Expats in Saudi Arabia share their iftar staples

This combination of photographs shows plates with traditional food for Muslims to break their fast during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. (AFP)
This combination of photographs shows plates with traditional food for Muslims to break their fast during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. (AFP)
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Updated 06 April 2022

Expats in Saudi Arabia share their iftar staples

This combination of photographs shows plates with traditional food for Muslims to break their fast during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. (AFP)
  • Muslims in the Kingdom believe food connects them with their families, country and culture

RIYADH: Ramadan unites everyone regardless of ethnicity, and Muslims around the Kingdom gather to break their fasts with diverse dishes that celebrate and highlight their cultural traditions during the holy month. Here’s a look at how expats from different cultures living in Saudi Arabia celebrate iftar and break their fasts during Ramadan.

Some expats who have lived in the Kingdom for years and call the country their home have held onto their cultural traditions, strengthened them, and passed them from one generation to the next.




Many expats living in the Kingdom enjoy the traditional Saudi iftar dishes alongside their cultural staples. (SPA)

“I think food is one particular thing that keeps one connected to their home or roots in a way. It’s nostalgic for us too when we break our fast in a home away from home,” Arshin Fathima, who has called Saudi Arabia her home for the past 12 years, told Arab News. “I’m from Chennai (the southern part of India). India is a country with diverse cultures and because of that each city has its own distinctive cuisine exclusive to the month of Ramadan.

She added: “I think when you start your family in another country, definitely the kids get accustomed to the environment and adapt themselves more comfortably here . . . so in a way sticking to our traditional meals makes us feel at home too sometimes.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Arshin Fathima from Chennai told Arab News that a traditional iftar table in her home contains a porridge or soup called ganji that is made with rice and lentils and very light spices.

• Dr. Kifaya Ifthikar said that a Sri Lankan iftar must always consist of a spicy porridge dish.

Fathima told Arab News that a traditional iftar table in her home contains a porridge or soup called ganji that is made with rice and lentils and very light spices. “We also have crispy and soft fritters called medu vada made from lentils. Both are a good coolant and are light on the stomach after a long day of fasting.  Of course, there are other items too, but without ganji and medu vada I think any Chennaiites’ fast would be incomplete,” she said.

When asked if there were any similarities between her meals and a traditional Saudi iftar table, Fathima enthusiastically said: “Yes! This is like my second home. We have cheese and meat sambousek, kunafa, logaimat alongside our traditional porridge. Sambousaks have to be the first thing my kids reach for when they break their fast.”

Dr. Kifaya Ifthikar, who is from Sri Lanka, has been living in Saudi Arabia for more than 22 years. “An iftar table should look like a balance between health and happiness,” she said.

Ifthikar added: “In Sri Lankan cuisine, it’s usually savory all the way, we consume an assortment of fritters called cutlets, rolls or patties and a thirst-quenching pink drink called falooda.”

Falooda is a drink traditionally consisting of rose sherbet syrup, milk, basil seed and occasionally vermiculite noodles.

As an American convert to Islam living in Saudi Arabia, I’ve really started to fall in love with Saudi food.

Hana Nemec, US citizen in Saudi Arabia

In contrast to Saudi and Chennai iftar, Ifthikar said that a Sri Lankan iftar must always consist of a spicy porridge dish. Iftikhar explained that “even though our dishes are quite different, we do see some similarities, for example, cutlets could be easily substituted with falafel or our porridge with oatmeal soup. Dates are always a staple, and occasionally a sip of qahwa.”

Many Muslim expats living and working in the Kingdom have adopted the traditional Saudi style of breaking their fast with soups, light fried dishes and sweets, and the classic Vimto and dates.

“As an American convert to Islam living in Saudi Arabia, I’ve really started to fall in love with Saudi food,” Hana Nemec, a US citizen and head of communications for the American Chamber of Commerce, told Arab News.




Many expats living in the Kingdom enjoy the traditional Saudi iftar dishes alongside their cultural staples. (SPA)

“American food just doesn’t feel like iftar food to me. Iftar foods are so special for each of us because they’re our first moment of thankfulness for the reprieve from our fast,” Nemec said.

Apart from having a Saudi-style iftar table, Nemec has also tried her hand at cooking local dishes. “After it being my favorite food for the last six years, I tried my own jareesh recipe last year and my friends couldn’t believe it was made by a non-Saudi,” she said.

Nemec isn’t the only American living in Saudi Arabia who has embraced and adopted the local traditional iftar.

Hasan Yusuf, an American Muslim living and working in Saudi Arabia, said that his favorite way to break his fast is through a shared meal with locals over a joint dish of earika and haneeth — and relishing it by eating hands. He explained that food brings people together. “We feast intimately, sharing from one plate. Dishes like earika and haneeth must be eaten from one bowl or plate. Everyone’s hands are digging in, reaching for the stars and eating joyfully,” he said.

Yusuf said that he has grown to appreciate a local favorite, camel’s milk, which he constantly incorporates in his iftar.

“It’s just as simple as saying: “You are my brother, we are family, say bismillah and enjoy ‘our’ cultural dish. The ‘our’ part makes me feel included. Never have I felt that eating earika or haneeth is an exclusive thing. In fact, I’ve mastered making it now. So, yes, this year I’ll be inviting them to try OUR earika,” Yusuf said.

Iftar connects Muslims during the holy of Ramadan, regardless of what dishes are on the table or what spices are used. Muslims across the Kingdom embrace their cultural diversity. “They remind us of how blessed we are to have the sustenance God has granted us, and for his mercy and generosity reflected in our lives to be able to gather with those that we love to consume it. Not everyone on Earth is as blessed as us, so these foods are meant to be cherished,” Nemec said.

Although the food on each of our iftar tables may vary in colors and flavors, Muslims in Saudi Arabia are united in the celebration of Ramadan.


Saudi Arabia sponsors $1bn economic reform in Yemen

Saudi Arabia sponsors $1bn economic reform in Yemen
Updated 28 November 2022

Saudi Arabia sponsors $1bn economic reform in Yemen

Saudi Arabia sponsors $1bn economic reform in Yemen
  • AMF program to improve transparency in banking, financial and private sectors
  • Saudi Arabia has been lead donor to Yemen since 2001

RIYADH: Under the sponsorship of Saudi Arabia, the Arab Monetary Fund has signed a $1 billion agreement with the Yemeni government to revitalize its flagging economy.

The deal, signed in Riyadh, seeks to establish a comprehensive economic, financial and monetary reform program to improve governance and transparency, expand and diversify production and lower unemployment and poverty.

Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan said that the program will develop Yemen’s financial and banking sector, strengthen the role of the private sector and promote long-term economic development. 

The reform priorities for the government include developing public resources, controlling and rationalizing government spending, improving efficiency, and rehabilitating critical infrastructure in electricity, water and transport services. 

Priorities for the financial and banking sectors include developing a supervision system to improve transparency and accountability and bolstering services for small and medium businesses and youths and women in rural areas. It will also seek to boost digitalization and payment method flexibility.

The program says the private sector is a primary driver of sustainable economic growth, and key in paving the way for greater integration into the global economy, the flow of foreign investment, and the strengthening of international partnerships. 

The Yemeni government expressed interest in exploring opportunities for regional and international institutions to collaborate to support Yemeni economic reform. 

The agreement’s sponsorship by Saudi Arabia is an extension of the country's economic support for Yemen. The Kingdom gave the Central Bank of Yemen $1 billion in 2012 and $2 billion in 2018 to cover the import of basic food commodities. 

From 2001 to 2022, Saudi Arabia has led the list of donor countries to Yemen, providing 30 percent of total support.

 


Saudi, Egyptian interior ministers hold talks in Riyadh

Saudi, Egyptian interior ministers hold talks in Riyadh
Updated 27 November 2022

Saudi, Egyptian interior ministers hold talks in Riyadh

Saudi, Egyptian interior ministers hold talks in Riyadh
  • Cooperation agreement signed to combat crime

RIYADH: Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Mahmoud Tawfiq in Riyadh on Sunday, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

They discussed ways to improve security cooperation between their ministries. The talks also saw the signing of a cooperation agreement to combat crime.

Saudi attendees included Deputy Interior Minister Dr. Nasser bin Abdul Aziz Al-Dawood, Interior Ministry Undersecretary Dr. Hisham bin Abdulrahman Al-Faleh, Interior Ministry Undersecretary for Security Affairs Mohammed bin Muhanna Al-Muhanna, and Public Security Director Mohammed Al-Bassami.

Egyptian attendees included Adel Al-Sayed Abdulaziz Jaafar, head of the National Security Agency, and officials from the Interior Ministry.

 


Sustainable development of Saudi island will boost economy

Darin and Tarout is among the most archaeologically significant islands in Eastern Province. (SPA)
Darin and Tarout is among the most archaeologically significant islands in Eastern Province. (SPA)
Updated 28 November 2022

Sustainable development of Saudi island will boost economy

Darin and Tarout is among the most archaeologically significant islands in Eastern Province. (SPA)
  • Dr. Saad Dahlawi: 'The Kingdom is witnessing unprecedented economic and developmental growth and following the standards of sustainable development'

RIYADH: Economists and environmentalists say sustainable investment is important for an island north of Dammam allocated billions of riyals for development.

Experts told Arab News that the SR2.64 billion ($703 million) granted to Darin and Tarout island by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last week has much potential to boost the Eastern Province’s economy.

Darin and Tarout is among the most archaeologically significant islands in the region, with evidence of 5,000 years of continuous human habitation and around a dozen heritage sites, including a fortress dating back hundreds of years.

Dr. Saad Dahlawi, Assistant Professor, Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University (L) and
Fahad Almutlaq, CEO of Sharqia Development Authority.

Officials aim to improve the quality of life for its 120,000 people while preserving its cultural and historical heritage, revitalizing its natural beauty sites and enhancing its tourism economy.

As much as 48 percent of its 32 sq. km area will be dedicated to public parks, waterfronts, roads, and facilities. The island hopes to boost the number of tourists to 1.36 million by 2030 and generate thousands of jobs.

HIGHLIGHT

Officials aim to improve the quality of life for its 120,000 people while preserving its cultural and historical heritage, revitalizing its natural beauty sites and enhancing its tourism economy.

“This project represents the first strategic works and initiatives done by the Eastern Region Development Authority,” said Eastern Province Development Authority CEO Fahad Al-Mutlaq.

He said that work would start next year on a program to gradually improve social and economic conditions after comprehensive studies were completed.

Fadhel Al-Buainain, a member of the Shura Council, said that the island had historical importance.

Fadhel Al-Buainain, member of the Saudi Economists Association and member of the Shoura Council (L) and Abdullah Al-Khuzam, member of the National Program for the Development of Handicrafts.

“Developing Darin Castle and Darin Airport as heritage tourist destinations will enhance the cultural side,” he said. “The establishment of the largest forest on the banks of the Gulf will contribute to enhancing the environmental goals of the Kingdom.

“If eco-hotels are developed in natural areas, this will be an important base for eco-tourism, which will support the economy of the island.”

Al-Buainain, who is also a member of the Saudi Economists Association, said that the development plan would make an important economic contribution to the region.

“Providing small and medium investment and employment opportunities will have an important socio-economic impact,” he said, adding that the development would contribute to achieving the goals of Vision 2030.

Dr. Saad Dahlawi, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health at Imam Abd al-Rahman bin Faisal University, said he believed that the development announcement came at the perfect time.

“The Kingdom is witnessing unprecedented economic and developmental growth and following the standards of sustainable development,” he said.

Dahlawi added however that project leaders needed to assess impacts on the environment and especially on marine life to ensure that endangered species are not put at further risk.

“Such a study would provide decision-makers with a clear picture of how to implement the project sustainably,” he said.

Dahlawi said it was important to follow international environmental standards, as well as the standards and requirements of the National Center for Environmental Compliance, to avoid any damage to the environment.

Abdullah Al-Khuzam, a member of The National Handicraft Development Program, said the intention to turn Darin Airport into a heritage museum “means that a new prosperity period is being written on one of the oldest inhabited islands in the Arabian Gulf.”

He said that the museum and planned art festivals would help present “our ancient culture and civilization to the world.”

 

 


University signs deal to boost Saudi student fitness

University signs deal to boost Saudi student fitness
Updated 28 November 2022

University signs deal to boost Saudi student fitness

University signs deal to boost Saudi student fitness
  • The SFA is the main body responsible for promoting a healthy lifestyle in the Kingdom by providing sports activities

JEDDAH: The Saudi Sports for All Federation has signed a deal with the Arab Open University in Riyadh to cooperate on creating sports programs that will help build a healthy and active society.

Both organizations will also work together to promote sports culture and community sports to build a healthy lifestyle among the AOU’s students.

The federation will use the university’s sports facilities to launch initiatives and sports groups, organize community events and motivate students to take part.

SFA President Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal said the agreement was part of a strategy to work with partners and improve the health of the nation.

“We will also cooperate with the university in research, studies, data and statistics to attract a large number of university students to participate in sports and physical activities. This will help achieve our strategic objectives,” he said.

AOU Rector Ali Al-Shahrani said he was pleased to have signed the agreement.

“We seek to provide an integrated educational environment for our students by launching initiatives, sports events, and community programs within the university’s facilities. This agreement will help promote a sports culture among our students.

“We aim to provide multiple opportunities for people to participate in sports and physical activity in order to promote a healthy lifestyle and prevent diseases.”

The SFA is the main body responsible for promoting a healthy lifestyle in the Kingdom by providing sports activities. Its priorities are education, community, volunteering, fitness and health, campaigns, and promotions for people of all ages.

The AOU operates in nine Arab countries. It was founded in 1996 by Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz as a nonprofit institution and a nontraditional education academic entity. It focuses on scientific, social and cultural subjects.

In 2002, it worked with the Open University in the UK to transform into an integrated institution.

 


Saudi Arabia’s largest e-sports festival kick starts in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia’s largest e-sports festival kick starts in Riyadh
Updated 27 November 2022

Saudi Arabia’s largest e-sports festival kick starts in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia’s largest e-sports festival kick starts in Riyadh
  • RUSH event allows video-game aficionados to experience latest tech

RIYADH: The RUSH festival, the largest event for virtual sports and games, opened at the Riyadh Front on Saturday as part of the Riyadh Season of activities.

Over five days, it will provide gamers with the best-known games and real-life experiences.

They will get the chance to play real games such as “Fortnite,” “FIFA,” and “Valorant.” The event will also bring together the best international teams so that the biggest tournaments and direct qualifiers can be held on the e-sports stage.

Representatives of the 25 E-Sport organization greeted fans at the event’s meet-and-greet booth.

Aoun, the organization’s director of operations, told Arab News: “We have content makers and professional players in all games, and we came to meet the audience here.”

HIGHLIGHT

Over five days, the RUSH festival will provide gamers with the best-known games and real-life experiences. They will get the chance to play real games such as ‘Fortnite,’ ‘FIFA,’ and ‘Valorant.’

The festival aims to provide fun video games, competitions, and challenges through direct tournaments with prizes, and includes live entertainment shows, DJ performances, an augmented reality experience, and a cosplay competition.

The Valar Club booth was promoting e-sports for women.

Malak Al-Qahtani, founder of Valar Club, told Arab News: “Valar Club is the first licensed women’s club from the federation’s electronic sports, and our goal is to help female Saudi players, as they aspire to the world, and help with their training.”

Saudi YouTuber Pika Loli travelled from Jeddah to attend the event.

“This event brings together most of the YouTubers and gamers, and it is a good opportunity to get to know each other, and it will increase our followers and grow the channel on YouTube.”

Some of the cosplayers were dressed as video game characters.

Abdulelah Al-Qahtani said: “Today we are dressed as characters from the ‘Genshin Impact’ game, and I think this is so good that Saudi Arabia brought up a hidden community, like cosplayers and gamers.”

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

Tickets for the event are available via https://riyadhseason.sa/event-details-en.html?id=599/en_RUSH.