Armenian cuisine at Saudi Arabia’s Lusin restaurant eclipses the competition

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In an elaborate process, a pumpkin is stuffed with rice, meat, herbs and nuts and baked in a tanour for four hours. (Photo supplied)
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Lusin's kibbeh are delicious and unique.
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Chargrilled eggplant slices rolled and stuffed with a cream and walnut paste.
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Rose flavored ice-cream topped with cotton candy.
Updated 19 February 2018
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Armenian cuisine at Saudi Arabia’s Lusin restaurant eclipses the competition

DAMMAM: In recent years, Turkey and Armenia have been locked in a culinary squabble over who “owns” what. UNESCO’s 2011 decision to declare keskek — a ceremonial wheat and meat porridge — an intangible cultural heritage of Turkey has angered the Armenians. They claim keskek is, in fact, their centuries-old porridge known as harissa.
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.


Russia backs OPEC oil output hike

Updated 28 min 12 sec ago
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Russia backs OPEC oil output hike

  • Saudi Arabia, supported by Russia, was strongly in favor of pumping more oil to allay fears of a supply crunch and ease concerns about the high prices
  • ussia on Saturday joined an OPEC-led pledge to boost oil production in response to growing global demand

VIENNA: Russia on Saturday joined an OPEC-led pledge to boost oil production in response to growing global demand, capping a week of tense diplomacy for the grouping that averted a damaging rift between arch foes Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Speaking after a meeting in Vienna, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said the agreement would give the OPEC and non-OPEC countries cooperating in a landmark supply-cut pact the necessary “flexibility” to prevent the market overheating.
The non-cartel countries in the so-called OPEC+ alliance were widely expected to give their backing after ministers from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries already agreed on Friday to boost output from July.
“We came to the conclusion that what was needed was about a million barrels of additional production,” Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih told a press conference.
The proposal is the result of a compromise hammered out in days of fractious talks in Vienna dominated by Iran’s resistance to easing an 18-month-old supply-cut deal credited with lifting oil prices to multi-year highs.
Saudi Arabia, supported by Russia, was strongly in favor of pumping more oil to allay fears of a supply crunch and ease concerns about the high prices in major consumer countries like the United States, China and India.
But Iran, bracing for the impact of fresh US sanctions on its oil exports, fiercely objected to raising output targets, as did countries like crisis-hit Venezuela and Iraq who are unable to raise output in the near term.
But in the end, a vaguely-worded statement that made no mention of the one-million figure allowed all sides to save face.
Ministers also acknowledged that production problems in some countries meant the real number of extra barrels coming to the market would be several hundred thousand less.
Markets were disappointed with the modest output hike, sending crude prices soaring on Friday.
Brent crude added $2.50 to finish at $75.55 a barrel, while the US benchmark West Texas Intermediate gained $3.04 at $68.58 per barrel.
The supply-cut pact clinched in late 2016 between 24 OPEC and non-cartel members, which is set to run until the end of the year, called on participants to trim output by 1.8 million barrels a day.
But production constraints and geopolitical factors have seen several nations exceed their restriction quotas, keeping some 2.8 million barrels off the market, according to OPEC.
By now agreeing to collectively raise output by a million barrels, countries are simply committing to comply fully with the original pact — allowing the bloc to increase supply without unwinding the deal.
But the joint communique did not spell out how the new barrels would be divvied up, a key issue given Iran’s insistence that cartel members should not to be allowed to offset other members’ involuntary production losses.
Grilled by reporters, Saudi’s Falih said a technical committee would work out the details but that the aim was not to be “overly strict” about exact allocations per country.
“We as Saudi Arabia obviously can deliver as much as the market would need but we are going to be respectful of the one-million barrel cap,” he said.
Russia, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are among the few countries that can realistically ramp up production immediately.
Iran is bracing for production shortfalls because of renewed sanctions following US President’s Donald Trump’s decision to quit the international nuclear deal.
In Venezuela, an economic and political crisis has savaged petroleum production while fighting between rival factions has damaged key oil infrastructure in Libya.
Geopolitical tensions loomed large over this week’s meetings in the Austrian capital, and US President Donald Trump was the elephant in the room.
Trump has repeatedly lashed out at OPEC on Twitter in recent months, piling pressure on key ally Riyadh to boost output as he hopes for lower pump prices before US voters go to the polls for mid-term elections in November.
The US leader weighed in again on Friday, tweeting: “Hope OPEC will increase output substantially. Need to keep prices down!“
Iran’s Zanganeh accused Trump of trying to politicize OPEC and said it was US sanctions on Iran and Venezuela that had helped push up oil prices.
Asked whether Trump had influenced discussions, Novak replied: “Twitter is not one of the instruments that we base our decisions on.”
Novak also brought Russia’s football fever to Vienna, presenting a stuffed animal version of the World Cup’s wolf mascot to OPEC secretary general Mohammad Barkindo from Nigeria, whose country last night beat Iceland 2-0.