GAZA CITY: In the last week of Ramadan, the smell of maamoul and cakes wafts from Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Maamoul, also popular in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, is a traditional shortbread cookie popular in the region, and one of the main sweet items prepared for Eid Al-Fitr celebrations.
Samira Al-Burai, 54, is enjoys preparing maamoul with her sons and daughters.
“We bring basic ingredients a few days before making maamoul. All the family members, including my sons, will participate in making it.
“I learned (how to) make cakes and maamoul from my mother, then I taught it to my daughters so that this tradition may continue during the last days of Ramadan. My children are accustomed to the smell of cakes at this time of every year.”
Maamoul and cakes are one of the most prominent pieces of celebration associated with Eid Al-Fitr, despite the harsh conditions faced by Palestinians.
Prepared in circles, the Eid cakes are stuffed with dates, while maamoul are stuffed with dates or walnuts, pistachios and nuts, and the outer layer is sprinkled with crushed white sugar.
Some women earn money during Ramadan by making and selling maamoul to others.
Salwa Kabariti, 57, used to make them for her family. With the passage of time and after they fell on hard times, she began to produce larger quantities and started selling to neighbors, friends and even to some shops.
Maamoul and cakes are one of the most prominent pieces of celebration associated with Eid Al-Fitr, despite the harsh conditions faced by Palestinians. Some women earn money during Ramadan by making and selling maamoul to others.
“Due to our poor economic condition, I began searching for a source of income. This work offered a good source. It helped me and my family to overcome our economic crises,” Kabariti said.
“There is no Eid without maamoul. I love (it) and will continue making it every Ramadan as long as I have the ability to do so,” she added.
Despite the large number of bakeries that sell maamoul in the Gaza Strip, many women prefer making theirs at home to preserve the festive atmosphere in their households.
Lubna Al-Sumairi, 40, said: “I like preparing it in my house with my husband and other family members. Making maamoul is one of the most important customs that we enjoy during the
last days of Ramadan; its preparation, delicious taste, and the pleasant atmosphere gives us a happy feeling.”
Buttermilk is a restaurant and bakery in the Al-Nakheel district of Riyadh serving classic American food.
It is inspired by southern cuisine and its hospitality, offering an array of traditional choices, from American pie, cornbread and mac & cheese to the famous Nashville chicken. That dish is presented with a country-style twist —a big portion of fried chicken and bread served in a basket.
Buttermilk’s signature order is the Harlem classic, buttermilk-fried chicken and waffle with honey and hot sauce on top of it. The delicious combination of sweet and salty with the crispness on the outside and the lightness of the waffle make it one of the best brunches you could ever taste.
Buttermilk is the go-to place for celebrations, as its relaxed and comfortable ambiance will suit your special occasions.
If you are into fine smoked ribs, you can choose your favorite style from the range on offer and enjoy a tender piece of beef covered with barbecue sauce. They also offer many types of steaks.
Summer is close, which means we will need refreshing drinks to cool down the heat.
So Tea is ready to satisfy our cooling demands. The Saudi brand offers a freshly prepared array of iced tea and locally made herbal drinks.
It was inspired by the healthy lifestyles of today’s younger generation, who are steering away from soft drinks.
The brand offers three main products inspired by Arabian flavors and herbal ingredients including iced tea, sobia and hibiscus.
So Tea’s natural flavorings and sweetness will keep you hydrated and cool during the day, with flavors including peach, grape and lemon.
The peach iced tea is mind-blowingly delicious. The total process of So Tea’s production — the chilling, steaming, and fermenting — is fully homemade.
Aside from iced tea, the brand also offers other refreshing cool drinks popular in the Middle Eastern region, including roselle, tamarind, and sobia. These three drinks are available throughout the year, but are more popular during Ramadan.
So Tea offers you a box of six bottles based on your choice of flavors. For more information visit the Instagram account @so.tea.sa
How one Kuwaiti chef is helping local farms and encouraging healthy eating
Firas Al-Zaid’s farm-to-table dining project brings together young Kuwaiti chefs who prepare meals using the finest local ingredients
Community Table has stayed afloat through the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to Al-Zaid’s popular series of virtual cooking classes
Updated 28 May 2021
KUWAIT CITY: A chef in the Middle East has taken the concept of giving back to the community to a new level with his popular farm-to-table project.
“The Community Table idea came about when I was studying and working in Miami,” said Firas Al-Zaid, founder of what has become one of the best-known culinary initiatives in Kuwait.
“I was constantly being inspired by other chefs and farmers, and those experiences evolved into a yearning to create a community back home — one that would allow us to grow as one force.”
The result is Community Table, which he launched in 2013 and is locally sourced in every sense. It brings together young Kuwaiti chefs from diverse culinary backgrounds to prepare multi-course menus made with ingredients that come directly from local farms.
“The typical format of a Community Table event is usually born with a single idea or food theme,” said Al-Zaid. “We then carefully build on that concept through sourcing from our farmers, as well as in collaboration with other entities, to bring the vision to life.
“Within the framework of a multiple-course tasting menu that highlights that particular theme, guests are seated at one table in an intimate setting of mostly strangers, which makes the experience even more exciting.”
Though the chefs and ingredients are local, the themes for the menus span diverse regions and cultures, and also the changing seasons.
For example, the beginning of the local harvest inspires a culinary adventure — “a uniquely themed ‘harvest special” — that explores our relationship with food, which has become somewhat strained in the modern era of takeaway menus and fast-food dining.
“Food is its own universe, and traveling through different cuisines allows us to remain curious,” said Al-Zaid.
* All ingredients used by Community Table chefs come directly from local farms
“The most gratifying part of paying homage to other food regions is that we’re able to do so using local and indigenous ingredients, and the cultural parallels that are connected in that process are very mentally stimulating for a chef.”
The participants in a Community Table event almost always are total strangers who gather at a table simply to enjoy the group dining experience, which brings the focus on food back to where it belongs, he added.
“Through the power of food, long-lasting friendships have been built over the years,” said Al-Zaid.
He also emphasized the importance and significance of working together as a community to bring food to a table, an endeavor that goes beyond simply preparing a meal.
“We often have artists bringing their talent to our pop-up art and menu design,” he said. “Local baristas are often featured as a finale to the meal, and each table setting and the ambience is entirely re-imagined for each event.”
The venues and settings are carefully considered, too. The first Community Table took place at Sadu House, a popular historic landmark in Kuwait. Subsequent events have been held in a variety of locations, including farms, restaurants and even museums.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced social gatherings to be suspended, but even in these challenging times Al-Zaid has found ways to share his vision of bringing the community together through a love of food, this time online with virtual cooking classes. These include a box of fresh ingredients that is sent to participants to use during the group sessions.
The chef also presents regular tutorials in the form of 60-second Instagram videos that explain some basic “how to” cooking techniques that are handy in the kitchen.
In a country that has long been ranked as one of the worst in the world in terms of obesity and health issues, initiatives such as Community Table offer a much-needed counterforce. They encourage people to ask questions about what goes into the food they eat and where it comes from, while also raising awareness of the benefits of choosing natural, locally sourced ingredients.
On a more personal level, Al-Zaid said his professional journey has been long but rewarding.
“Being a chef is extremely gratifying and I really consider it an honor,” he said. “But it also has some deeply low points that challenge you to constantly find new ways of staying motivated.
“Working with others for a common cause is a necessary reminder that none of us are alone in this.”
* This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.
Arab News gets a preview of the acclaimed French Mediterranean restaurant’s latest location
Updated 30 May 2021
RIYADH: LPM (formerly known as La Petite Maison) Restaurant and Café will open soon in the Saudi capital. Executive chef Raphael Duntoye told Arab News on our visit to LPM’s ‘soft’ launch that he intends to deliver the simple, classic dishes for which the French Mediterranean eatery has become internationally known. Riyadh is LPM’s sixth location, after London, Dubai, Miami, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong.
“The Saudi market wanted LPM for what it is — the signature menu and recipes, which we have been consistent about for the last 13 years,” Duntoye said. “So we decided to deliver just that for now — and do it greatly.”
The menu has both French and Italian influences, (Duntoye describes it as “a journey to explore the essential joy at the heart of Mediterranean ingredients at their peak”) and each dish we sampled was bursting with intricate flavors.
With over 70 dishes included in the menu and more seasonal creations from Chef Duntoye, there is definitely something for everyone.
LPM’s trademark dish is the Escargots de Bourgogne — snails with butter sauce and parsley. Served in a cast-iron pan, it is the decadent butter sauce that truly sets this dish apart from the snails we have sampled in other restaurants.
The warm prawns with olive oil — which Duntoye accurately describes as “simple, beautiful, yet very light, balanced and tasty,” is another memorable dish. What appears simple on the surface — prawns laid in a bed of olive oil and dressed with fresh basil, salt, pepper, and a hint of lemon — takes you through a whirlwind of complex flavors from the first bite. It’s worth asking for a slice or two of baguette to mop up the wonderful sauce too.
For dessert — if you really have to choose only one — you can never go wrong with the Gâteau au Fromage Frai (cheesecake). It’s what can only be described as a pillow of fluffiness — a thick layer of silky creme filling laid over a thin crust of biscuit served alongside a berry reduction. It’s a firm favorite at LPMs all over the world — and of our table on the night.
The ambience is relaxed and playful — bright bold art hangs on the walls, while classy belle-époque touches are juxtaposed neatly with the neutral backdrop of the restaurant interior.
“It’s a very fresh, classic and simple interior (with) very colorful, naive — and I would say a little bit provocative — art on the wall,” LPM’s director of global operations, Nicolas Budzynski, told us. “This is what LPM is about; you have a very classic approach but you always have a sense of surprise.”
One detail that must not be overlooked is the hospitality of the staff. This is what truly ties the LPM experience together; the waiters are excellent and really elevate our experience.
The executive chef described the ethos as “a generosity of spirit that brings people together. A room full of easy-going warmth, joie de vivre, possibility: guests and staff connected, animated, loving life.”
The staff’s passion for service shines through. A prime example is French server Cedric, who previously worked in LPM’s Dubai location and has now moved to Riyadh. Cedric is immediately welcoming and personable, putting customers at ease and happy to chat about his own life.
Contrary to other fine-dining experiences, LPM does not have silver service —it encourages a family setting, with guests serving and sharing the food together.
“We have a very humble approach, people should feel like they are at home when they come to LPM,” Budzynski said. “You put the food in the middle and everybody’s helping themselves.”
This relaxed atmosphere, warm hospitality and high-quality food creates a memorable experience for visitors. A visit to LPM really feels like you’ve been transported to the south of France without leaving the heart of Riyadh.
People are flocking to the new artisanal pizza joint for what is being heralded as some of the best pizza in Dubai, with a twist — the menu is full of unusual ingredients served on a hot and crispy Neapolitan-style dough. (Supplied)
Dubai restaurateur talks about his ‘pizza’ de resistance, Saudi expansion
Updated 23 May 2021
DUBAI: Moon Slice Pizza has only just opened in Dubai’s trendy Dar Wasl Mall, but there are already lines of people out the door waiting for a slice of the action.
People are flocking to the new artisanal pizza joint for what is being heralded as some of the best pizza in Dubai, with a twist — the menu is full of unusual ingredients served on a hot and crispy Neapolitan-style dough.
There’s the diavola — Wagyu carpaccio, spicy meatballs and olive aioli — the frutto di mare — shrimp and octopus carpaccio, fontina cheese and barbecue aioli — and other quirky menu additions such as an avocado pizza, or one with ricotta cheese, walnuts and honey. But the “pizza” de resistance, the pizza clouding Instagram feeds around the country, is the truffle-laden MS; pecorino cheese and truffle paste, truffle foam and grated truffle.
It is not quite what you’ll find at your local trattoria in Naples. Which is fitting then, because neither of the entrepreneurs behind the concept are Italian. In fact, one is Emirati, and one is Singaporean, and best known for his Japanese fare.
Moon Slice is helmed by Emirati restaurateur Mahmood Al-Khamis and the menu was dreamed up by Reif Othman, a well-known name in Dubai’s culinary scene previously working in the kitchens of Zuma and PLAY, and now best known for his innovative takes on Japanese street food across multiple outlets in Dubai. The founder of Reif Japanese Kushiyaki, Othman is riding the wave of his success (despite a tough year for the restaurant industry) to open six new restaurants in the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia this year. The first franchised Reif Japanese Kushiyaki restaurant in the world will soon open in Cairo, and three new franchised locations are being explored for Riyadh, with the first due to open later this year.
“It was always our intention to expand the Reif Japanese Kushiyaki brand regionally and internationally. In light of the pandemic, we have been able to negotiate compelling deals with landlords and franchisees, allowing us to take the concept further afield in the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Specifically for Saudi Arabia, we have signed three franchised locations in Riyadh with the first due to open later this year,” Othman said.
But with such an indomitable resume of Japanese cuisine behind him — why then, did Othman turn his sights to pizza?
“I have a soft spot for Italian cuisine as I started my career in an Italian kitchen,” he said. “Whilst my own concepts embrace an unconventional twist on Japanese cooking, my dishes incorporate cuisine fundamentals from Italy and France.”