds by a group of young boys and girls in a dance,” Doniguian says.
Here, in an elaborate process, a pumpkin is stuffed with rice, meat, herbs and nuts, and baked in a tanour for four hours. The result is a succulent pumpkin, sliced to reveal a hearty rice and meat dish soaked with juices from the sweet pumpkin.
For dessert, we tried the rose ice-cream topped with cotton candy and the traditional Armenian maamoul stuffed with cheese, cardamom and nuts, and doused with sugar syrup. In between sinful bites of the maamoul, we were sure to sip from shots of orange blossom tea.
Lusin promises to be a fine-dining experience, but it offers much more: Authentic Armenian food, a cultural experience and, most importantly, a glimpse of the renowned Armenian hospitality.
The director of the world’s largest bird of prey hospital opens the casebook on the 10,000 raptors she treats each year
- The price of a falcon depends on its breed and gender, as females are more prized because they are bigger and better for hunting
- There are falcons that are considered to be very special and beautiful
DUBAI: As the national bird of Saudi Arabia, the falcon is both a symbolic marker of the country’s culture and tradition and a treasured pet to many of its residents — and it is the job of one Abu Dhabi avian expert to tender to hundreds of injured birds of prey flown in from the Kingdom each year.
On any given week, about 10 injured birds are transported from Saudi Arabia — many by private plane — to be treated by the expert hands of Dr. Margit Muller, executive director of Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, the world’s first hospital dedicated to the falcon.
An expert in the specialized field of avian medicine, Dr. Muller’s extensive knowledge means she is in constant demand to treat injured falcons from all over the world. She treats about 10,000 birds of prey annually, of which at least 500 — predominately the Saker falcon, the largest species of falcon — are from Saudi Arabia.
“Due to our international reputation as the largest falcon hospital in the world, our very advanced treatment methods and the latest technical equipment, every year we receive more and more falcons from Saudi Arabia for examination and treatment,” said the German-born avian expert.
“Most of the falcons that we received from Saudi Arabia are Saker falcons as they are the favorite hunting falcons in Saudi Arabia. Most travel by car or private plane. For a sick falcon, it is faster to come to us by plane than by car, which reduces delays until the treatment.”
Many Saudi Arabian owners are often distressed as they consider the falcon an integral “part of the family,” explained Dr. Muller.
“The vast majority of falcon owners consider and treat their birds like their own sons and daughters,” she said. “Their falcons occupy a special place in their homes — and even in their cars.”
“Therefore, the falcon owners are very much emotionally attached to their birds, as they really love them very much. Here at Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital we often experience very distressed owners whose falcon has come in with an accident. They wait in our reception area until the emergency surgery is finished, even during night hours, just to see their falcon waking up again.
Only then they are relieved enough to go home again. ”Moreover, falconers bring their birds to Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital even when they notice the slightest problem — like sneezing or vomiting — because they are extremely concerned and worried about their beloved falcons.”
They are also a valuable asset. Dr. Muller estimates that the average value of a falcon can range anywhere from SR20,000 ($5,300) to SR50,000.
“The price of a falcon depends on its breed and gender, as females are more prized because they are bigger and better for hunting, as well as being more beautiful,” she explained. “Moreover, in captive-bred falcons, the breeder’s reputation also plays a role in the price of the falcon.
“However, there are falcons that are considered to be very special and beautiful. They may cost more than SR100,000.”
Dr. Muller, who fell in love with falcons when she was training to be a vet and took a two-month internship in Dubai before obtaining a doctorate in veterinary medicine, said there is now about a 20 per cent increase year-on-year in the number of birds passing through Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital.
Every day she will treat dozens of feathered patients with differing injuries or illness.
“In Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, we have treated many different kinds of injures,” she said. “Some of the cases that are being treated are falcons that have encountered major accidents, such as being hit by a car, have leg fractures, or are suffering from a bacterial and viral infection or a bleeding nose. They may be showing symptoms of being very weak, tired and emaciated, or are suffering from Aspergillosis (a fungal disease that affects the lung and leads to major breathing difficulties and loss of flight performance, and is potentially fatal).”
Dr. Muller said that her first step when interacting with a new patient is to examine the falcon to establish the correct diagnosis and treatment plan.
“Care and medical rehabilitation for falcons will depend on the bird’s medical condition, and ranges from normal hospitalization in our hospital wards, up to stays in our ICU for critically ill falcons,” she explained.
“They require 24-hour special care as well as specifically designed treatment protocols and special feeding programs.”
“In the case of bacterial upper respiratory tract infections, the falcon should be under medical care for one week. However, an injured falcon requiring surgical repair for a broken leg or wing should be under medical care for a month.”
Falcons who moult — the cyclic replacement of feathers by shedding old ones, while producing new ones in their place — usually stay for a minimum of six months.
“Here at Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, we have a very scientific moulting facility and it is really a big hit for falcons during moulting season,” she said. “Therefore, every year we receive more and more falcons from Saudi Arabia as their owners would like their falcons to stay in a professional and caring place during the moulting time.”
Dr. Muller, who concentrated her thesis on foot disease in falcons and also has a diploma in veterinary homeopathy, became director of the ADFH in 2001.
“I always found falcons highly interesting and fascinating,” she said, with a smile. “When I came into contact with falcons during my veterinary medicine studies, I was so immediately attracted to them. The look in falcons’ eyes is like magic.”
After deciding to be a falcon specialist, Dr. Muller went on to share her experience with other veterinarians and falcon rehabilitation experts throughout the world by publishing her book “Practical Handbook of Falcon Husbandry and Medicine.”
Every day is a new challenge, she explains, but her work — which has earned international recognition — is something she says she is thankful for every day.
“There are always special cases of falcons, especially those which are very hard to treat, such as major accidents and fractures. The harder the case and the more the falcons suffer from an injury or disease, the more likely I get attached to them.
“It is beyond words to describe how much the falcons fight for their survival and how much they communicate their need of help through their eyes.
“The moment I look into their big black eyes, I am immediately attached to them and try my very best to help them as much as I can to save their life.
“It is what I feel I am here for.”