Minister wants Makkah Route initiative coverage for all Pakistani Hajj pilgrims next year

Thousands of Pakistani pilgrims have already benefited from the pilot program in Islamabad. (AFP/File)
Updated 02 December 2019

Minister wants Makkah Route initiative coverage for all Pakistani Hajj pilgrims next year

  • Pakistan eyeing ‘Makkah Route’ expansion

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will ask Saudi Arabia to expand the Makkah Route initiative for all Pakistani Hajj pilgrims next year, Pir Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, federal minister for religious affairs, said in an exclusive interview with Arab News in Islamabad on Friday.

The initiative by Saudi Arabia was finalized during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s maiden visit to Pakistan in February. Some 22,000 Pakistani pilgrims were cleared for immigration and customs prior to their Hajj departure during this year’s pilot project in Islamabad.

“I will reach Jeddah on a five-day official visit on Tuesday to talk with Saudi authorities and sign an agreement for Hajj 2020,” Qadri said, adding that there are “many things on our agenda,” such as the expansion of the Makkah Route initiative, Hajj quota and e-visa facilities.

Thousands of Pakistani pilgrims have already benefited from the pilot program in Islamabad.

“This year, we are going to request the Saudi government to expand it to the whole country, otherwise at least Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta should be included,” the minister said. 

He added it would ultimately be the Kingdom’s decision based on costs related to the expansive project.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noor-ul-Haq Qadri will arrive in Jeddah on Tuesday to sign an agreement for Hajj 2020.

• Other things on the agenda include expansion of the Makkah Route initiative, Hajj quota and e-visa facilities.

However, Qadri was hopeful that the project would at least be extended to all provincial capitals by next year and said that the Saudis had delivered on almost all of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s requests.

“They have given us the Makkah  Route initiative, an e-visa facility and an increase in the Hajj quota to 200,000,” he said.

Pakistan is the fifth country to get an e-visa facility with Saudi Arabia, in addition to Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria and France, the minister said.

Qadri said that he would ask the Saudi government to relax rules that required all Hajj tour operators to be registered with the International Air Transport Association.

Qadri said the Vision 2030 reform plans under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had revolutionized Hajj and Umrah operations in a short amount of time, especially through technological innovation.

“The pilgrims have been provided with maximum facilities. He is making Hajj very easy,” he said.


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

Updated 57 sec ago

LA Italian eatery Madeo 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 Madeo 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 Madeo

The pop-up’s menu contains most of what the original restaurant offers, including his ever-popular penne madeo 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 Madeo doesn’t contain pork, and I realized after we tried cooking without wine that almost nothing changed. I actually prefer it,” he said.

Madeo 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 Madeo 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 madeo, 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.