South Korean envoy ‘thrilled’ over blossoming cultural ties with Saudi Arabia

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during his visit to South Korea. (SPA/File)
Updated 19 July 2019

South Korean envoy ‘thrilled’ over blossoming cultural ties with Saudi Arabia

  • The two nations wish to work on ‘enhancing cultural and popular exhanges and build bases for cooperation’

RIYADH: South Korea’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia has spoken of his “thrill and excitement” over the “marvelous fruition” of cultural ties between the two countries.

Envoy Jo Byung-wook, recently seen on TV enthusiastically dancing and waving a light rod during a K-pop music concert in Jeddah, told Arab News that his country was looking forward to further enhancing Saudi-South Korean mutual understanding and connection of minds.

Relations have continued to blossom following Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the east Asian nation last month — the most senior Saudi to tour South Korea since the late King Abdullah in 1998.

In the first bilateral summit between the two countries, the crown prince met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the presidential Blue House, and as well as discussing economic and investment prospects the leaders pledged to become “reliable friends for the future,” promising opportunities for cultural exchange.

Jo said that culturally, both countries had plenty to offer. “Korea has various cultural assets to attract Saudi people; pop music, drama, traditional dance, fashion, beauty, food, and even architecture, paintings, and interior design.”

He also highlighted which aspects of Saudi culture he would like to share with his own people. “In 2017 the exhibition ‘Roads of Arabia’ was held in Seoul for about three months, showing Saudi culture and history with its archaeological artifacts, which attracted and fascinated more than 120,000 Koreans. I think this is a good example of what the Kingdom can introduce to Korea.

“Saudi Arabia has beautiful Arabic calligraphy, especially that of the Holy Qur’an, which I believe could fascinate Koreans, since we also have our own way of calligraphy. And Saudi traditional cuisine is very unique and healthy, so I always wanted to introduce it to Korean people,” said Jo.

According to the communique which followed the crown prince and South Korean president’s meeting, the two nations also wished to work on “enhancing cultural and popular exchanges and build bases for cooperation that would continue affecting the coming generations.” To that end, memorandums of understanding were signed in the fields of culture, tourism, sport, social protection, human resources management and civil service.

Academic scholarships

The official communication also stated that South Korea and Saudi Arabia had agreed to expand academic scholarships, exchange programs, educational opportunities, student visits, the translation of distinguished scientific and arts materials and their publication in scientific journals.

Jo added that the Korean Embassy was planning to host several events that would help promote cultural exchange.

Korea is keen to help the Kingdom achieve the goals of Vision 2030, and Korea will actively participate in cultural activities in the Kingdom so that we may contribute to achieving the ‘vibrant society’ goal of Vision 2030.

Ambassador Jo Byung-wook

“The embassy has started a new cultural journey since last year, because my assignment coincided with the period of transformation the Kingdom is undergoing with the launch of Vision 2030,” he said.

During 2018, the embassy held several events including the Korea-Arab Friendship Caravan showcasing traditional and modern Korean music and dance, an exhibit at the Riyadh National Museum — on loan from the Korean National Museum -— displaying more than 500 archaeological artifacts, and the screening of the first Korean movie at the Indian Embassy.

This year officials have planned even more events, such as the 4th Korean Ambassador’s Cup Taekwondo tournament, the 1st Korean Film festival, which will screen several Korean movies, the 2nd Ambassador’s Cup Korean Speech Contest, a reception for Korean National Day, and a workshop by Korean handicraft experts.

“Korea is keen to help the Kingdom achieve the goals of Vision 2030, and Korea will actively participate in cultural activities in the Kingdom so that we may contribute to achieving the ‘vibrant society’ goal of Vision 2030,” said the envoy.

He also commented on the popularity of K-pop, or South Korean popular music, which has recently been sweeping the nation.  K-pop boy band Super Junior recently took to the stage during the Jeddah Season festival as part of their world tour, becoming the first Korean group to perform in the Kingdom.

Jo said: “These concerts will help promote cultural cooperation and increase mutual goodwill between Korea and Saudi Arabia, because culture plays an important role in enhancing mutual understanding and connecting people’s minds.”

The ambassador was famously seen on a televised broadcast getting into his groove at the show. “During the concert, I was so thrilled and excited, and could feel the enormous change that Saudi Arabia is going through, which I believe is a beginning of a marvelous fruition. I can say that I saw a whole new Saudi Arabia that night,” he added.

Jo expected more K-pop groups to appear in the Kingdom, including BTS who are due to perform in the Saudi capital in October as part of Riyadh Season.


LA Italian eatery Amadeo delights the palate in Riyadh Season pop-up

Updated 15 December 2019

LA Italian eatery Amadeo delights the palate in Riyadh Season pop-up

  • Despite minor setbacks he faced while setting up, Vietina considers the experience to be a positive one

RIYADH: Renowned Italian restaurant Amadeo has opened up in Al-Murabba for Riyadh Season. 

The pop-up has started brightly, and head chef Gianni Vietina invited Arab News to sample the menu and chat about his experience.

Vietina, in Saudi Arabia for the first time, said that he loved the location he had set up in, and was very happy to be opening up in the Kingdom. 

“The location is gorgeous. At night, with all the lights on, the music going, it’s very nice.”

Despite minor setbacks he faced while setting up, Vietina considers the experience to be a positive one and that the response was even better than he had expected. 

“Like anything new, you have quests, you have problems. Up to now, we’re doing pretty good. We are up and running. We’re comfortable now, which is a shame as we’re leaving pretty soon,” he said.

He added that he would repeat the experience in a heartbeat if he could: “They were nice enough to ask me to stay in Saudi a little longer, but I can’t. I need to go back home. But I would love to come back.”

He said that while he was not planning to open up a permanent restaurant in Saudi Arabia, he would not rule it out completely.  “I’ve been offered options, and friends have offered to show me locations while I’m here, but I can’t do it right now, I just opened a new restaurant two months ago,” he said.

“I chose the dishes that I know that most of the Saudis that visit my restaurant in Los Angeles like.”

Gianni Vietina, Head chef of Amadeo

The pop-up’s menu contains most of what the original restaurant offers, including his ever-popular penne amadeo and spaghetti bolognese, with the chefs using a combination of imported and locally sourced ingredients. 

“I chose the dishes that I know that most of the Saudis that visit my restaurant in Los Angeles like,” he told Arab News.

For the pop-up, Vietina has stuck to using halal and alcohol-free ingredients. 

“It was challenging at the beginning. But the bolognese at Amadeo doesn’t contain pork, and I realized after we tried cooking without wine that almost nothing changed. I actually prefer it,” he said.

Amadeo is a favorite of Saudis visiting Los Angeles, with Vietina going so far as to describe the restaurant as a “Little Riyadh” on most evenings between July and September. 

He even recognizes some of the customers who have come into the Riyadh pop-up, and always stops over to greet them.

Upon sampling the menu, it’s easy to see why the food at Amadeo has remained popular all these years. 

The eggplant parmigiana is a perfect blend of crusty cheese and silky smooth eggplant, with hints of basil and rosemary. 

The bolognese is rich, meaty and decadent, without being too heavy and greasy. And the penne Amadeo, which Vietina has been eating since his childhood, is a timeless classic of crushed tomato, basil, finished off with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano for a creamy, rich flavor.