JEDDAH: Italian Cuisine Week returned to Jeddah for the third time, running from Nov. 19 to 25.
The theme this year is the Mediterranean diet. This is characterized by consumption of a huge number of vegetable and olive oil and moderate consumption of protein. A Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease and the prevention of cholesterol buildup, as Italian Prof. Luca Piretti explained in his presentation at Jeddah’s Assila Hotel.
Italian Consul General Elisabetta Martini welcomed the guests at the Assila’s Pampas Restaurant, which had been decorated to resemble a grand Italian gala.
She said: “Italian Cuisine Week is a worldwide event which began after the Food Expo in Milan in 2015, dedicated to food and sustainability.” In order to enrich the program this year, Martini said they added another important voice to share their expertise on Italy as a whole and the food industry.
Luca Ferrari, the Italian ambassador in Riyadh, was present in support of the international event.
“I’m very glad to inaugurate Italian Cuisine Week in Jeddah. This year, we are trying to focus not only on food and cuisine, as Italian food is already rather famous in Saudi Arabia,” said the ambassador.
“What we wanted to focus on is food as a way of life, culinary culture and food as a necessity to enjoy a better life,” he said.
“Saudi Arabia, like Italy, has problems related to excessive eating and obesity, and we wanted to illustrate how the Mediterranean diet tries to solve these problems.”
Prof. Piretti started his talk lightly saying: “Every time I have to talk about food before eating, people look at me with frightened expressions because they think I will ruin their meal, so I’ll try to be very kind, and not over-dramatically cruel with you.”
An expert on nutrition and gastroenterology, the professor explained in detail the Mediterranean diet and its importance. He described the Mediterranean food chain as a pyramid with its basis being vegetables, fruits and cereals which can be consumed in high portions. After that comes almonds, nuts, legumes, garlic and onion. Then you get to milk, cheese and dairy products, and after that you come to fish and red meat. The top of the pyramid is sweets.
“This diet helps prevent obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer — it helps us understand that we don’t have to avoid anything, but in that pyramid construction.”
The professor later explained to Arab News that with the availability of food, at low cost, easy to preserve and cook, combined with our moving less, humankind’s intake of energy is more than the energy expended, which has led to weight gain and obesity.
“The Mediterranean module is to eat less and walk more, not only focusing on the quality of what we eat but also the amount,” he elaborated. “In this style of life, sweets are not abolished, they just need to be moderated.”
Angelo Troiani, a Michelin-star chef who owns two restaurants in Rome, prepared dishes inspired by the Mediterranean diet. He spoke very little English, but as servings of his dishes were swiftly placed in front of the attendees, his food spoke volumes.
Troiani served tender octopus cooked the Italian way with raspberries, spaghetti with pecorino cheese and mint, fish with artichokes and black truffles, and lastly, a mouthwatering crescent-shaped cheesecake with passion fruit ganache, almond crumble and Philadelphia cheese cream.
Italian Cuisine Week is a joint effort between the Italian Foreign Affairs and Agriculture Ministries and the Consulate General of Italy in Jeddah to promote and educate on the country’s culture, cuisine and lifestyle.
Explaining the reasons why the Mediterranean diet was chosen, Martini told Arab News: “In Saudi Arabia the amount of obesity and cardiovascular diseases is very high because of the lack of activities and also because of the habits related to the consumption of unhealthy food. We are here to help our Saudi friends promote a healthier lifestyle.”
She said: “This is a global event; the Italian minister organizes this worldwide in all embassies and consulates. This year the consulate in Jeddah is working closely with the Embassy of Italy in Saudi Arabia.”
The events are held not just to promote a healthy Italian food, but to introduce a new way of living that is beneficial to yourself physically, she said. An addition to Italian Cuisine Week was held by the restaurant Margherita in Jeddah.
Antonio Di Fazio, the executive chef of Margherita, was excited to put forward his culture as he said: “We are a traditional Italian restaurant, we specialize in pizza; I have been in Saudi Arabia for 10 years. This is the third Italian Cuisine Week.”
He added: “It is very important for us that through Italian Cuisine Week we can show the people exactly what Italian food is. We will present Italian street food in the consulate, and we work on providing an amazing experience.”