JEDDAH: Rowaida Fuad Oudah has been a keen cook since she was at school and always had a soft spot for colorful and intricate dishes. What started as a hobby became a full-time job and she launched a food business in 2016. But she had yet to encounter or explore Asian cuisines.
She was inspired and intrigued by the food she saw on Korean television shows, especially on their wildly popular dramas, and became curious to know what it tasted like because it looked “tempting and delicious.”
“So I said to myself, why not try cooking it as there aren’t many Asian restaurants in Jeddah,” she told Arab News.
Her kitchen experiments proved to be a hit as she realized there were people in the Kingdom who wanted food from Asia but struggled to access it easily.
“I wanted to create a distinct menu to compete with restaurants and, most importantly, ensure I added my own touch and try to suit the palate of Saudi society while maintaining the taste of the original dish.”
She runs Sakura Topia, which sells cute and dinky bento that would not look out of place in Japan.
Her Instagram account features teddy bears, geishas, warriors, Hello Kitty and bunny rabbits fashioned from rice, seaweed and multicolored garnishes. There is also sushi, jiggly pancakes, mochi, taiyaki (fish-shaped cakes with a sweet filling) and onigiri (rice balls). From South Korea there is topokki (hot and spicy rice cakes) and kimbap.
“In the beginning I had difficulty importing some of the ingredients as I didn’t have the experience, and here I couldn’t find the high-quality ingredients for my food. Now, I have balanced my work using local and imported goods from Japan and Korea. I wish to have my own Japanese-style TV cooking show, specializing in Korean and Japanese food and bento design, to share my experience with Saudi and Arab society while wearing Japanese clothes and speaking the language as well.”
She also wants to organize more workshops on cooking, Japanese calligraphy, how to wear a yukata (a type of kimono) and origami.
Oudah enjoys spending time in the kitchen, experimenting with new recipes until she comes up with her own twist and take on a dish.
“Being able to reach where I am now, and being trusted by a lot of people, is a blessing and a source of encouragement.”