Coffee, an integral part of Saudi culture, hospitality 

Special Coffee, an integral part of Saudi culture, hospitality 
Coffee and the people in Saudi Arabia are inseparable, as admiration for coffee is deeply rooted in the culture. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 September 2023

Coffee, an integral part of Saudi culture, hospitality 

Coffee, an integral part of Saudi culture, hospitality 
  • Ministry of Culture’s Saudi Coffee Festival is open until Oct. 1
  • Gathering for an afternoon drink has deep value as it brings people together

RIYADH: Coffee is deeply rooted in Saudi culture, with families in most regions savoring the hot beverage late afternoon or early morning every day, whether at home or at the workplace.  

Almost all commercial and residential neighborhoods have cozy local coffee outlets nestled between shops. 

To introduce Saudi coffee to visitors and highlight its role as part of Saudi heritage, the Ministry of Culture is organizing the Saudi Coffee Festival for 2023 in the eastern part of King Abdullah Financial District from Thursday until Oct. 1

Targeting all age groups, the festival will offer visitors the opportunity to learn more about the history of Saudi coffee, as well as its cultivation methods, preparation and presentation.

Saudi coffee is made by roasting coffee beans until they are golden brown. The coffee is then boiled and served as a dark, unfiltered drink. Spices such as saffron, cardamom and cloves are also added to the boiled coffee for flavor and richness. Dates or desserts are served alongside Saudi coffee to balance the bitter taste of the drink. 

Saudi national Nourah Al-Harbi, who is originally from Madinah but has lived mostly in Riyadh, said: “When the sun sets, we bring our coffee and dates.” 

Sharing an anecdote from her childhood, Al-Harbi said: “I remember one of my uncles owned a farm in Madinah at the time, when I was a child …  His neighbors used to gather at his farm every evening after sunset prayer for coffee.”

Despite the popularity of the beverage, some of the Kingdom’s regions prefer other drinks during their afternoon hours, such as tea.

Hashid Adeel Mohammed, who works at a local company that specializes in warm beverages like coffee and tea, said: “Some people prefer black tea, while others like green tea, which they also have specific ways of preparing.”

Another business entrepreneur, Anas Al-Balouchi, who works as a general manager at a coffee and tea company, spoke to Arab News about some of the norms when it comes to afternoon hot drinks for people in Madinah, where he is from.

“In Madinah, tea time starts from late afternoon until sunset. But coffee is consumed from sunset to early in the evening,” he said.

“Black coffee is served in the morning.”

In a family-oriented culture, gathering for an afternoon drink has deep value as it brings people together, whether relatives sharing a house or neighbors living in the same community.

Arab artists must collaborate more for global success: Warner music chief

Arab artists must collaborate more for global success: Warner music chief
Updated 08 December 2023

Arab artists must collaborate more for global success: Warner music chief

Arab artists must collaborate more for global success: Warner music chief
  • Reggaeton’s rise is an ideal model, says Alfonso Perez Soto
  • Strong domestic market needed to grow globally, he adds

RIYADH: Artists living in the Middle East and North Africa should collaborate more to boost the industry in the region and globally, says Alfonso Perez Soto, president of emerging markets at Warner Music Group.

Soto was speaking Thursday at the XP Music Futures conference currently underway in Riyadh. 

Grammy-nominated Lebanese singer-songwriter Mayssa Karaa moderated the fireside chat titled “The potential of the region and beyond: A conversation with Alfonso Perez.”

Soto highlighted the rising popularity of reggaeton, a blend of Latin American music with hip-hop influences, and said that artists in the MENA region should take inspiration from the genre. 

“We need more features and cooperations between and among the local talent in the region. Moroccans with Egyptians, Iraqis with the Saudis … Because when you go back to what I said about reggaeton if you look at the way that they created the sound, and the way that they created this movement it was actually networking with each other,” he said. 

The industry must have a “stronger domestic market” in order to grow, said Soto.

“You want to reach a certain level of presence on a global level. We have to define global, it’s about the ability to present your music in many territories, I think that is very doable. Most of the emerging market territories that I manage, they have a strong diaspora so in reality they can really bring in music and play, they have a fan base that work.”

With AI on the rise, Soto said that it would impact the global music industry in positive ways, in creating better sounds and marketing.

Soto encourages aspiring artists to work hard. 

“I think that this market is just awaking. You see the numbers and there are some ups and downs in the growth, but I think that up to two or three quarters ago, MENA was the fastest growing market in the world. Then they came a little bit of a plateau, but I think that the growth and the opportunities for the artists are unstoppable.”

XP Music Futures — set to run until Dec. 9 — is the annual precursor to the region’s largest music festival, Soundstorm, organized by Saudi Arabia music platform MDLBEAST.

Escape to Okinawa, Japan’s historic island paradise 

Escape to Okinawa, Japan’s historic island paradise 
Updated 08 December 2023

Escape to Okinawa, Japan’s historic island paradise 

Escape to Okinawa, Japan’s historic island paradise 
  • The prefecture offers outstanding scenery, plenty of history and culture, and a laidback vibe  

OKINAWA: Located at the intersection of trade routes that linked Japan, China, south-east Asia and the tiny islands that dot the Pacific Ocean, the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa has adopted flavors from all its neighbors, but still managed to remain true to its cultural and historic roots. 

Those influences can be tasted in the area’s cuisine and witnessed in its unique architectural styles, festivals and attitudes that are more laidback Pacific than formal Japanese. And local people — descendants of the Ryukyuan Kingdom that was absorbed into Japan in 1872 — still take a fierce pride in being distinct. 

Now Japan’s most southerly prefecture, Okinawa consists of more than 150 islands, dotted between southern Kyushu to a point just over the horizon from Taiwan. Some of the more remote islands are uninhabited while others have just a handful of homes in communities that have changed little in generations. Bullocks pull wooden carts across the beach flats and the sound of three-string “shamisen” being plucked floats on the warm evening air. 

Shuri Castle which overlooks Naha in Okinawa. (Shutterstock)

The lifestyles of those outer islands is quite a contrast to Naha, the regional capital — less than two hours’ flying time from Tokyo and connections to the Middle East. 

Kokusaidori runs for more than 2 km through the heart of the city and, while touristy, is still the best place to get your first taste of Okinawa. Cafes, bars, boutiques and gaudy stores selling trinkets are cheek-by-jowl.  

Okinawan cuisine is a blend of many influences, with fish abundant in the surrounding waters, pork imported from China when the Ryukyus were still independent and fruits and spices from south-east Asia. For non-Muslims, no visit would be complete without sampling goya champuru, the islands’ signature dish that typically combines pork, tofu, eggs and goya, a green gourd with its own distinctive, bitter taste. Pork belly (rafute), simmered in soy sauce before being glazed with brown sugar, is another favorite, along with the local take on soba noodles. 

Kokusaidori, the main street in Naha, Okinawa's capital city. (Shutterstock)

Just off Kokusaidori is the covered market where many of the restaurants source their ingredients every day. In a warren of narrow alleyways, stalls are also piled high with every conceivable household utensil, local fabrics and electronic gadgets that you never knew you needed. 

Naha is overlooked from the east by Shuri Castle. The main elements of the UNESCO World Heritage site were razed to the ground by fire in 2019, but work is underway to rebuild the iconic red structure and it is expected to once again be fully open to visitors by 2026. 

Despite the damage, the castle is still worth visiting. The fortified buildings on the site dating back to the 12th century CE, when Shuri was the center of Ryukyuan politics, diplomacy and culture. An earlier version of the castle was designated a national treasure in 1925, but was destroyed in the fierce fighting that took place in Okinawa in the closing stages of World War II. 

Water buffalo cart near Iriomote island. (Shutterstock)

Its outer fortifications, gateways and courtyards escaped damage in the most recent fire, and their gracefully curving walls of limestone are markedly different from traditional Japanese castles. A series of decorated gateways lead deeper into the complex, their designs reflecting Chinese as well as Japanese and Ryukyuan influences. 

Okinawa’s islands are dotted with fortresses that were the power bases of local warlords, with Zakimi Castle another well-preserved example dating from the early 1400s. On the west coast of the main island, it dominates a hill overlooking the town of Yomitan and its thick walls complement the curves of the coastline below. 

The islands’ recent history is overshadowed by the brutal battles that took place here in 1945. The Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum opened in 1975 to give a fuller sense of the human tragedy. Built atop sea cliffs in the far south of the prefecture, on the site of the Imperial Japanese Army’s last stand, the museum’s gardens have rings of tall black stones bearing the names of each of the more than 250,000 men, women and children who died in the fighting here, regardless of nationality. A short walk away, along an avenue lined with memorials to the dead of each of Japan’s prefectures, is the tiny cave where the commanding officer of the defeated defenders committed suicide rather than surrender. 

Peace has once more returned to Okinawa and for anyone in search of true tranquility, consider a trip to Iriomote, the second-largest of the islands. It is famous for its unspoiled natural environment and a unique species of wild cat. 

Its sparse coastal communities are linked by a single road and the island’s interior is largely untouched — and protected as a national park. Visitors can explore by sea kayak, while a 20-km trail leads through the jungles of the interior and the mangrove swamps of the coast, all providing an enviable escape from the pace of modern city life. 

New book tackles climate change for children launched in English and Arabic

New book tackles climate change for children launched in English and Arabic
Updated 08 December 2023

New book tackles climate change for children launched in English and Arabic

New book tackles climate change for children launched in English and Arabic

RIYADH: How do young people feel about climate change? That question is being posed through a new children's picture book, published to coincide with the launch of the climate change conference COP28 in Dubai.  

The book, which is available in both English and Arabic, is called "Earth Champs," and it contains 44 diverse artworks made by youngsters aged 5-17 from around the globe.  

“We wanted to convey a message about an important cause, like climate change, through art. We wanted to see how children view climate change and we were surprised with the results," Lateefa Alnuaimi, the Emirati founder of LFE Art Culture, the institution that supported the book’s creation, told Arab News. "They know what it’s about, but they don’t how to express it, so we gave them a paper and a pen, and of course, they drew. Each young person expressed what's inside of them." 

The book is available in both English and Arabic. (Supplied)

To gather the work for the book, Alnuaimi put out an open call to international schools in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. She received nearly 1,500 entries. The selected pieces range from sculpture to photography and drawing. They depict animals and plants, as well as environments that are in danger. There are elements of both hope and concern.  

“What shocked me was their way of thinking and how talented they are with the way they handle a paintbrush or a camera," Alnuaimi said. "They were professional, which indicates how educated they are."  

Alnuaimi also mentioned that today's generation of children are more aware of the urgency of climate change. 

To gather the work for the book, Alnuaimi put out an open call to international schools in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. (Supplied)

“It was important to show people that children care about climate change. They’re not a silent voice — they 'spoke' about it through art,” she said.  

Thirty copies of the book have already been privately gifted to UAE ministers and sheikhs. After COP28 ends on Dec. 12, Alnuaimi hopes to make "Earth Champs" available to purchase online and in shops. “It’s a book from the UAE to the world,” she said.  

She also offered advice about how adults and educational institutions can encourage children in the region to look after the environment:  

"It's important to host workshops on climate change, educate students to properly use electricity, and partake in campaigns of cleaning the ocean and the desert," she said. 

Emirati restaurant Erth nabs Michelin star in Abu Dhabi  

Emirati restaurant Erth nabs Michelin star in Abu Dhabi  
Updated 07 December 2023

Emirati restaurant Erth nabs Michelin star in Abu Dhabi  

Emirati restaurant Erth nabs Michelin star in Abu Dhabi  

DUBAI: The second edition of Abu Dhabi’s Michelin Guide was released on Thursday, with one restaurant being awarded a new star.  

Abu Dhabi’s Erth eatery was awarded one Michelin star, making it the first Emirati restaurant to earn a star. The restaurants that retained stars are 99 Sushi Bar, Hakkasan and Talea by Antonio Guida, bringing the city’s total star-holding eateries to four.  

Two new eateries made it to the Bib Gourmand category: Al-Mrzab and Oii. The eateries that retained their Bib Gourmand status are are Otoro, Almayass, Beirut Sur Mer and T’azal. 

The Service Award went to Chandran Thanggaraja at Kopitiam by Chandy’s, the Young Chef Award was awarded to Rigers Cuka at Oii and the Opening of the Year Award was given to James Soo Yong Kim at Les Dangereux.  

There were once again no two or three Michelin Star restaurants, and no restaurants lost stars. 

Seventh Misk Art Week explores theme of tradition in Riyadh

Seventh Misk Art Week explores theme of tradition in Riyadh
Updated 07 December 2023

Seventh Misk Art Week explores theme of tradition in Riyadh

Seventh Misk Art Week explores theme of tradition in Riyadh
  • Event features exhibitions, talks, masterclasses, workshops, performances and an art book fair

RIYADH: Stationed around Prince Faisal bin Fahad Arts Hall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, are numerous pop-up spaces selling artworks and handmade Saudi crafts. Hailing from across the Kingdom, these sleekly presented spaces constitute Misk Art Week’s marketplace, providing a platform for creative professionals across the country to grow their practices while also allowing international visitors to engage with Saudi Arabia’s growing art scene.

One artist has come from Al-Baha in the Kingdom’s Sarawat Mountains to showcase her work while another photographer has traveled from Jeddah. Other local craftsmen and women from around Riyadh smile warmly as they present their crafts — all of which reflect the traditional heritage of Saudi Arabia.

The theme of this year’s Misk Art Week is tradition, celebrating the richness of the Kingdom’s past and present heritage and culture.

The exhibition is curated by Aram Alajaji. (Supplied)

“This year’s edition of Misk Art Week looks forward to celebrating art and artists, presenting rich artistic content for everyone,” Reeem Al-Sultan, CEO of Misk Art Institute, a nonprofit cultural organization under the Misk Foundation, established in 2011 by Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, said in a statement. 

“It aims to stimulate and enhance cultural discussions in the region, providing the platform artists need to express themselves amidst the continuing success of the Institute’s programs in contributing to the development of the creative sector in Saudi Arabia and enriching artistic content and production through a range of programs.”

The annual week, now in its seventh outing, is taking place until Dec. 10 and has become a key moment in Saudi Arabia’s cultural calendar. The event features a dynamic program of exhibitions, talks, masterclasses, workshops, performances and also an art book fair. The latter constitutes its largest fair to date and features a range of art magazines and cultural books in both English and Arabic.

Several exhibitions are also being staged during the week. These include “Mirqab,” an exhibition that displays works by artists from Saudi Arabia and across the Arab world who explore the idea of rituals that transcend mere routines and become celebratory events on their own.

Stationed around Prince Faisal bin Fahad Arts Hall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, are numerous pop-up spaces selling artworks and handmade Saudi crafts. (Supplied)

The exhibition is curated by Aram Alajaji.

“These rituals serve as a source of identity, continuity and a window into culture, uniting individuals across time and space through shared traditions and values,” the exhibition text states.

Highlights include Kuwaiti artist Farah Behbehani’s “Light Within the Heart” (2023) a mixed-media immersive installation made with hand-pierced paper, and a digital projection with audio recitation by Saudi singer Rotana Tarabzouni. The work was inspired by a poem by the 12th-century Persian philosopher Yahya ibn Habash Suhrawardi that explores the essence of divine light.

The work is additionally inspired by the geometric patterns employed in Islamic architecture.

Elsewhere, “The Infinite Now” (2022) is by Jeddah-based artist and poet Sara Abdu and explores, the artist explained to Arab News, “the simple act of creating a simple line. It is based on repetition, it is very ritualistic and I consider it a tool for documenting the infinite now.”


Positioned opposite “Mirqab,” artists can be found painting, drawing and sculpting throughout the week. A few steps away is a stage where musical and dance performances are taking place each night. Additionally, the Creative Forum, a talks program bringing together art professionals from the country and around the world, seeks to explore ideas relating to art creation and the art scene in the Kingdom.

Upstairs in the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall is an exhibition titled “Tracing the Absent,” celebrating the winners of the fourth Misk Art Grant, with a fund of one million Saudi riyals ($266,632) distributed among five artist from the Arab world.

As demonstrated by the theme of the exhibition, which centers on tradition, the 2023 participants were asked to reflect on notions of tradition, of an Arab’s society’s inherited rituals, practices, stories and ways of thinking, that have changed over time.

The Misk Art Grant recipients this year are Abdulla Buhijji, Hayfa Algwaiz, Hussain Alismail, Maisa Shaldan and Mohamed Almubarak.

In a structure outside the Prince Fahd Arts Hall stands “Tajalat,” an immersive experience converging art, technology and culture. The room, which features live moving projections of the works of 11 Saudi artists, is a wonder in itself, prompting visitors to stay, reflect on the art and experience the colors, lights and forms as they are projected onto the screens. Like Misk Art Week, this experiential exhibition also prompts a sense of community, uniting visitors from all backgrounds and cultures in a common moment of art appreciation.