The Voicenote Chef: A mom-inspired serving of Arab food and culture 

The Voicenote Chef: A mom-inspired serving of Arab food and culture 
Lebanese-Kuwaiti copywriter Kareem Shuhaibar started his Instagram account, The Voicenote Chef, in Spring 2020. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 01 July 2021

The Voicenote Chef: A mom-inspired serving of Arab food and culture 

The Voicenote Chef: A mom-inspired serving of Arab food and culture 

LONDON: When New York-based Lebanese-Kuwaiti copywriter Kareem Shuhaibar started his Instagram account, The Voicenote Chef, in Spring 2020, little did he know it would quickly bring together a community of more than 30,000 followers for a daily fix of Arab food and culture.

“It started from homesickness,” Shuhaibar, who was living in London at the time, tells Arab News. “It was lockdown. We’d been stuck at home for probably a month by that point and I was starting to feel really homesick and a bit sad, so I turned to my mom for comfort and she was, like, ‘Why don’t you make a Shorbat Adas bi Hamod (a lentil soup)?’” 




His Whatsapp slowly turning into a “manuscript of 1,000 voice notes” recorded by his mom. (Supplied)

Although initially hesitant, Kareem ended up making his mom’s lemony lentil soup and “it turned out phenomenal. I was so impressed. So I asked my mom to send me another voice note and she sent me (recipes for) Muhamarra, and artichokes with garlic and lemon.”

More recipes followed — his Whatsapp slowly turning into a “manuscript of  1,000 voice notes” recorded by his mom —  and Shuhaibar grew more confident in his cooking skills. So confident that he launched The Voicenote Chef.




Beyond the food and comedy, there’s a very personal story behind ‘The Voicenote Chef’ too. (Supplied)

The reason his page resonated with so many, Kareem believes, is because “people love witnessing how a guy who knows nothing about the kitchen can transform overnight with the help of his mom. It’s a modern story that goes against stereotypes.” 

Beyond the authenticity of his page (he will happily post a photo of food served on a chipped plate “because that’s the plate you have at home”), there’s an original, and equally entertaining, element of nostalgic storytelling in the way he posts his recipes. Shuhaibar also regularly posts comedy skits about the nuances of being an Arab mom or specifics of everyday Arabic culture. 




‘The Voicenote Chef’ was a way for Shuhaibar to honor his single mom, who raised him and his siblings on her own following their father’s death 25 years ago. (Supplied)

“There’s a whole world around the dinner table in the Arab world. There’s what happens after you eat. There are the conversations you have when you’re eating,” he says. “(On The Voicenote Chef), food is so much more than just ingredients. It’s a story. It’s a home you come to every day. You come in, see what I’m talking about today in terms of Arabic culture and food, see what my mom’s saying, and you leave, hopefully with a smile and a big belly.” 

Beyond the food and comedy, there’s a very personal story behind ‘The Voicenote Chef’ too. It was a way for Shuhaibar to honor his single mom, who raised him and his siblings on her own following their father’s death 25 years ago.

“It brings me closer to home, even though home is thousands of kilometers away. I feel like I’m in the Middle East every day I open my page. I feel this page is like an embassy for our Arab world,” he says. “And it’s become my therapy. My mom saved me in the pandemic.”


Thousands flock to Saudi capital for inaugural gaming extravaganza RUSH Festival

Thousands of video game lovers descended upon the Riyadh Front on Friday for the RUSH Festival. (Huda Bashatah/ Arab News)
Updated 53 sec ago

Thousands flock to Saudi capital for inaugural gaming extravaganza RUSH Festival

Thousands of video game lovers descended upon the Riyadh Front on Friday for the RUSH Festival. (Huda Bashatah/ Arab News)

RIYADH: Thousands of video game lovers descended upon the Riyadh Front on Friday to kick off five days of gaming, shopping, cosplay, local food and entertainment at Saudi Arabia’s inaugural RUSH Festival. The e-sports games event is taking place until Oct. 26 in the Kingdom’s capital as part of Riyadh Season 2021.

“I’m honored to be here, it’s very entertaining,” said Othman Kisha, 23 year old software engineer from Riyadh.

Thirteen thousand tickets sold out on the first day, said Salah Chukri, one of the organizers behind the event. The first day of the gaming convention brought visitors ­— some dressed as their favorite video game characters — together to participate in a host of interactive games, compete against each other for prize money and pose with some of their favorite influencers and figures in the world of e-sports during meet and greet sessions. 

“I love how with Riyadh Season, it’s sticking with the culture and giving everyone entertainment, such as the games and yesterday’s WWE (Crown Jewel) — it’s amazing how all these things are integrated with the culture of Saudi Arabia,” he said.

With a focus on the whole of the gaming industry, from console and PC gaming to mobile and esports, RUSH Festival aims to give video game aficionados the opportunity to access and experience the latest tech in e-games and the chance to interact with each other in real life, and online.

“I’m in love with FIFA, I also love playing Call of Duty and will see other games here (at RUSH). I’m planning to play against Mosaad Aldossary. I want to be the first one to beat him,” said Kisha, referring to an award-winning gamer.

Additionally, the region is playing host to the PUBG Mobile e-sport tournament for the first time ever, after decamping from Los Angeles to Riyadh, with 16 teams hailing from all parts of the globe participating, including Saudi Arabian-based e-sports teams, “Power” and “25.”

“Our being here at the festival tonight let us know that we have the ambition to be innovators and to do a lot of great things,” said the 29-year-old founder of “25 E-Sports” Khalid Al-Shammari, better known by his gamer tag “KLOoODE25” — pronounced Khalloodi.

“The e-sports gaming scene in Saudi Arabia is developing at a fast rate. In the next few years, we’re going to witness e-gaming compete at the level of sports like professional football and basketball. 

“It’ll become something foundational in sports,” he said.

25 E-Sports plays competitively in many games including FIFA, RocketLeague and Call of Duty. In over 600 championships this year alone, the gaming group came out top three in all of them, according to Al-Shammari, who personally loves to play Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. 

“We hope to see more visitors from all over the world here in Saudi Arabia, participating and enjoying festivals like RUSH and the Riyadh Season,” he concluded.


Miss Universe UAE reveals its first 15 finalists

Miss Universe UAE reveals its first 15 finalists
Updated 22 October 2021

Miss Universe UAE reveals its first 15 finalists

Miss Universe UAE reveals its first 15 finalists

DUBAI: Miss Universe UAE has unveiled 15 out of the 30 finalists set to compete in the inaugural beauty pageant.

Organizers took to social media on Thursday to reveal the names of the first contestants, along with their ages and where they live.

The finalists from Dubai include Dilnoza, 23, Alma, Emilia, Natalia, and Anita, all 24, 25-year-olds Sara and Reem, Bahar and Victoria, 26, Franki, 27, and Anna and Asher, 28.

Jasmin, 22, and Razan, 28, from Abu Dhabi, will compete in the next stage. The one contestant from Sharjah was named as Marwa, 23.

Fifteen contestants, out of the 30 models, will be selected on Nov. 5 and the Miss Universe UAE winner will be announced on Nov. 7 at an event at Dubai’s La Perle.

For Thursday’s announcement, the models were all dressed in covered gowns by Dubai-based label Amato Couture.

On Wednesday, pageant organizers revealed that former Miss Lebanon Nadine Nassib Njeim would be on the jury panel for the event.

In a video shared on the organization’s Instagram page, the 37-year-old Lebanese actress said: “I am very happy and honored to announce that I will be part of the official jury of Miss Universe UAE.”

To join the pageant, participants had to be aged between 18 and 28, and live in the UAE.

The committee includes founder and chief executive of Dubai’s Yugen Events, Josh Yugen, Dubai-based fashion designer Furne Amato, former British-Filipino beauty queen Maggie Wilson, philanthropist Alaf Meky, humanitarian Zel Ali, and general manager of Emaar, Sharihan Al-Mashary.

To adhere to the region’s culture, organizers revealed at a recent press conference that the swimwear segment would be eliminated from the competition. The event will feature contestants giving a personal statement and displays of couture activewear and evening gowns.

Miss Universe, which began in 1952, is the world’s biggest pageant. It was previously owned by former US president, Donald Trump.


IMA in Paris celebrates Lebanon’s artistic talent in new exhibition

IMA in Paris celebrates Lebanon’s artistic talent in new exhibition
Updated 22 October 2021

IMA in Paris celebrates Lebanon’s artistic talent in new exhibition

IMA in Paris celebrates Lebanon’s artistic talent in new exhibition
  • Highlights from ‘Lights of Lebanon,’ which presents more than 100 works from 55 artists in a show of solidarity with the Lebanese people

DUBAI: The Insitut du Monde Arabe in Paris is one of Europe’s most important repositories of Arab art and culture. In its latest exhibition, “Lights of Lebanon,” the institute “celebrates the prodigious creativity of modern and contemporary artists from Lebanon and its diasporas.”

The exhibition is split into three periods, running in reverse chronological order: 2005 to the present day (“Lebanon, a country of never-ending  reconstructions”), 1975-2005 (“The somber years”), and 1943 to 1975 (“The Golden Age”).

“What has always been the strength of the Lebanese … is that the fragility of their state never stopped them from moving forward, from building, even if they lived in constant risk. In short, they live in the present, without obscuring personal and collective memory,” the IMA’s museum curator Eric Delpont says in the show catalogue. “It seems to me that in the West, especially in Europe, we couldn’t do this, because we need a sense of security.”

Many of the works on display were donated by the prolific collectors of Arab art Claude and France Lemand. It was Claude who came up with the title of the show, explaining that he sees artists as the “Lights of Lebanon.”

“I mean above all those who have made Beirut the city of light of the East, who have shone at all times of its tormented history, even if over the decades, the dominant clans — who defend only their interests — have plunged Lebanon into political, economic, financial, social, health and even cultural chaos,” he says in the catalogue. “But Lebanon remains a country from which the light shines.”

Here, Arab News presents some highlights from the exhibition, which Lemand describes as just “just a drop in the ocean, as far as this devastated country is concerned, but at least we have the satisfaction of having motivated and even inspired many artists, of all generations.”

Zena Assi

‘Holding On By A Thread’

Assi is one of several artists from the diaspora featured in the exhibition. Claude Lemand felt it important to stress that the show was dedicated to “all those who have links with the country” and believes the fact that the diaspora is so widespread shows that “Lebanon is not just Lebanon; it goes far beyond the small country and its small population and it echoes throughout the world.”

Assi is a multidisciplinary artist currently based in London. This incredibly detailed 2012 piece is typical of her works, which — the exhibition brochure explains — are “punctuated with visual references to eastern cities, particularly Beirut, and the difficulties endured by migrants from different backgrounds – anonymous tightrope walkers clinging onto life by a thread. Her fragmented cities reflect the migratory and urban violence, and the violence in Beirut. Bundles of memories, identity-based burdens, and emotional baggage, she describes their wanderings in cities that are represented as a kaleidoscope of symbols and codes: graffiti on the walls, billboards, contemporary souks, and luxury goods.”

Shaffic Abboud

‘Cinema Christine’

Abboud is widely regarded as one of the — if not the — most important modern Lebanese artists. He is best known for his paintings, several of which feature in the “Lights of Lebanon” exhibition, and particularly for his richly textured abstract works, but this piece is something of a curio. It was created in 1964 for his daughter Christine and was inspired by the picture boxes of itinerant storytellers who would travel from village to village, enthralling the children. “Cinema Christine” is a working model of such a box, complete with magic lamp and narrative scrolls.

Ayman Baalbaki

‘The End’

Baalbaki’s bleak dystopian image was selected to open the show — presumably a deliberate statement that Lebanon has now reached rock bottom (perhaps tempered with the hope that, from such a point, the only way is up). The artist has spent much of his career exploring the numerous conflicts in the region through his art — his images of veiled fighters have proved particularly popular. This piece, created over the last five years, is less confrontational but equally powerful.

Etel Adnan

‘Al-Sayyab, The Lost Mother and Child’

The much-revered artist, writer and poet is still prolific today, aged 96, and is widely regarded as Lebanon’s greatest female artist. She is best known for her colorful impressionist landscapes, but has described her artist books (or ‘leporellos’) such as this one as “particularly important” parts of her portfolio. In the leporellos, inspired by Japanese folding books, Adnan complements her writing with drawings in ink and watercolor. “I avoided using traditional calligraphy, although it is wonderful, to highlight my personal writing, which, in its very imperfection, brings the person writing into the work,” she states in the show catalogue, which goes on to explain that Adnan uses the horizontal, foldable format to “create works that can be extended into space — ‘a liberation of the text and images.’”

Fatima El-Hajj

‘Promenade’

El-Hajj’s work is displayed in the second part of the exhibition (“The somber age”), but — as Claude Lemand explains in the catalogue — her vibrant work can be seen as defiance in the face of the violence and destruction that surrounded her as she began her artistic career around the time that the Civil War broke out in the mid-Seventies. “She experienced the entire civil war and all the wars and misfortunes that followed; she still suffers in body and soul, but she has never painted war scenes or scenes of destruction,” he says. “For her, painting is eternal; she’s developed thinking and a world that transcends war and death.”


Can ROKA deliver the goods in Riyadh?

Can ROKA deliver the goods in Riyadh?
Updated 22 October 2021

Can ROKA deliver the goods in Riyadh?

Can ROKA deliver the goods in Riyadh?
  • We see if the award-winning Japanese restaurant lives up to the hype

RIYADH: When ROKA opened its doors in downtown Riyadh at the end of July, it was an immediate hit with local food lovers. So much so that reservations needed to be made well in advance.

Now that the hullabaloo around the launch has died down a little, it’s easier to get a spot, but ROKA is proving to be more than a flash in the pan. The Japanese restaurant has won plenty of awards in its home city of London, and its first international branch — which opened in Dubai last year — demonstrated the chain’s eagerness to maintain those high standards. Its latest offering, located in the heart of the Saudi capital, is following suit.

First impressions are good. The interior’s upscale rustic Japanese style and classy lighting suggest an easy, unpretentious sophistication, while its scale — seating for up to 243 guests — shows a confident ambition.

The interior’s upscale rustic Japanese style and classy lighting suggest an easy, unpretentious sophistication, while its scale — seating for up to 243 guests — shows a confident ambition. (Supplied)

The serving staff were unfailingly excellent; clearly knowledgeable about the food and comfortable recommending a tailored selection based on individual preferences.

Great service and nice decor are all well and good, but the most important ingredient in ROKA’s success is, of course, the menu.

Starting with the mocktails, we sampled nearly every option. One highlight was the Green Yoda — a blend of matcha green tea, passion fruit and a bright burst of lemon; perfect as a palate refresher between courses.

The lamb cutlets with Korean spices and sesame cucumber is one of the stars of the grilled menu. (Supplied)

But matcha is an acquired taste. If you’ve yet to acquire it, we’d recommend the White Lotus, a tempting mix of dragon fruit, lychee, strawberry and yuzu that goes well with any meal. We didn’t enjoy the Yuzuki as much, even though it came highly recommended by the ROKA team. It tasted somehow watered down and was quite bland.

Any disappointment at the Yuzuki was quickly tempered by the yellowtail sashimi and yuzu-truffle dressing that got our dinner started with a bang. The earthy truffle flavors were the perfect complement to the subtle sweetness of the melt-in-your-mouth fish — amplifying its natural flavors while preserving the integrity of its cut.

The sweet potato tempura and truffle sauce was less of a hit. The presentation — as with every dish — was superb, but the taste was underwhelming and lacked the punch we were expecting.

ROKA opened its doors in downtown Riyadh at the end of July. (Supplied)

We were on safer ground with the king crab, black cod and prawn dumplings with roasted chili dressing, which deserves its tag as one of ROKA’s signature dishes. The exterior of the dumpling had been seared to create a satisfying layer of crunch packed with an array of sweet seafood flavors.

For our maki rolls, we selected the wagyu tartare maki with karashi mustard, along with the crispy prawn and avocado maki with dark sweet soy. Both were fantastic, and we’d list them as must-try options.

The evening’s standout dish, though, was the black cod marinated in yuzu miso and served with pickled radish. The cod’s crunchy exterior and sweet creamy center matched with the tang of the yuzu miso is a perfect combination, making this truly the best cod we’ve tasted in Riyadh. Pair it with ROKA’s baked potato with yuzu cream and chives served tableside to make it even better.

ROKA’s offers baked potato with yuzu cream and chives. (Supplied)

If you’re not a seafood fan, then go for the Robata meat section, which offers a wide selection cooked live at the grilling station. (The restaurant is famed for its Robatayaki cooking method — the grilling technique that gives the meat a satisfying charred flavor.) Our only meat selection was the lamb cutlets with Korean spices and sesame cucumber. Apparently this is one of the stars of the grilled menu, but we found it fell a bit short of ROKA’s general high standards. The plating was once again beautiful — the lamb chops delicately balanced against each other — but the flavors were unbalanced, with the disappointing spice blend overpowering the tenderness of the lamb and leaving little room for flavors to be infused from the grill.

But our night ended on a high note with the yoghurt and almond cake. It’s a favorite on the Dubai branch’s menu and we can see why. The cake’s hard crust hides a warm, fluffy almond sponge that is topped with a mango toffee sauce and a dollop of caramel miso ice cream. It’s essentially an upscale, deconstructed mango cobbler, and it’s delicious; a perfect blend of warm, comforting flavors that brought our dinner to a very satisfying end.

Overall, ROKA justified its reputation as one of Riyadh’s most exciting new eateries.


Review: Disney’s new anthology series ‘Just Beyond’ is just right for teen audiences

Review: Disney’s new anthology series ‘Just Beyond’ is just right for teen audiences
Updated 22 October 2021

Review: Disney’s new anthology series ‘Just Beyond’ is just right for teen audiences

Review: Disney’s new anthology series ‘Just Beyond’ is just right for teen audiences
  • Teen horror show relies on earnest allegories and family-friendly scares

LONDON: Teen horror is a surprisingly tricky thing to get right. Go to far with the ‘horror’ and it makes it unsuitable for teen audiences. Go to far with the ‘teen’ and it makes it a tough sell for anyone else. In an attempt to tread this finest of lines, Disney+ has opted to adapt the works of prolific teen-horror writer R. L. Stine into a new, eight-part anthology series, featuring standalone episodes and a cast of fresh young actors.

 When a young girl realizes that the monster stalking her (“My Monster”) is created by her anxiety following her parents’ divorce, she discovers it only chases her if she keeps running. (Supplied)

“Just Beyond” covers a lot of ground in those eight episodes — from aliens and monsters to ghosts and alternate universes. Each episode stays unerringly on the right side of family-friendly, with just the occasional jump scare and a tendency to wrap every episode up with a nice, narrative bow by the time the credits roll. Fans of Stine’s books and graphic novels will find a lot to like in “Just Beyond”.

A grieving son takes his widowed mother for granted (“The Treehouse”) until a trip to an alternate dimension teaches him to appreciate that they both miss his dad. You get the idea. (Supplied)

Where the series really finds its feet is during its more allegorical moments. In among the stories of witches and ghouls are some heart-warming (yet still teen-friendly) parallels. When a young girl realizes that the monster stalking her (“My Monster”) is created by her anxiety following her parents’ divorce, she discovers it only chases her if she keeps running. A teenage witch tries to hide her gifts from her friends (“Which Witch”) until she realizes that they love her no matter what. A grieving son takes his widowed mother for granted (“The Treehouse”) until a trip to an alternate dimension teaches him to appreciate that they both miss his dad. You get the idea.

Some of the messages are a little heavy handed, and some of the performances a little over earnest. But though “Just Beyond” can be a tad on the nose, that’s probably what it’s going for. Parents, admittedly, might not find a huge amount to draw them in, but this show isn’t really for them, as the title of the first episode in the series makes clear. Its name? “Leave Them Kids Alone.”