Tempura or teriyaki, Saudis crave Japanese food

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Japanese food has proved immensely popular in the Kingdom and across the Gulf — but that hasn’t made ingredients any easier to come by. (Supplied)
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Japanese food has proved immensely popular in the Kingdom and across the Gulf — but that hasn’t made ingredients any easier to come by. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 January 2020

Tempura or teriyaki, Saudis crave Japanese food

  • Popularity ofJapanese cuisine is growing with many fusion-food restaurants popping up across the Kingdom
  • Not many original Japanese ingredients can be found, forcing enthusiasts to turn to restaurants

JEDDAH: There are no two ways about it: Saudi Arabia loves Japanese food. From deep-fried, inauthentic sushi rolls to the most delicate cuts of ootoro and salmon sashimi, you can find them all in the Kingdom.
Despite the popularity of Japanese cuisine, the availability of original ingredients in Saudi markets is sorely lacking, forcing enthusiasts of Japanese food to turn to restaurants for their fix.
While some ingredients — such as sushi rice, tofu and kombu — are available on and off, other ingredients such as wakame seaweed, bonito flakes and kewpie mayonnaise are much harder — if not impossible — to find.
Noura Alajmi, a home cook who often makes sushi, tempura and other delicacies, said she thinks the ingredients are not readily available because of Japanese food’s reputation for being hard to make.
“I wouldn’t call it difficult, I’d call it finicky maybe. It requires dedication and patience to make good Japanese food. But it’s not impossible, it’s doable,” she said.
Alajmi hopes to see miso paste, kombu, bonito flakes and other ingredients on Saudi supermarket shelves soon.
“I think there’s a market for it. People here love Japanese food, and home cooking is so in right now,” she said.
“But more than anything, I want Japanese ingredients in Saudi supermarkets so I can stop ordering them online and paying ridiculous shipping prices.”
The Kingdom’s history with Japanese food goes way back. In October 1985, Tokyo became the first Japanese restaurant in Saudi Arabia.
A favorite of many a Japanese ambassador, and widely known to serve the most authentic Japanese food in the Kingdom, Tokyo was the go-to place for Japanese food in Saudi Arabia.
But Japanese and Japanese-fusion restaurants have popped up all over the Kingdom, from quick and easy options such as Sushi Yoshi, Mee So Hungry and Samurai, to more sophisticated (and expensive) options such as Shogun, Okku and Nozomi.
Japanese food is just as popular elsewhere in the Gulf. Chef Masaharu Morimoto owns two restaurants in the Middle East: Morimoto Dubai and Morimoto Doha.
Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, otherwise known as Nobu, also has two restaurants in Dubai and Doha. Rocky Aoki’s famous Benihana has an outlet in Kuwait and in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia even boasts a local sushi expert. Chef Khulood Olaqi, who is famous for her home-based business turned gourmet sushi restaurant, is renowned for being the first Saudi woman to open her own restaurant and run the kitchen herself.
Passionate home cooks aside, even restaurants sometimes have a hard time finding authentic Japanese ingredients in the region, often having to resort to local alternatives.
Akio Hayakawa, director of Fujiya restaurant in Dubai, said they work hard to ensure that most of what they use in the kitchen is sourced directly from Japan. 
He does resort to using some locally sourced items, but insists the food’s authenticity stays the same.
“We wanted to bring more authentic Japanese food to Dubai, but we have to adjust sometimes, like the soy sauce we use in Japan, for example. So we have to search for suitable alternatives,” he said.
Hayakawa lucked out, finding a local supplier for wagyu beef. But Olaqi — who often has to resort to frozen hamachi fish and tuna, and is still hunting for bonito flakes at her local supermarkets — has not found her golden ticket yet.
“There are so many ingredients that we don’t have: Bonito, wakame seaweed, yuzukosho, just to name a few. We can mostly make do with what’s available, but we need more options,” she said.
“I’d love to serve fresh ootoro. If I could find a supplier who could guarantee me fresh tuna, decently priced, I’d be so happy.”


Saudi Arabia joins club of Middle East’s ‘green energy’ leaders

Updated 20 January 2020

Saudi Arabia joins club of Middle East’s ‘green energy’ leaders

  • Government plans to invest up to $50bn in renewable energy projects by 2023
  • Demand for electricity in the Kingdom is forecast to rise by up to 120 GW by 2030

ABU DHABI: Saudi Arabia has become one of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s leaders in the race to use renewable energy, according to a new study.

The Solar Outlook Report 2020 was launched at the Solar Forum of the World Future Energy Summit, a highlight of this year’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (Jan. 11-18).
The report, prepared by Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA), the largest regional body of its kind, said Saudi Arabia and Oman have joined the UAE, Morocco and Egypt as leaders in the renewables race.
“Saudi Arabia is now in the third year of implementation of its massive target of 60 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy generation by 2030,” it said.
Martine Mamlouk, secretary-general of MESIA, said that investment in solar energy is evident across MENA countries. “Saudi Arabia has a target of almost 60 gigawatts of renewable energy, out of which 40 gigawatts are solar,” she told Arab News.
“This is in line with the Kingdom’s objective of diversification and Vision 2030. While the industry is reaching grid parity, it is great to see the deployment of new innovative technologies to increase efficiency of systems, production management and grids.”
Upcoming solar projects in the Kingdom include Madinah, Rafh, Qurayyat, Al-Faisaliah, Rabigh as well as Jeddah, Mahd Al-Dahab, Al-Rass, SAAD and Wadi Ad-Dawasir, along with Layla and PIF.
Saudi Arabia’s energy demand has been rising steadily, with consumption increasing by 60 percent in the past 10 years, according to data provided by market researchers Frost & Sullivan. Demand for electricity in 2019 reached 62.7 GW and is forecast to rise by up to 120 GW by 2030.
The value of solar-power projects in the MENA region is estimated at between $5 billion and $7.5 billion. By 2024, that figure is expected to approach $15 billion to $20 billion.
Under its Vision 2030 program, the Kingdom aims to reduce its dependency on oil revenues, diversify its energy mix and tap its renewable energy potential.

Saudi Acwa power-generating windmills that have been erected in Jbel Sendouq, on the outskirts of Tangier, Morocco. (Reuters)

After the Renewable Energy Project Development Office (REPDO) was set up within the Ministry of Energy, the goals for the Kingdom’s National Renewable Energy Program (NREP) were revised upwards in 2018, resulting in a five-year target of 27.3 GW and a 12-year target of 58.7 GW.
The Saudi government plans to invest up to $50 billion in renewable energy projects by 2023.
“At MESIA, we are excited to see solar developments in the MENA region accelerating and reaching attractive tariffs, while lowering the carbon footprint of regional economies,” Mamlouk said.
“The total investment in renewables in MENA between 2019 and 2023 is expected to be $71.4 billion, representing a 34 percent share of the total investment in the power sector, which is valued at $210 billion.”
Changes introduced by Saudi Arabia include a focus on local developers and easing of regulations for local manufacturers of solar panels.
A Local Content and Government Procurement Authority has been established to oversee and audit local content compliance.
Separately, a Renewable Energy Financing package has been launched by the Saudi Industrial Development Fund to support the growth of utility and distributed-generation sectors.
After solar photovoltaic panels were installed on the roof of a mosque in Riyadh, the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center recommended a similar move at other mosques.
Meanwhile, plans for the use of solar panels in the Saudi agro-industry have led to burgeoning interest in the technology, with several industrial facilities expected to have their own units in the not-too-distant future.
For good measure, a regulatory framework to allow exchanges with the power grid is being studied by the Electricity Co-generation Regulatory Authority.
Flexible storage solutions, such as hydrogen, will give intermittent renewable energy a greater share in the energy system, Mamlouk said. “It may enable present-day oil and gas exporters to become key renewable energy exporters tomorrow. The solar industry is thrilled and proud to participate in this profound transformation of Saudi Arabia’s energy system.”
In the past year solar tariffs have fallen to record low levels in the MENA region, mainly due to tremendous cost declines that have brought the goal of grid parity within reach.
With installed solar electricity capacity worldwide standing at 617.9 GW, MENA governments are staying focused on energy diversification with the help of large-scale projects.
In the UAE, Dubai is targeting the completion of a 5 GW facility by 2030 at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Solar Park. Abu Dhabi has “engaged” its second-largest solar project and is considering the roll-out of more units by 2025.

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62.7GW - Demand for electricity in Saudi Arabia in 2019

Morocco aims to reach 52 percent contribution by renewables in its energy mix by 2030. The figures for Tunisia and Egypt are 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively, by 2022.
Oman expects solar-power plants totaling 1.5 GW to come on stream by the end of 2022. Even Iraq, with all its political troubles and administrative paralysis, has not ignored solar power in drawing up plans for its future energy mix.
“Investments in renewable energy have reached billions in all Arab countries,” Mohammed Al-Taani, secretary-general of the Arab Renewable Energy Commission, said.
“Jordan is spending more on renewable energy, and we encourage people to have more independence with renewables by generating their own electricity to reduce their bills.”


Nevertheless challenges remain when it comes to implementing projects in rural and isolated areas, according to Mustapha Taoumi, a technology expert at the EU-GCC Clean Energy Technology Network. “With regard to issues of power grid and access to the people, we have to prepare for everything and be ready to receive new technology because there are communities with little income and education,” he said.
“Then there is the challenge of implementation on the part of different actors and sectors. Social acceptance is also important as we come with new technologies and (information on) how to use them.
“We have to be innovative when it comes to financing the facilitation process. We have to be fair and democratic,” he said.
Although this is an exciting time for the region, governments will have to step up their efforts since they are still subsidizing the cost of power, Taoumi said.
“Technologies are evolving quickly, so decision-making must keep pace,” he said. “We could end up having smart meters in rural and isolated areas in two to three years.”