Traditional Saudi cuisine takes center stage at newly opened Aseil

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Updated 06 February 2013

Traditional Saudi cuisine takes center stage at newly opened Aseil


In Arabic, Aseil means “authentic,” which is precisely the kind of experience the owners of the newly opened restaurant of the same name intend to give diners. Welcome, they want to say, to the real taste of Saudi Arabia.
The restaurant, located in the courtyard at Bin Suliman Center at the intersection of Prince Sultan Street and Rawdah Street, has a rustic charm to it, even if the palm trees are fake. The interior is designed to reflect life in Saudi Arabia in olden times, with wooden tables, ceramic floors and pale beige walls. Upon entering the eatery, diners are welcomed by waiters in traditional Saudi clothing who lead you between shelves full of traditional handmade crafts that can be bought at the restaurant. After being seated, a waiter welcomes you with the definitive Saudi tradition: a cup of Arabian coffe and dates.
The artwork conveys the well-known combination of the old and the new in the Kingdom. There are graffiti style paintings of King Abdulaziz Al-Saud painted by a Saudi artist and a special wall full of shelves that hold Saudi antiques and other vintage pieces.
Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant, allowing diners to enjoy their food and the fragrance of freshly baked buns without the distraction of cigarette smoke. Shisha is served outdoors only so that diners can enjoy the weather and not suffocate from all the smoke. The restaurant seats 160 indoors and 64 outdoors.
The menu offers a variety of dishes from all around the Kingdom. Wheat soup, which is the Ramadan specialty in the western region, is made with wheat grains, chicken, tomatoes and onions. The Saudi-style salad, made with fresh vegetables and sprinkled with and oil-and-vinegar dressing, is made with fresh vegetables. The tomato and onion salad is another Saudi specialty made with tomatoes, onions, shredded carrots, chili and served with lime and olive oil dressing.
For appetizers, the Buff is great as it is made with deep fried dough and stuffed with a mixture of beef, onions, eggs, leeks and Saudi spices. Aish Bel Laha is a special beef pie of baked dough made from brown flour stuffed with a mixture of meat, onions, black vinegar and leaks and served with tahini sauce.
The Mgalgal laham is by far my favorite appetizer at Aseil. It is pan-fried beef with tomatoes, onion and spices. You should also try the Lamb kbdah. Made with pan-fried lamb liver and tomatoes, onions and special spices, it is usually eaten at breakfast in the western region. The Kubaibat Hael is a specialty of the city of Hail but it has become a favorite of all Saudis. It is a plate of vine leaves stuffed with rice, vegetables and spices, making it a tasty treat for vegetarians.
Fattah and Lahuh are also famous in the western region. Both are made with bread or dough in different kinds of sauces. The Fattat Batenjan is highly recommended. It is made with grilled eggplant stuffed with lamb meat and cheese with tomato sauce and bread topped with yogurt. The Luhuh Bel Makhtoum is made with dough stuffed with lamb meat and served with tomato sauce and yogurt on top.
From the central region, and especially from the capital, come the main courses. Jereesh is a special kind of wheat and it is cooked with beef and caramelized onions. Aseil severs it with chicken and yogurt. They also have a cheese Jereesh but I am not a big fan. I liked the traditional dish more.
Qursan is another dish from the central region made with thick qursan bread mixed with vegetables and spicy beef. You should also try the Mataziz, which I highly recommend. It is made with a special dough, vegetables and meat in tomato sauce.
Kabsa, a Saudi staple, is a dish of special rice cooked in a pressure pot. Aseil offers choices of chicken, lamb or shrimp to be mixed with the rice.
From the western and the eastern regions come the fish dishes. Mandatory to try is the Samak Bel Tahina, made with Najel fish oven-baked in tahina sauce and served with white rice. The Samak Bel Humar is also Najil oven-baked with humar cause and also served with white rice.
For anyone with a sweet tooth, the best part of the meal comes at the end. For dessert, try the Jubniah, which is deep-fried dough made from flour and baladi cheese and served with sugar syrup. Dibyaza is a famous apricot pudding mixed with nuts and dried fruit. This is a favorite in the western region and is usually served on the first day of Eid.
Aseil is open daily from 1 p.m. to 12 a.m. On average, meals cost between SR120 and SR150.

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Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

Updated 21 April 2018

Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

JEDDAH: There is a growing need for dietary supplements in Saudi Arabia, given the increasing popularity of junk food and the effective role supplements can play in treating diseases caused by mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

A recent study found that 22 percent of Saudi people take nutritional supplements. It is no surprise, then, that many Saudi businesses have forged partnerships with international dietary-supplement companies.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss, a Saudi dietitian with a Ph.D. in nutrition, said dietary supplements can be defined as substances that provide the human body with a nutrient missing from a person’s regular diet. However, she stressed that they are not intended to replace healthy eating.

She also warned against taking them without first talking to a doctor or dietitian, as some products can have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. 

“They can also cause problems if someone has a history of certain health issues,” she added.

A blood test can determine which nutrients we are not getting enough of in our diet, and therefore which supplements might be beneficial. Nutritional supplements are also used to help treat certain health conditions. 

“Vitamin C, for example, is often used to reduce cold symptoms,” said Idriss. “Fish oil is taken to lower elevated blood triglycerides.”

She suggested four daily essentials that can bridge nutritional gaps in our diet: a multivitamin, vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. 

“I routinely recommend a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement to my clients after consulting with their doctors,” she said. 

“For menstruating women, who require 18 milligrams of iron each day, a daily supplement helps boost iron intake.”

She said people over the age of 50 are advised to take a multivitamin to ensure they are getting enough B12, which plays a key role in the functioning of the nervous system and the development of red blood cells. 

“Older adults are more vulnerable to B12 deficiency because they are more likely to have decreased production of stomach acid, which is needed to release B12 from the proteins in food.” said Idriss. 

“It is also a good idea to take a daily multivitamin if one is following a low-calorie diet.”

She also pointed out that a high intake of DHA and EPA, the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, are linked with a lower risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. A deficiency of DHA might also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. 

“A daily intake of 1,000 milligrams of both DHA and EPA is equivalent to eating 12 ounces of salmon a week,” said Idriss.

The dietitian believes that the Saudis who take food supplements often do so more to benefit their appearance than their health. 

“Saudi women consume more dietary supplements than other people in Saudi Arabia,” she said. 

“They do so either to lose weight or to care for their hair and nails. Bodybuilders also take large amounts of supplements.”

However, both groups, according to Idriss, tend to take supplements on the recommendation of friends and trainers, not doctors. 

She warned that commercials and social-media rumors can persuade people to buy supplements online that may not be approved as safe by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, and advised people to get as much of their daily nutrient needs as possible from healthy eating.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss

“Along with vitamins and minerals, a healthy diet provides fiber and hundreds of protective phytochemicals, something a supplement cannot do,” she said, adding that the body absorbs natural food more effectively than supplements.

In addition, combining supplements with medications can have dangerous, even life-threatening, effects. 

“Drugs for heart disease and depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth-control pills are less effective when taken with herbal supplements,” she said.

“Taking an anticoagulant, aspirin, and a vitamin E supplement together may increase the potential for internal bleeding or even stroke.”


Natural sources

With the spread of fast-food restaurants and their alluring ads, the long-term health of the Saudi people is in danger, as children and young people snub natural sources of nutrients, such as fruit and vegetables. 

“This can lead to many deficiency diseases. Moreover, vegetarians can develop similar illnesses due to the absence of meat in their diet,” she said.
Dr. Ashraf Ameer, a family-medicine consultant, said the importance of nutritional supplements lies in treating mineral and vitamin deficiency, especially for pregnant women, growing children, diabetics, people with chronic diseases, and the elderly. 

“However, these products should come from reliable companies and meet Saudi food and drug requirements,”he added.

Mohammed Yaseen, who has a food supplements business, said his company works with a leading British health-care company to provide the Saudi market with high quality products.

“With this we hope we can contribute to the national transformation program by raising private-sector spending in health care from 25 percent to 35 percent, which in turn would lead to the sector’s financial sustainability and boost economic and social development in the Kingdom,” Yaseen said.


Vitamin Terms

DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid.  Phytochemical is a biologically active compound found in plants.