How the Red Sea Project aims to showcase Saudi Arabia’s culinary heritage

Special How the Red Sea Project aims to showcase Saudi Arabia’s culinary heritage
As part of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is attempting to revitalize the Kingdom’s hospitality sector. (Supplied/ZADK)
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Updated 08 May 2022

How the Red Sea Project aims to showcase Saudi Arabia’s culinary heritage

How the Red Sea Project aims to showcase Saudi Arabia’s culinary heritage
  • Saudi chefs and the hospitality sector are using food to build bridges between nations and cultures
  • The Red Sea Development Company aims to open up the Kingdom’s culinary treasures to the world

DUBAI: The national cuisines of few countries can boast the variety of influences found in Saudi Arabian dishes, thanks to the remarkable assortment of flavors and ingredients introduced to the Kingdom over centuries by pilgrims, merchants and travelers.

The variety of traditional dishes that can be found across the country reflect these diverse cultural influences — from the likes of India, North and East Africa, South and Central Asia and the Levant — that enriched and seasoned the Kingdom’s traditions.

Now, Saudi chefs and the hospitality sector are once again using food to help build bridges between nations and cultures. One of the organizations that is embracing this art of “culinary diplomacy” is The Red Sea Development Company, which is managing the new tourism megaproject taking shape along the Kingdom’s Red Sea coast.




TRSDC CEO John Pagano with a group of Saudi hospitality students. (Supplied)

In line with the aims of Saudi Vision 2030, the nation’s strategy for economic diversification, TRSDC is working to stimulate new industries, create jobs, encourage entrepreneurism, and drive growth in the tourism, leisure and hospitality sectors.

“At the moment our focus is to bring young Saudis into the hospitality industry,” Lars Eltvik, the company’s senior education adviser, told Arab News.

“This is a new industry to the Kingdom and there has been a very limited offering of hospitality and culinary education in the country before. It is not dissimilar to what used to be the case in Dubai, 20 years ago.”

The Red Sea Project is a plan for a sustainable tourism resort covering about 28,000 square kilometers along Saudi Arabia’s western coast, including more than 90 unspoiled islands. The 50 hotels and 1,300 residential properties that will be built there will be served by some of the Kingdom’s top restaurants, according to Eltvik.

“We want to be able to attract, document and develop food from all the regions of Saudi Arabia so that it can then be presented in luxury hotels across the Red Sea Project,” he said.




TRSDC is building partnerships with institutions across the Kingdom that were founded to preserve and promote Saudi cuisine. (Supplied/TRSDC)

Eltvik has worked in the hospitality sector and hospitality education for three decades. Between 2001 and 2009 he was based in Dubai, where he worked at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management.

He hopes that the success the sector has enjoyed in the UAE’s commercial capital can be replicated in Saudi Arabia on a shorter timescale and in a way that is more faithful to the nation’s cultural sensitivities.

“In Saudi Arabia, everything is on the fast track now,” said Eltvik. “We are working to achieve the same (as we achieved in Dubai), and more, but in a very compressed time frame. At TRSDC, we are looking to get on board tens of thousands of staff, with a strong focus on hospitality and, within the hospitality sector, a focus on the culinary arts.”




Saudi chefs and the hospitality sector are once again using food to help build bridges between nations and cultures. (Supplied/ZADK)

The company is working to promote the hospitality industry as a desirable career option for young Saudis, he said, in keeping with the government’s Saudization drive. To that end, education authorities in the Kingdom have implemented a number of programs in which TRSDC will sponsor trainees that will eventually fill essential roles in the sector, he added.

“We are focusing on the authenticity of enhancing tourism and hospitality through food in the Kingdom, and through the projection and education of young Saudis to proudly present their history and their past through the culinary experience,” Eltvik said.

There is a consensus that simply replicating the type of restaurants and cuisines that can be found in cities around the globe will not help to transform Saudi Arabia into the distinctive culinary destination that is envisioned. A focus on promoting the culinary arts and distinctly Saudi flavors are therefore clear priorities.

FASTFACTS

• The Red Sea Project is a 28,000 sq km sustainable-tourism resort due for completion by 2030.

• The Red Sea Development Company is expected to contribute $5.3 billion to national gross domestic product

While many traditional local dishes are common across the country — such as kabsa, which is made from rice, meat, vegetables and spices, and harees, an Arabian favorite comprised of ground wheat, meat and spices — the flavors, ingredients and cooking techniques can vary widely from one region to another.

The Red Sea port city of Jeddah has long attracted travelers from the region and the world, resulting in dishes replete with Persian, Levantine, Turkish, Maghrebi, and Central and South Asian influences.

In Hijaz, for example, the influences for popular dishes such as bukhari rice, manto (dumplings filled with beef and onion), shish barak (meat dumplings cooked in a yogurt-based stew), and kabli rice can be traced to Central and East Asia, while the origins of the vegetable-based stews that are popular in the region lie in North Africa and the Levant.

In the Kingdom’s central Najd plateau, meanwhile, the local cuisine includes heavier dishes such as soups, stews and sauces that better suit the area’s cooler climate.




“I created ZADK because I saw that in Saudi Arabia we were lacking an academy to learn about our cultural cuisine,” Rania Moualla said. (Supplied/ZADK)

In March, TRSDC appointed Lawrence Assadourian its culinary director with a mandate to work with Saudi chefs to create unique food options for regional and international visitors to enjoy, while also promoting local favorites.

“One of our missions is community development,” he told Arab News. “How are we, as a group, going to ensure that the Red Sea has a sense of place? (That) it is not just an experience replica of another destination in the world?

“And one of the ways we are looking to do that is to build the necessary programs that will incubate and accelerate Saudi-based chefs. We feel this is important because, long-term, the sustainability of talent should be driven by local people, to complement foreign talent.”

Sustainability is at the heart of what TRSDC is hoping to achieve as the Kingdom’s nascent tourism, leisure and hospitality industries set out to create offerings that are sensitive to local customs and in keeping with the environment.

“We are a regenerative tourism destination,” Assadourian said. “We care deeply about the environment and the integration of the communities in which we are building our projects.

“We need to ensure that we strike a strong balance between internationally experienced cuisine in our destination and how we infuse the culinary and cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia into the entire guest-experience journey.”




While many traditional local dishes are common across the country, the flavors, ingredients and cooking techniques can vary widely from one region to another. (Supplied/ZADK)

To achieve this, TRSDC is building partnerships with institutions across the Kingdom that were founded to preserve and promote Saudi cuisine.

Among those who welcome TRSDC’s mission to serve up the Kingdom’s culinary traditions to the world is Moe Inani, executive chef and co-owner of Chifty, a stylish restaurant and cosmopolitan lounge in Riyadh.

Although he is an engineer by training, Inani said his first love was cooking, a skill he picked up at an early age while helping his mother prepare meals at the family’s home in his native Jeddah.

After concluding his studies in the US, Inani became a sous-chef at Saison, a Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco where he learned to prepare sushi, and later for upmarket restaurants Nobu and Morimoto.

With his background in Japanese cuisine, Inani has created some novel twists on the more conventional local takes on Red Sea fish, and Arab News has learned that discussions are under way for him to collaborate with TRSDC.




“We want to be able to attract, document and develop food from all the regions of Saudi Arabia,” Lars Eltvik, senior education adviser with the Red Sea Development Company. (Supplied)

“Food has always united us,” Rania Moualla, a Saudi philanthropist and the founder and chair of ZADK, a nonprofit culinary academy in Al-Khobar in the Eastern Province, told Arab News.

The academy was founded in 2018, three years after Moualla published her cookbook, “A Spoonful of Home.” Its mission to nurture Saudi Arabia’s rich culinary heritage by empowering local chefs is similar to that of TRSDC, with which it has formed a partnership.

“I created ZADK because I saw that in Saudi Arabia we were lacking an academy to learn about our cultural cuisine,” Moualla said. “Most of our restaurants are in the hands of expats. I launched ZADK because I wanted to do something sustainable and with a higher impact for the community.”

She said the academy is looking at ways in which it can develop its partnership with TRSDC by helping to train the next generation of Saudi chefs.

“I am looking forward to having their students study at our academy,” Moualla said.




The Red Sea Project is a 28,000 sq km sustainable-tourism resort due for completion by 2030. (Supplied/TRSDC)

In so doing, ZADK, which also has a separate partnership agreement with Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland, aims to promote the Saudi gastronomical scene and ensure it meets international standards.

“Our mission is to develop the best culinary school in Saudi Arabia, make it a platform for social change and teach our cuisine in a way that enables students to learn international cuisines as well as Saudi cuisines,” Moualla said.

“We aim to allow our students to travel the world with Saudi cuisine and heritage.”

It is precisely this kind of culinary diplomacy that TRSDC aims to serve up for visitors to Saudi Arabia to savor and enjoy by 2030, when the Red Sea Project is due for completion.


King Khalid International Airport launches advanced control center

King Khalid International Airport launches advanced control center
Updated 14 sec ago

King Khalid International Airport launches advanced control center

King Khalid International Airport launches advanced control center
  • The inauguration ceremony was attended by Abdulaziz Al-Duailej, president of the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation

RIYADH: Riyadh Airports Company inaugurated an advanced airport operations control center at King Khalid International Airport to boost efficiency and sustainability in operations, as well as improve passenger experience.

The control center is the main hub in an airport where internal and external partners work together to manage airport operations.

The center lets parties make decisions based on real-time information and establishes systems to enable a common focus by all airport stakeholders on punctuality, process quality and improvements.

The inauguration ceremony was attended by Abdulaziz Al-Duailej, president of the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation; Ghazi bin Abdul Rahim Al-Rawi, chairman of the board of directors of Riyadh Airports; and Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Maghlouth, Riyadh Airports Company CEO.

Commenting on the launch of the center, Al-Maghlouth said: “We are pleased to inaugurate the Operations Control Center at KKIA, which will enable Riyadh Airports Company to fully control all its operations in its various facilities. It allows for data-driven proactive measures, which contribute to better planning processes.”

The control center will manage almost 700 daily flights including passenger and freight aircraft.

It aims to improve the level of services provided to more than 30 million passengers annually.

It will help in the immediate sharing of information and more effective decision-making to enhance the flow of operational movement.

The center includes more than 25 operational, security and service agencies and contains the latest operational systems related to the management of resources, operational monitoring, and performance indicators for airport management around the clock.

In April this year, Al-Duailej launched the advanced digital platform OFOQ as part of Riyadh Airports Company’s digital transformation efforts.

It came as part of the broader objectives of the Kingdom to become a global leader in the digital economy.

OFOQ acts as a central database and management tool for all operational processes in KKIA. By providing insights into operational procedures from a single platform, OFOQ enables proactive and data-driven decision-making measures, helping to improve planning processes, minimize disruptions and improve the passenger experience.

The resource management system feature enables teams to automatically control and schedule airport procedures, such as aircraft parking, opening and closing check-in counters as well as passenger boarding gates, and managing baggage conveyors.

The OFOQ platform also features a Flight Information Display System that provides accurate and efficient flight-related data in a real-time environment.


The Saudi Cancer Society launches Hayat initiative

The Saudi Cancer Society launches Hayat initiative
Updated 04 July 2022

The Saudi Cancer Society launches Hayat initiative

The Saudi Cancer Society launches Hayat initiative
  • The initiative provides psychological support and recreational programs to cancer patients struggling with mental health

 

RIYADH: The Saudi Cancer Society has launched its Hayat initiative, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

Hayat provides psychological support sessions and recreational programs to cancer patients who are struggling with their mental health.

According to the association, the Hayat initiative is based on the values upon which it was founded, which includes reducing the effects of cancer on patients, their families, and society by providing services that allow patients to complete their treatment journey.

Other social services provided by the association include transportation, housing, financial assistance, and psychological support.

Community members can also support cancer patients by donating to one of the initiatives in the association’s online store.


Over 2,000 Pakistani volunteers assist Hajj pilgrims arriving in Saudi Arabia

Over 2,000 Pakistani volunteers assist Hajj pilgrims arriving in Saudi Arabia
Updated 04 July 2022

Over 2,000 Pakistani volunteers assist Hajj pilgrims arriving in Saudi Arabia

Over 2,000 Pakistani volunteers assist Hajj pilgrims arriving in Saudi Arabia
  • This year, 81,132 Hajj pilgrims will come from Pakistan
  • Volunteers offer assistance and advice to worshippers during their pilgrimage

ISLAMABAD: More than 2,000 Pakistani volunteers have been assisting pilgrims arriving in Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj, senior officials told Arab News, ahead of the annual pilgrimage set to commence this week.

One of Islam’s five main pillars of faith, the Hajj was restricted over pandemic fears to just 1,000 people living in the Kingdom in 2020 and 60,000 domestic participants last year, compared with the pre-pandemic levels when up to 2.5 million pilgrims could attend.

This year, with the Hajj pilgrimage set to begin on July 6 and Saudi Arabia having lifted its COVID-19 curbs, the Kingdom will welcome 1 million domestic and foreign pilgrims — and 81,132 of them will come from Pakistan.

Over 2,000 Pakistani volunteers have been assisting Hajj pilgrims from the South Asian country, more than half of whom are Pakistani expats living in Saudi Arabia.

Abrar Ahmed Mirza, Pakistan’s director general of Hajj in Jeddah, told Arab News that “410 Pakistanis who are working in the Kingdom have joined our Hajj mission as local volunteers, while 810 have come from Pakistan.”

The other volunteers had signed up through the Saudi-based Pakistani Hajj Volunteers Group (PHVG), and had received training before they began offering help and advice to the worshippers.

“This year around 750 volunteers will work,” Muhammad Ismail, a central coordinator with the PHVG, told Arab News.

“As per our policy, all volunteers have gone through two mandatory training sessions and are subsequently required to pass an online exam.”

The volunteers are tasked with helping pilgrims get food, access transport, and provide emergency medical aid when required.

Hidayat Ullah, a Pakistani expatriate living in Madinah, said he took leave from his office to join the volunteer mission.

“This is the fourth time I am serving as a volunteer. I am doing this just to serve our country’s pilgrims,” he told Arab News.

Jawad Shafique, another Pakistani volunteer based in Makkah, told Arab News that he wants to help ensure that pilgrims have a smooth stay in Saudi Arabia during their trip.

“We ensure the provision of all basic facilities to pilgrims,” Shafique said.


Kaaba Kiswa to be handed over to senior keeper on Eid Al-Adha

Kaaba Kiswa to be handed over to senior keeper on Eid Al-Adha
Updated 52 min 28 sec ago

Kaaba Kiswa to be handed over to senior keeper on Eid Al-Adha

Kaaba Kiswa to be handed over to senior keeper on Eid Al-Adha
  • The Kaaba is draped in a new Kiswa every year due to the sanctity of the building
  • It is made from raw silk dyed black and is decorated with Quranic verses that are embroidered onto the cloth

RIYADH: The Kiswa of the Kaaba will be handed over to the senior keeper of the sacred building on Dhu Al-Hijjah 10, the president of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques announced on Monday.

The Kiswa will be handed over on the first day of Eid Al-Adha and a new covering will replace it on the first of Muharram, the beginning of the new Islamic year.

Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais said the Kingdom’s leadership is proactive in everything that raises the level of services provided at the two holy mosques, and that the utmost attention is paid to the Kaaba and its Kiswa.

He added that the Kaaba is draped in a new Kiswa every year due to the sanctity of the building.

On Sunday, the president announced that all preparations have been finalized to cover the Kaaba with the Kiswa this year.

The Kiswa is made from raw silk dyed black and is decorated with Quranic verses that are embroidered onto the cloth with gold-plated thread.

The cover was sewn at the King Abdulaziz Complex for Holy Kaaba Kiswa, in accordance with the highest standards, Al-Sudais said.

Al-Sudais also inaugurated a campaign to facilitate pilgrims’ access to Zamzam water during their Hajj rituals in Arafat.


Saudi women participating in Makkah’s General Cars Syndicate for the first time

Women are now part of the General Syndicate of Cars for the first time, and the are proud and honored to work during Hajj.
Women are now part of the General Syndicate of Cars for the first time, and the are proud and honored to work during Hajj.
Updated 04 July 2022

Saudi women participating in Makkah’s General Cars Syndicate for the first time

Women are now part of the General Syndicate of Cars for the first time, and the are proud and honored to work during Hajj.
  • ‘Our leadership has made it possible for women to work, especially in all government sectors’

MAKKAH: Women will be part of the General Cars Syndicate in Makkah for the first time since it was set up nine decades ago.

The syndicate is an executive body that arranges and organizes pilgrim transportation through affiliated companies.

I am grateful that women now have more professional opportunities to participate and serve during Hajj.

Binan Basnan, Customer service specialist - General Syndicate of Cars

Khadijah Fida, a journalist and content creator at the syndicate, said: “A lot of women have been assisting with work for Hajj in the Kingdom for decades. I saw my father’s work in this sector, along with my brother and husband, and today I have also participated in it. Our leadership has made it possible for women to work, especially in all government sectors, and play an active role in line with Saudi Vision 2030.

(From L to R) Binan Basnan, Mervat Habhab & Khadijah Fida. (Supplied)

“Today, I represent the General Cars Syndicate in the media, public relations, creating quality material, and monitoring the successes of the transport information center during Hajj. I am proud and honored to be a woman from Makkah who works in the syndicate that greatly and actively contributes to the success of Hajj and the safe transport of pilgrims.

The syndicate is always working on creating and establishing an institutional framework for this association that has made a dramatic difference in transport in Makkah.

Khadija Fida, Journalist and content creator - General Syndicate of Cars

“We experience Makkah’s Hajj and Umrah seasons, and the syndicate is always working on creating and establishing an institutional framework for this association that has made a dramatic difference in transport in Makkah to bring comfort to pilgrims who (earlier) struggled on dirt roads to reach Makkah.”

Mervat Habhab, a customer service specialist at the syndicate’s information center, said that women’s roles had become more noticeable and significant.

“It is my mission to interact and address the situation of every beneficiary, based on their needs, and transport them to the relevant departments for a quick response and intervention. It is an honorable and wonderful mission to contribute to the service of pilgrims when those services were limited to men. In this prosperous era and these blessed days, I have the opportunity to play an important and active part as a woman from Makkah who loves God and her homeland.”

Habhab added that government support motivated them to improve their work performance every year.

Binan Basnan, another customer service specialist at the syndicate, said: “I am proud and honored to work in a great institution such as the General Cars Syndicate that serves pilgrims on their Hajj journey through receiving their inquiries and complaints. I am grateful that women now have more professional opportunities to participate and serve during Hajj. I hope to be rewarded (by God) and thank our government, which gave us these great opportunities.”