Italian Food Week introduces Mediterranean diet to Jeddah

From left: Italian Ambassador Luca Ferrari; health expert, Prof. Luca Piretti; Italian Consul General Elisabetta Martini; and executive chef, Antonio Di Fazio. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 23 November 2018

Italian Food Week introduces Mediterranean diet to Jeddah

  • The theme this year is the Mediterranean diet
  • What we wanted to focus on is food as a way of life, says Italian ambassador Ferrari

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.”

90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

Updated 18 January 2019

90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

  • Middle Eastern fans fondly look back at two comic icons who share a birthday this year, although they’re not without controversy
  • An Egyptian publisher printed Tintin in Arabic, while Popeye was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 and Spacetoon

Popeye, the scruffy sailor who remains one of the most loveable characters of all time, has been a popular fixture in Middle Eastern pop culture since the early 1980s. In addition to mountains of merchandise, particularly stuffed toys, being available in local shops, the cartoons were broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 (in their original English) and on Spacetoon (with Arabic dubbing). 
“I remember the first time I watched Popeye,” Zainab Basrawi, a 36-year-old insurance lawyer and self-professed Popeye enthusiast, told Arab News. “I learned to love spinach just from watching him save Olive every time. I believed him. I think he was a great influence on children to subtly ease them into eating their greens.”
Just one week after Tintin first appeared in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” Popeye made his debut on Jan. 17, 1929 as a side character in the daily King Features comic strip “Thimble Theatre.”
Created by the American cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar, the one-eyed sailor with bulging forearms quickly grew in popularity, becoming the star of his own strip, an animated TV cartoon and a 1980 movie starring
Robin Williams. The theme song from the cartoon, “I’m Popeye the Sailorman,” is one of the most recognized pieces of music in pop culture history.
Compared to boyish, clean-cut, good- natured Tintin, Popeye is his polar opposite.
The sailor is rough, gruff and extremely tough, famous for the super-strength he gets from eating canned spinach, and his never-ending love triangle with his girlfriend Olive Oyl and rival Bluto.
Like Tintin, as a relic from another era, Popeye has also been criticized for racial stereotypes. In “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves,” he is shown beating up poorly made caricatures of Arab men. In “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap,” the Japanese characters in the cartoon get the same treatment.
However, literary critic Sophie Cline said the comic strip is reflective of the time it was created in, almost a century ago. “I think it’s important not to ignore these pieces of our history, or hide them away, but rather to own up to our mistakes and learn from them,” she told Arab News.
She alluded to the new disclaimer that now precedes old Looney Tunes cartoons, informing viewers that their outdated “racial prejudices” no longer reflect Warner Bros. values but are “products of their time.”
“Popeye cartoons reflect the common view of the era,” she said. “A disclaimer should be enough.”

Tintin, one of the world’s most famous fictional journalists, traveled the world seeking stories and adventure, so he naturally spent a good amount of time in the Middle East.
Created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known by his pseudonym Herge (say his initials in reverse out loud in a French accent), Tintin travels the region in four of his books: “Cigars of the Pharaoh,” “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” “Land of Black Gold” and “The Red Sea Sharks.”
Tintin gained more of a foothold in the region when Egyptian publisher Dar Al-Maarif began printing the comics in Arabic in 1971. Renaming him “Tantan,” Dar Al-Maarif continued to publish the comics weekly
until 1980.
“Tintin has been one of my idols for as long as I can remember,” said Haytham Faisal, a journalist from Cairo. “I literally became a journalist because I wanted to be him. My dad used to take me to buy the comics from the local bookstore. I remember them being so expensive, so they were a rare treat. I’d always think twice before buying them, but I couldn’t always wait for the next comic to see what new story they have next. I still have some of them, they were that precious to me.”
Before appearing in book format, Tintin and his constant companion, the dog Snowy, were first introduced to audiences in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” or “The Little Twentieth,” a supplement to the Belgian newspaper “Le Vingtieme Siecle” (The Twentieth Century) on Jan. 4, 1929. Herge, however, maintained that Tintin was actually “born” on Jan. 10, when “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets” began its serialization in the paper.
Despite the fact that he never seems to hand in any stories, the loveable and quirky Tintin is portrayed as talented at his profession, so much so that he is shown to be in high demand, with many press agencies offering him bribes for his dispatches.
Over the years, Tintin’s face has been used to advertise quintessentially French items such as Citroen cars and La Vache Qui Rit cheese. Enthusiasts of Tintin lore, known as Tintinolo- gists, have written entire books devoted to him.
Since 1929, more than 250 million copies of the Tintin comic books have been sold. His adventures have been translated in more than 110 languages, and the books are sold in almost every country in the world.
Tintin continues to grow in popularity, even 90 years on. He was the star of a full-length feature film, directed by Steven Spielberg, in 2011 and of an animated television series. The latter was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 between 1991 and 1992 and a dubbed version has been on MBC 3 since 2003.
However, the history of Tintin has not been without its hiccups. Over the years, critics have argued that, like many of the comics of the era, it should undergo censorship or even outright banning from bookstores and libraries. One of the more troublesome ones is his second adventure, “Tintin in the Congo.”
The natives Tintin visits are crude stereo- types of African people, who are portrayed as ignorant and uneducated, and the references to slavery, such as when the natives refer to Tintin as “master,” make the comics hard to stomach.
Similarly, “Land of Black Gold,” which takes place in a fictional Red Sea state named Khemed, is also banned in several Middle Eastern countries today for its stereotypical portrayal of Arabs.
While some argue the comics are simply byproducts of their era, they are nonetheless somewhat difficult to revisit in the modern era. Attempts have been made to soften some of the references, with edits being made to “Tintin in the Congo” in 1975, but is that enough?
Not according to the London-based human rights lawyer David Enright, who wrote in the Guardian newspaper that “Tintin in the Congo” shouldn’t be sold to children. “Books are precious, but so are the minds of young children. It is vital that our children learn and explore the grotesque history of slavery, racism and anti-Semitism, but in the proper context of the school curriculum.”