Jewels in the sand: Everything to know about Saudi truffle season

Jewels in the sand: Everything to know about Saudi truffle season
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Desert truffles contain a high amount of plant protein, comparable to that of tofu, making it a favorite among vegans and vegetarians. (AN photo)
Jewels in the sand: Everything to know about Saudi truffle season
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Desert truffles contain a high amount of plant protein, comparable to that of tofu, making it a favorite among vegans and vegetarians. (AN photo)
Jewels in the sand: Everything to know about Saudi truffle season
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Desert truffles contain a high amount of plant protein, comparable to that of tofu, making it a favorite among vegans and vegetarians. (AN photo)
Jewels in the sand: Everything to know about Saudi truffle season
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Desert truffles contain a high amount of plant protein, comparable to that of tofu, making it a favorite among vegans and vegetarians. (AN photo)
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Updated 11 February 2021

Jewels in the sand: Everything to know about Saudi truffle season

Jewels in the sand: Everything to know about Saudi truffle season
  • Saudi truffle experts decode the secrets of the elusive, highly prized ingredient

RIYADH: Almost two weeks into the year’s desert truffle season, successful hunters have started bringing their products to the market, and those looking for a tasty treat can finally get their hands on a fresh crop of earthy, savory goodness.

Known colloquially as the fage (pronounced with a hard, guttural “e”), the Terfeziaceae, or desert truffle, is a delicacy renowned across the Arabian Peninsula and certain parts of North Africa. It is popular in the region for its unique taste, like that of an earthy mushroom, and used in several traditional Arabic dishes.

The truffle also boasts certain health benefits. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) cited truffle water as a cure for certain maladies of the eye. Desert truffles also contain a high amount of plant protein, comparable to that of tofu, making it a favorite among vegans and vegetarians.

The desert truffle is a fungal plant found in the desert after heavy rainfall. True desert truffles only grow in areas close to the raqrooq plant, also known as the sunrose or rock rose. In the Kingdom, the best places to search are located in the deserts of Northern Saudi Arabia, near places such as Arar or Hafr Al-Batin. Outside of it, the truffles are found in the deserts of Iraq, Syria, Algeria, Libya and Mauritania.

According to truffle expert Faisal Al-Hazeini, truffle season begins somewhere around Jan. 25, and ends around March 10, giving truffle hunters a fairly narrow window in which to dig up, sift through and sell the produce.

“These truffles are considered somewhat rare, due to the scarcity of rain in the desert and the difficulty of acquiring a good specimen,” Al-Hazeini told Arab News. “Searching for truffles requires covering long stretches of desert, some of which are protected or restricted, such as border areas and nature preserves. Their growth is also dependent on how much it has rained in the desert each year, so it’s not impossible for a year or two to pass without the sufficient rain required to produce them.”

Though not as expensive as their Italian and European counterparts, their rarity makes them relatively pricey. A kilo of desert truffles can cost anywhere from SR 700 (around $186.6) to SR 1200, depending on their size, quality, color and the fruitfulness of the year’s crop.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Known colloquially as the fage (pronounced with a hard, guttural ‘e’), the Terfeziaceae, or desert truffle, is a delicacy renowned across the Arabian Peninsula and certain parts of North Africa.

• It is popular in the region for its unique taste, like that of an earthy mushroom, and used in several traditional Arabic dishes.

• The truffle also boasts certain health benefits. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) cited truffle water as a cure for certain maladies of the eye.

Desert truffles come in three main varieties: white, known as zubaidi; red; and the uncommon black, known as khulas. Each boasts its own unique flavor profile and price point.

Hamdan Al-Adyni, a vendor of exotic fruits and vegetables, told Arab News that one of the most difficult aspects of truffle hunting was determining the good truffles from the bad, since not every truffle they find in the wild is necessarily an edible one.

“A good truffle should be firm and should have a good smell, color and shape. Bad truffles are distinguished by discoloration, an unpleasant smell and an almost gelatinous texture,” he said. “The quality of the dirt also plays a role. An expert hunter can tell just by examining the dirt whether they are going to find a good crop or not,” he said.

Basheer Al-Ruwaili, another expert, told Arab News that the best places to buy them was at special, seasonal markets that can be found across the Kingdom in the spring.

“At truffle markets, you will encounter experienced dealers who will have fresh and newly extracted specimens. Though you may sometimes find sellers hawking them in trucks on the sides of the road, people should take extreme caution buying from them because they are of unknown sources and may have been exposed to improper storage, imported and therefore not as fresh, or gathered during previous seasons,” he said.

More importantly, once a crop of fresh truffles has been successfully procured, how would one go about preparing them for consumption?

Al-Ruwaili stressed that the truffles need to be properly scrubbed, to ensure that all of the dirt is removed from the crevices, before they are peeled and cooked.

“For me, the best way to cook them is by grilling them, while taking care to extract the water coming out of them to be used for homeopathic purposes,” he said. “Once they are properly cleaned and peeled, they can be roasted on coals with the addition of nothing but salt. Another way is to boil them in water until tender, then add salt and a little bit of ghee or cultured goat butter,” he said.

As for Al-Adyni, he suggests cooking them in broth, or adding them to kabsa, a traditional Saudi rice dish.

“There are many ways of serving and cooking a desert truffle, limited only by a person’s creativity,” he said.

Al-Adyni has a snapchat account, @aladyni2021, where he posts pictures and videos of his seasonal crops, his experiences hunting truffles during their seasons and the locations where they can be purchased.


Ancient site in Nefud Desert offers glimpse of early human activity in Saudi Arabia

Ancient site in Nefud Desert offers glimpse of early human activity in Saudi Arabia
Updated 13 May 2021

Ancient site in Nefud Desert offers glimpse of early human activity in Saudi Arabia

Ancient site in Nefud Desert offers glimpse of early human activity in Saudi Arabia
  • An Nasim is the first Acheulean site to be dated in the Nefud Desert, say researchers
  • Evidence of diverse species of small-to-large mammals can be found at the sites of these palaeolakes in the Nefud

RIYADH: An important archaeological site showing signs of ancient human activity dating back 350,000 years has been discovered in the Hail region of northern Saudi Arabia.

According to a scientific report published in the journal Nature, An Nasim is the first Acheulean site to be dated in the Nefud Desert. Acheulean technology refers to the distinctive style of oval and pear-shaped stone tools believed to have been developed about 1.7 million years ago by the archaic humans that preceded modern homo sapiens. It is thought these “hand axes” remained in use until as recently as 130,000 years ago.

The report — titled “The Expansion of Acheulean Hominins into the Nefud Desert of Arabia” — notes that until now, detailed knowledge of the Acheulean in the region was limited to a single, well-documented site: Saffaqah, in central Saudi Arabia.

However, tools were also found in the Nefud Desert. Researchers at An Nasim discovered evidence of what was once a deep lake, probably freshwater, as well as features associated with the Middle Pleistocene era, which covers the period from about 780,000 to 130,000 years ago.

Jasir Al-Harbash, CEO of the Kingdom’s Heritage Commission, told Arab News: “Many sites have been discovered and are under study.”

HIGHLIGHT

According to a scientific report published in the journal Nature, An Nasim is the first Acheulean site to be dated in the Nefud Desert. Acheulean technology refers to the distinctive style of oval and pear-shaped stone tools believed to have been developed about 1.7 million years ago by the archaic humans that preceded modern homo sapiens. It is thought these ‘hand axes’ remained in use until as recently as 130,000 years ago.

However the discovery in the Nefud Desert is particularly important, he added, because it is “the oldest dated site of the Acheulean period in Saudi Arabia.”

Surveys by the Green Arabian Project (GAP) in the past 10 years have confirmed that the Arabian Peninsula experienced climate changes during the Pleistocene era that produced wetter conditions, which affected the movement and distribution of humans within and between continents. This is particularly true of Acheulean communities, who appear to have been more tethered to water sources than others.

An Nasim offers insights into the diverse stone tool assemblages used by Middle Pleistocene humans in the region, probably indicating their repeated return to the peninsula during the wetter “Green Arabia” climate phases.

The site includes a deep, narrow basin with outcrops in the central part, where several artifacts from the early Palaeolithic era were discovered. About 354 items were collected, primarily hand axes and stone “flakes” cut from a rock core. The survey found that the archaeological materials are closely associated with the lake. The report notes that the tools are similar to those found elsewhere in the Nefud Desert. The presence of some of the flaked pieces suggest that the raw materials were brought to the site and some discarded after testing. Other pieces had been partly shaped before being abandoned.

Broader surveys of the Nefud Desert have found that local quartzite rock was frequently used in undated Acheulean assemblages, including diverse sizes and shapes of hand axes.

The Acheulean tools at An Nasim have been dated to the late Middle Pleistocene era, about 350,000 to 250,000 years ago, when the formation of lakes was seemingly widespread in the Nefud Desert. In comparison tools found at the site at Saffaqah are more recent, dating back about 240,000 to 190,000 years.

The similarities between the Acheulean materials found at An Nasim and other undated Acheulean sites in the Nefud Desert indicates that the lakes that once existed in this region provided an important resource for the expansion of humans in the region, and a viable habitation environment for them and other mammals.

Evidence of diverse species of small-to-large mammals can be found at the sites of these palaeolakes in the Nefud, indicating the migration of animals to the region during wet phases and suggesting the availability of fauna as food sources at watering holes.

With the participation of Saudi experts, the Kingdom’s Heritage Commission has been working on the GAP scientific program in collaboration with counterparts from the Berlin-based Max Planck Institute for Human Development. It focuses on studying climate changes in the Arabian Peninsula over time, and the immigration of ancient humans into Arabia and their settlement there.

Previous GAP studies have found evidence of hundreds of paleolakes, rivers and forests, and the animals they helped to sustain, around which successive civilizations emerged thanks to the mild climate at that time.

Late last year, the Heritage Commission announced that the footprints of humans, elephants, camels and predatory animals had been found at the site of what was once lake, dating back more than 120,000 years, in Tabuk. They are believed to be the oldest footprints of man and animals found in the Arabian Peninsula.

Through the GAP, the Heritage Commission carries out intensive surveys and systematic excavations to identify and gain insight into ancient climatic conditions and the nature of the prevailing environment in Arabia’s past, as well as the movement of humans. This is part of the Commission’s efforts to excavate, preserve and promote archaeological sites in the Kingdom as part of Saudi Vision 2030.

Al-Harbash highlighted the importance of cooperation between local and international teams in excavating and researching antiquities in the Arabian Peninsula. He added that joint projects are in progress with more than 20 of the most prestigious international institutes and universities involved in archaeological research and excavation.


Saudi air defenses intercept 8 UAVs and 3 ballistic missiles launched by Houthis from Yemen

Saudi air defenses intercept 8 UAVs and 3 ballistic missiles launched by Houthis from Yemen
Updated 13 May 2021

Saudi air defenses intercept 8 UAVs and 3 ballistic missiles launched by Houthis from Yemen

Saudi air defenses intercept 8 UAVs and 3 ballistic missiles launched by Houthis from Yemen

RIYADH:  Saudi air defenses have intercepted and destroyed eight drones and three ballistic missiles targetting Saudi Arabia, the Arab Coalition supporting  supporting Yemen's legitimate government said on Thursday.

In a statement announced on Twitter, the Coalition said the UAVs and missiles were launched by the Iran-back Houthi militia in Yemen.

The new attacks came as fighting for Yemen’s strategic Marib city continued and despite calls by the UN for the Houthis to halt the violence.


Diverse Eid celebrations return to Saudi Arabia

Diverse Eid celebrations return to Saudi Arabia
Updated 13 May 2021

Diverse Eid celebrations return to Saudi Arabia

Diverse Eid celebrations return to Saudi Arabia
  • After a month of fasting and performing religious rituals, many gearing up for breakfast feasts with close family

KHAFJI/JEDDAH/MAKKAH: Last year’s Eid was limited to small celebrations at home due to the 24-hour curfew imposed across the Kingdom during the five-day holiday to tackle the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

However, the situation has transformed this year, as people are more reassured and eager to celebrate the occasion with their families.

After a month of fasting and performing religious rituals, many are gearing up for Eid with morning prayers with their neighbors and breakfast feasts with close family.

The Hijazi feast, for example, is always full of traditional sweet and savory dishes such as the ta’ateemah, dibyaza, harees, ma’asoup, and fatoot bread.

All of these dishes are well known in the Hijaz region, where they are commonly prepared and served by grandmothers, to ensure that the whole family gathers on the first day.

Haneen Fahad, a mother in her 40s, said that Eid prayers are dear to many Saudis as it is the occasion’s first social gathering, where they meet and greet those living around them.

“One of the things I really admire is preparing some giveaway gifts for my kids to distribute to other kids at the mosque after Eid prayers,” she told Arab News.

She added that nothing can be compared to the spiritual, thrilling feeling of the first day. “There is so much fun. Once the whole family is gathered, a lot of activities start, where elder relatives start to distribute Eidiya money to kids and adults, families start to exchange gifts, and everyone looks neat, fresh and happy.”

After a morning full of food, money, gifts, new clothes, and fancy chocolates, Jeddawies tend to revive before the evening with what is colloquially referred to as the “Eid sleeping coma.” 

Although the pandemic disrupted many celebrations, the Eid rituals remain unforgettable in the hearts of the people. They long for the smallest details of Eid, with its social legacies and many customs that have been passed down for generations and remain in their memories. (Supplied)

HIGHLIGHTS

• The Hijazi feast is always full of traditional sweet and savory dishes such as the ta’ateemah, dibyaza, harees, ma’asoup, and fatoot bread. All of these dishes are well known in the Hijaz region, where they are commonly prepared and served by grandmothers, to ensure that the whole family gathers on the first day.

• In the southern part of the Kingdom, specifically in the Jazan region, people start to prepare for Eid two weeks earlier. The region is famous for its popular traditional dishes that are nutritionally rich, such as stews, fish, ghee, honey, pickles and others.

• Although the pandemic disrupted many celebrations in Makkah and Taif, the Eid rituals remain unforgettable in the hearts of the people. They long for the smallest details of Eid, with its social legacies and many customs that have been passed down for generations and remain in their memories.

Shatha Bukhari, a student at Dar Al-Hekmah, told Arab News: “After everyone has been up all morning until noon, the city gets quieter in the afternoon as everyone enjoys their Eid ‘sleeping coma’ to recharge for the night.”

Jeddawis usually have a second round of feasting in the evening, enjoying a barbecue dinner at home. On the second day, however, they prefer to dine in a fine restaurant, said Bukhari.

From west to south

In the southern part of the Kingdom, specifically in the Jazan region, people start to prepare for Eid two weeks earlier.

Nahla Zameem, a Jazani mother of four who has a family house located in Jazan city, gave Arab News some insight into the region’s traditions. She said that Jazani Eid is more of a big wedding to its people.

The ladies like to celebrate Eid the traditional way, using jasmine flowers, henna dye, and wearing traditional jalabiya as a way to express happiness, beauty and elegance.

The jasmine flowers are made into crowns and wrapped around the hair, and some choose to wear big jasmine necklaces up to 1-meter long. 

Although the pandemic disrupted many celebrations, the Eid rituals remain unforgettable in the hearts of the people. They long for the smallest details of Eid, with its social legacies and many customs that have been passed down for generations and remain in their memories. (Supplied)

The region’s ladies also book appointments with henna artists to decorate their arms and legs with temporary tattoos of different patterns. Henna is well-known in the Muslim world and is a reddish-brown dye made from the powdered leaves of a tropical shrub, used to color the hair and decorate the body.

The region is famous for its popular traditional dishes that are nutritionally rich, such as stews, fish, ghee, honey, pickles and others.

“Around 8 a.m. every Eid, all of the men in the neighborhood start to gather at my father’s house, where a huge breakfast is held, consisting of rows of popular food that may reach a length of a few meters, all of which is served in clay pots to give a wonderful authentic vibe,” Zameem added.

One of the things I really admire is preparing some giveaway gifts for my kids to distribute to other kids at the mosque after Eid prayers.

Haneen Fahad

One of the most essential traditional Jazani dishes for Eid breakfast is the salt fish, also common among Egyptians and Palestinians during the religious festival. 

“We prepare salt fish almost a month earlier, where we clean the fish and stuff it with salt and preserve it by hanging it to dry under the sunlight. During Eid, we deep fry it for breakfast.”

Fireworks and folklore dances are also a big part of Eid celebrations in Jazan. Some of the famous dances are Jazani Ardha, or as Jazani people call it “Zlaf.”

Eastern Province corniche

In the Eastern Province, the corniche is a popular destination during Eid, with many having complete family visits and gatherings.

Mohammad Meshal, a young Saudi from Khafji, loves to spend the Eid among his family and relatives in his home, a small border town near Kuwait.

Before the COVID-19 situation, Meshal used to travel to Kuwait to go for walks and visit relatives, but precautions taken by the government put an end to his trips. But he is optimistic that despite the restrictions, “ traveling is not completely restricted, as I may travel again after May 17.”

Abdullah Al-Ayaf, a government employee, told Arab News that his family is used to corniche visits after the round of family gatherings are done. “I spend the first day of Eid somewhat officially, but on the second and third days, my family goes to the corniche, or we rent a small resort.”

DECODER

• Eidiya: Money that is usually given to children by elderly relatives, family, and friends as part of the celebration. The amount of money mostly varies from SR1 to SR500.

• Dibyaza: A dish made of melted dried apricots, roasted nuts, figs, peaches and sugary dates to create a marmalade-like dish that can be enjoyed with or without bread.

• Ta’ateemah: The name of the breakfast feast that Hijazis enjoy on the first day of Eid Al-Fitr. It is derived from the Arabic word ‘itmah,’ meaning darkness, because the dishes served are light, just like midnight snacks.

• Harees: Mashed wheat mixed with chunks of meat.

Saudi child Abdul Malik Al-Mofadhali said that his Eid starts off with his mother calling him to wake up for breakfast with the family. She is keen to dress him in white, especially if the holiday coincides with spring or summer.

Al-Mofadhali said that eating sweets and nuts of all kinds is his favorite part about Eid, shortly followed by the corniche. “We shop from the grocery store for water, juice, ice cream and baked goods prior to going to the corniche. I love this day.”

Eid in Makkah and Taif

Although the pandemic disrupted many celebrations in Makkah and Taif, the Eid rituals remain unforgettable in the hearts of the people. They long for the smallest details of Eid, with its social legacies and many customs that have been passed down for generations and remain in their memories. 

Although the pandemic disrupted many celebrations, the Eid rituals remain unforgettable in the hearts of the people. They long for the smallest details of Eid, with its social legacies and many customs that have been passed down for generations and remain in their memories. (Supplied)

Fahad Al-Harbi, mayor of Ray Zakhir in Makkah, said that Meccans get dressed up to the nines, reminiscing over their favorite memories about Eid celebrations in the city.

“They distribute lawziyeh (almond shortbread cookies), laymouniyeh and mushabbak. They would also exchange gifts and give chocolate to children,” he said, adding: “Families get artistic in their celebrations to preserve the remaining heritage, customs and traditions.”

He said that Makkah consists of a mixture of peoples and tribes that have blended together, where cultures have harmonized, highlighting the city’s beautiful unity. “Families under the same roof would find a variety of dishes, which underlines the beautiful tapestry that is Makkah.”

In Taif, not far away, markets are usually overcrowded before the arrival of Eid, especially the popular ones such as Souk Al-Balad.

Abdul Hadi Al-Mansouri, a resident of Taif, said that the best moments of Eid occur when the celebration coincides with the rainy and the blooming season, when the aroma of roses adorns clothes.

He added that activities usually take place at the famous Al-Rudaf Park and Al-Faisaliah garden, bringing joy to the hearts of the people, creating cheerful Eid celebrations.

Decoder

Eid celebrations

Eidiya: Money that is usually given to children by elderly relatives, family, and friends as part of the celebration. The amount of money mostly varies from SR1 to SR500.


Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Saud Al-Tamimi, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Saud Al-Tamimi, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission
Updated 13 May 2021

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Saud Al-Tamimi, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Saud Al-Tamimi, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission

Dr. Mohammed Saud Al-Tamimi has been governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) since October 2019.

Al-Tamimi, who was recently awarded the King Abdulaziz Medal of the First Class following a royal order, has also been a deputy chair of a research group at the International Telecommunication Union since 2016.

He has also been a member of the Arbitration Committee at the European Telecommunication Networks Innovation Forum.

Al-Tamimi received his bachelor’s degree in telecommunication engineering in 2003 from the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran.

He also received a master’s degree in communication technologies and policy in 2005 from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

In 2014, he obtained a doctorate in telecommunication regulation economics from the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He also attended a one-year leadership development program at Harvard University in 2018.

Al-Tamimi joined CITC in 2003 as a regulation specialist and from 2006 until August 2009 worked as a licensing specialist.

For 15 months, beginning in August 2018, he served as the acting deputy governor for consumer protection and partnership at CITC. Prior to that, he worked as a deputy governor for regulation and competition until his appointment as governor.

During the last annual Information and Communications Technology Indicators Forum, held in March, Al-Tamimi described the telecommunications market in the Kingdom as the most developed in the Middle East and North Africa region.


Saudi Arabia records 13 COVID-19 deaths, 1,020 new cases

Saudi Arabia records 13 COVID-19 deaths, 1,020 new cases
Updated 12 May 2021

Saudi Arabia records 13 COVID-19 deaths, 1,020 new cases

Saudi Arabia records 13 COVID-19 deaths, 1,020 new cases
  • The Kingdom said 908 patients recovered in past 24 hours
  • The highest number of cases were recorded in Riyadh with 342

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia recorded 13 new COVID-19 related deaths on Wednesday, raising the total number of fatalities to 7,111.
The Ministry of Health confirmed 1,020 new confirmed cases reported in the Kingdom in the previous 24 hours, meaning 429,389 people have now contracted the disease. 
Of the total number of cases, 9,268 remain active and 1,352 in critical condition.
According to the ministry, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with 342, followed by Makkah with 276, the Eastern Province with 133, Madinah recorded 56 and Asir confirmed 55 cases.
The health ministry also announced that 908 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 413,010.

The ministry renewed its call on the public to register to receive the vaccine, and adhere to the measures and abide by instructions, especially during the Eid Al-FItr holiday, which starts on Thursday.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 160 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 3.33 million.