Ancient Arabic recipes revealed in ‘The Exile’s Cookbook’ 

Ancient Arabic recipes revealed in ‘The Exile’s Cookbook’ 
“The Exile’s Cookbook: Medieval Gastronomic Treasures from Al-Andalus and North Africa” features a collection of recipes and cookery manuscripts written in the 13th century by Ibn Razin Al-Tujibi. They have been compiled and translated by Daniel Newman (above), a professor, linguist and cultural historian. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 12 January 2024

Ancient Arabic recipes revealed in ‘The Exile’s Cookbook’ 

Ancient Arabic recipes revealed in ‘The Exile’s Cookbook’ 
  • ‘This was somebody in the business of preserving a heritage’ translator says of book’s medieval author 

DUBAI: Food, even something as simple as a loaf of bread, can be emotive. As the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who lived as an exile for decades, once wrote: “I yearn for my mother’s bread, my mother’s coffee, my mother’s brushing touch.”  

That same connection between food and a longing for home has been a familiar feeling for displaced Muslims and Arabs for centuries, as a new book reveals. “The Exile’s Cookbook: Medieval Gastronomic Treasures from Al-Andalus and North Africa” features a collection of recipes and cookery manuscripts written in the 13th century by an important Andalusian scholar in Muslim Spain called Ibn Razin Al-Tujibi. They have been compiled and translated by Daniel Newman, a professor, linguist and cultural historian at Durham University in England, who specializes in food history pertaining to the Arab world. 

“Why is food history important? The answer lies in the question. Is there anything more profoundly human than food? Food is literally life. Without food, we die,” Newman tells Arab News. “In that sense, food history is an integral part of who we are as human beings. Similarly, food, as a factor of social intercourse, is also one of the most important elements of not just who we are as people — as a society and culture, it serves to forge relationships. When people are eating together, they’re not waging war. ‘Breaking bread with somebody’ means that you establish a relationship. From an academic perspective, there is a multitude of questions that food history allows you to answer. For instance, it’s through food that we can trace the movement of peoples. It tells us about how societies develop. We see, for instance, when a society is in trouble, the sophistication of food suddenly decreases.” 

Andalusian millet bread. (Supplied)

So passionate is Newman about medieval Arab cuisine that, over the past 13 years, he has recreated close to 5,000 of its dishes.  

“At home, we have medieval dishes (regularly), simply because the flavor is so nice,” he says. “Actually, it’s not as alien as you might think.” He has organized banqueting events in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE, bringing these ancient dishes to life for the public.  

“It’s always very interesting, because it’s not a subject that many people know about — especially in the Arab world. People have no idea of this amazing tradition. Most people really do believe that Arab cuisine now is just kebab or koshari, and that it’s all fast food. So, in that sense, it’s been quite an amazing experience for everybody to discover this long, rich heritage.” 

“The Exile’s Cookbook” presents an impressive roster of 480 recipes, including breads, stews, porridges, truffles, eggs, poultry and meats, vegetables, sweets, and even explains how to make soaps and powders.  

“It’s very well-structured. The recipes are divided according to ingredients, which was quite novel if you think of it,” noted Newman. “(It’s clear from) the seriousness with which he completed his task that food was much more than just sustenance to him. This was not somebody who just decided to put down a couple of notes. This was somebody who really was in the business of preserving a heritage.” 

An example of Andalusian lamb and asparagus casserole. (Supplied)

What stood out for Newman while translating these texts were “the ingredients used; the complexity and sophistication of this cuisine; the multiplicity of cooking methods within one recipe — boiling, frying, baking; and the sophistication of the kitchen implements — they had specific tools to roll out sweets. . . For the most part, it reflects a cuisine of the elite, because these recipes are very complicated, requiring specialized equipment, kitchens, ‘tannours’ (big ovens), where you could put several whole sheep in — not the kind of thing people would have in their home.” Newman was also fascinated by the fact that several of the original recipes include dishes that are still around today, from paella with rabbit to date- or fig-filled ‘maqrud’ sweets.   

Little is known of Al-Tujibi, born in the southern Spanish city of Murcia to a wealthy family of scholars. His life was turned upside-down when he and his family were forced to depart from his hometown in 1247 during a period of political turbulence.  

“These were very troubling times,” explains Newman. “The poor man found himself pushed out of his native Murcia by Christian armies. He would never see Andalusia again.  

“He was in his early twenties when he left, and eventually made his way to Tunis. His story is a journey of exile, but also a geographical journey to other parts of the Muslim world that he had not visited before. I felt a personal connection with Al-Tujibi because the book is a culinary anthology with autobiographical elements. In a way, it’s a very moving tribute to his native land, which he very dearly missed.”  

Newman says Arabs introduced a range of foods and spices to European cuisine in the Middle Ages, including sugar, carrots, aubergines, and cauliflowers. Even contemporary Italian food staples like pasta and cream-filled cannoli pastries (listed amid Al-Tujibi’s recipes) are believed to have Arab origins.  

Popular ingredients in Al-Tujibi’s time included meat, dairy, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, coriander, mint and, especially, eggs.  

“They were absolutely obsessed with eggs. They’d have eggs in a dish, and then they’d have eggs on top of that, and then they’d put yolks on top,” says Newman. “Modern Spaniards, clearly, are descended from the Andalusians — the modern Spanish tortilla is a thick omelet. They clearly retained their love of eggs.”  

Newman believes Al-Tujibi’s work has not had the attention it deserved.  

“Obviously, works survive if they are copied and used by others,” he says. “And his weren’t. But his cookery book brings to life something that is quintessentially human and something that we can immediately relate to. It is through food that I think we’re able to really tap into Al-Tujibi’s world. As we read the recipes, we imagine how they must have tasted, we imagine how we would’ve sat and enjoyed them.”  

Example recipes from ‘The Exile’s Cookbook’ 

Stuffed cannoli 

Andalusian stuffed cannoli. (Supplied)

Knead unleavened darmak (high-quality wheat) flour with only water until you get a firm dough. Wrap the dough around cane reeds, covering them entirely, and roll them on the table with the palm of the hand to smooth out the dough. Cut only the dough into small tubes and keep them apart from one another. Leave them to dry on the reeds. Then put honey in a cauldron and skim off the froth as it is heated on the fire. Mix in good-quality pounded skinned almonds and any of the usual aromatic spices you have to hand. If any of the dough breaks off, crush it and also mix it in. Thicken the mixture with honey. Then gingerly remove the dough tubes from the reeds and fry them in an earthenware pot with good-quality olive oil until they turn golden brown. When they are ready, stuff them with the above-mentioned filling and put a blanched almond at the ends of each of them. Dust with cinnamon and sugar, and then serve. 

Milk  tharida  baked in the oven 

The medieval recipe for milk tharida, which was translated for 'The Exile's Cookbook.' (Supplied)

Take two pounds of semolina or prime-quality flour and knead into a firm dough. Make extremely thin loaves out of it and bake them for a bit in the oven. Then take one-and-a-half cups of milk and stir in eight eggs with a dash of flour. Cook over a moderate fire. Next, take a good-quality casserole dish, put butter and milk at the bottom, and a loaf on top. Cover with another layer of butter and milk, followed by a loaf, and so on. Continue doing this until you have run out of loaves and butter and milk. Then, put a thick loaf on top of the thin ones and put the dish in the oven for baking. When it is almost done, take it out, pour in some more milk and return to the oven. Do this once or twice until the loaves have absorbed all the milk they can. When it is fully done, gingerly break the dish and you will be left with the loaves, which will look as if they have merged together and turned into one large cake. Split it with a knife and cut into pieces. Dust with sugar and then eat and enjoy.   


Take the desired quantity of large grasshoppers of the variety known as Al-Arabi. Put them in a pot with hot water and let them boil once or twice. Then, take them out, remove their wings and legs, and fry them in a clean pan with olive oil until they are golden brown and their moisture dries out. Transfer them to a small ceramic bowl, add murri, cinnamon, and pepper, and serve.  

AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’

AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’
Updated 01 March 2024

AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’

AlUla gets its very first global campaign, ‘Forever Revitalising’

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s ancient city of AlUla is launching its first-ever global marketing campaign.

Revealed on Feb. 29 with launch events in six major international cities — Dubai, London, New York, Paris, Shanghai and Mumbai — “Forever Revitalizing” is being described as a “data-driven endeavor” that aims to redefine tourism in the region.

Melanie D’Souza, executive director of destination marketing at The Royal Commission for AlUla, described the new brand campaign as a “transformative moment” for AlUla as it looks beyond the historic site’s travel potential to spotlight the programs and initiatives designed to “create a better future for all those who live, work and visit our ancient oasis.

“This initiative redefines AlUla as more than just a travel destination by emphasizing its profound heritage, breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural tapestry, presenting a holistic view that transcends the conventional,” she told Arab News in an email interview.

As AlUla’s first-ever global marketing campaign, “Forever Revitalizing” has been launched with the goal of transforming the city into a world-renowned heritage and cultural destination.

“At its core, ‘Forever Revitalising’ aims to drive visitor numbers and spur economic prosperity by showcasing AlUla’s comprehensive revitalization efforts. From ecological restoration projects within nature reserves to the rejuvenation of age-old crafts and traditions, and the advancement of local skills and cultural enrichment, the campaign positions AlUla as a pioneering figure in the creation of an experience-driven economy,” said D’Souza.

AlUla Old Town. (Supplied)

The new campaign coincides with a significant increase in visitor numbers to AlUla, rising from 185,000 in 2022 to 263,000 last year, she added.

Additionally, the share of international visitors increased from 25 percent to 35 percent, reflecting the destination’s growing global appeal.

“This aligns with AlUla’s strategic vision for ‘light touch tourism,’ aiming to attract 1.1 million visitors by 2030, while steadfastly maintaining its commitment to sustainability and preserving the destination’s integrity,” she said.

Hegra AlUla. (Supplied)

The campaign is specifically targeting four kinds of travelers: The luxe seeker, wanderlust nomad, intrepid voyager, and affluent and active retirees. This highlights AlUla’s amibition to remain a luxury destination.

“Modern tourists, increasingly disillusioned with overcrowded and inauthentic destinations, seek authentic, meaningful connections. They prefer destinations that offer a genuine sense of place, sustainability and social responsibility — qualities that AlUla has been promoting since opening its doors to the world three years ago,” said D’Souza.

The recently opened Dar Tantora The House Hotel in AlUla Old Town is a promising new addition to the area, D’Souza said.

The hotel was designed by Egyptian architect Shahira Fahmy.

Fahmy, who was selected by The Royal Commission for AlUla, and her team restored 30 buildings in the historical village. They turned multiple old two-story mud-brick buildings into the boutique hotel.  

The architect previously told Arab News that the early inhabitants in the city used the ground floor as a workplace and to meet with family and friends, while the first floor was for bedrooms and bathrooms.  

People who lived in the city 800 years ago whitewashed the interior walls and adorned them with red and blue murals, Fahmy said. Her team managed to preserve the existing designs in collaboration with the archaeological team. 

Banyan Tree Resort AlUla Canyon Pool. (Supplied)

“This boutique hotel revitalizes the ancient mud-brick structures of Old Town, which was continuously inhabited since the 12th century until the 1980s. It stands out for its commitment to cultural preservation, employing local artisans for restoration efforts and showcasing the area’s rich heritage through traditional decor, furniture and artistic treatments, complemented by storytelling elements that bring the intangible heritage of the area to life,” she added.

Looking ahead, three new luxury hotels are all set to open in AlUla.

“The Sharaan Resort by Jean Nouvel, inspired by ancient Nabataean architecture, promises to blend seamlessly with the Sharaan Nature Reserve’s landscape, embodying innovative design while respecting the environment,” said D’Souza.

“The Chedi Hegra is another milestone, positioned within Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra. Opening in mid-2024, it will offer guests unparalleled access to the historic site, featuring guest rooms with views of Hegra’s monumental landscape, an International Summit Center, hospitality pavilions and private villas,” she added.

In 2027, AlUla will welcome the AZULIK AlUla Resort. “This project, a collaboration between AZULIK and Roth Architecture, will be located in the Nabatean Horizon District, integrating design elements that highlight ancient rock art, utilize natural waterways for irrigation and promote eco-friendly transport to minimize environmental impact,” said D’Souza.

British e-tailer unveils modest fashions for Ramadan by global designers

British e-tailer unveils modest fashions for Ramadan by global designers
Updated 01 March 2024

British e-tailer unveils modest fashions for Ramadan by global designers

British e-tailer unveils modest fashions for Ramadan by global designers
  • Creations of 30 regional and international designers will be available until the end of April

DUBAI: British luxury e-tail platform Farfetch has unveiled a modest-wear fashion campaign for Ramadan by 30 regional and international designers, which will be available until the end of April.

Beyond ready-to-wear garments, the exclusive collections also have fine jewelry, footwear and homeware.

The participating labels include Dubai-based brands Bambah, Baruni and Dina Melwani, Italian label Brunello Cucinelli, Swiss jewelry brand Chopard, South African British label De Beers, Lebanese brands Jean Louis Sabaji, Saiid Kobeisy and Rayane Bacha, Italian fashion house Missoni, Turkish label Les Ottomans, British label Malone, Budapest-based fashion house Nanushka, Amsterdam-based brand Polspotten, Australian label Rachel Gilbert, New York-based Sachin & Babi, Emirati label Shatha Essa and British brand Yoko London.

Gaby Charbachy, Isabel Marant. (Supplied)

From impeccably tailored suits to striking kaftans, modest evening dresses to luxurious loungewear, the collections cater to various tastes and occasions, with a focus on the social aspect of the month of Ramadan.

Egyptian designer Maha Abdul Rasheed, founder of Bambah, told Arab News: “We are so proud to be partnering with Farfetch once again for this year’s modest-wear campaign. The marketplace business model is diverse, efficient and helps us work at a sustainable pace.”

Bambah. (Supplied)

“The platform itself is also very technologically advanced which helps us streamline operations and logistics in a timely manner,” she added.

From glamorous evening gowns adorned with elaborate embellishments to chic separates with a modern twist, Bambah ensembles work well for a formal sahoor gathering.

Shatha Essa. (Supplied)

Emirati designer Essa said the inspiration for her capsule collection “draws from the intricate interplay of nature’s subtleties, reimagined through an abstract lens, emphasizing the brand’s commitment to innovation and luxury.”

She added that Farfetch has been “a gate to the world for Shatha Essa.”

“(It is) an invaluable platform to showcase our collections,” the Dubai-based contemporary womenswear expert told Arab News. “The platform has significantly amplified our reach, enabling our unique and traditional designs to touch a wider, discerning audience.”

Essa’s collections often feature luxurious fabrics, intricate embroidery and embellishments. Whether it is a flowing abaya, a structured blazer, or a statement dress, Essa’s designs blend traditional elements with contemporary silhouettes.

Saudi fashion shines at Paris Fashion Week: 16 designers showcase latest collections

Saudi fashion shines at Paris Fashion Week: 16 designers showcase latest collections
Updated 42 min 25 sec ago

Saudi fashion shines at Paris Fashion Week: 16 designers showcase latest collections

Saudi fashion shines at Paris Fashion Week: 16 designers showcase latest collections

DUBAI: Sixteen Saudi fashion designers are showing off their latest collections at an international wholesale exhibition during Paris Fashion Week.

The Saudi 100 Brands showcase, which runs until March 2, is an initiative spearheaded by the Saudi Fashion Commission and aims to position Saudi designers and brands within the global fashion landscape.

Karen Wazen at the showcase. (Supplied)

This season’s presentation features all-women-owned and led brands.

The festivities are taking place at the historic Les Cordeliers, coinciding with the women’s segment of Paris Fashion Week.

The participating brands include The Dropped Collection. (Supplied)

“The event includes fashion shows and celebratory gatherings, highlighting the cultural richness and creative prowess of Saudi fashion,” a statement from the Saudi Fashion Commission read.

The participating designers include Mona Alshebil, Apoa, Ashwaq Almarshad, Chador, Charmaleena, Dazluq, Kaf by Kaf, Mashael Al-Faris, MD29, Abadia, Pavone, RMRM, Samar Nasraldin, The Dropped Collection, Yasmina Q and Yataghan Jewellery.

Georgina Rodriguez stars in new campaign for Arab lenses brand

Georgina Rodriguez stars in new campaign for Arab lenses brand
Updated 01 March 2024

Georgina Rodriguez stars in new campaign for Arab lenses brand

Georgina Rodriguez stars in new campaign for Arab lenses brand

DUBAI: Argentine model Georgina Rodriguez is starring in another campaign for Arab brand Amara Lenses, whose products are available in the Gulf region.

In the short clip, posted on the brand’s Instagram page on Thursday, the Netflix star was spotted sporting the company’s brown and grey lenses.


A post shared by Amara Lenses (@amaralenses)

In one shot, she was seen wearing face accessories inspired by the Gulf region’s burqa.  

“Introducing our latest collection in collaboration with Georgina Rodriguez,” the brand captioned the post on Instagram.


A post shared by Amara Lenses (@amaralenses)

Rodriguez, who is now based in Saudi Arabia with her partner Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and their children, was named the brand ambassador in March 2023.

“I’m so happy to be the face of Amara Lenses and it’s been wonderful to work with you,” she said in a video shared on the brand’s Instagram page at the time.


A post shared by Amara Lenses (@amaralenses)

Amara Lenses has previously collaborated with regional influencers including Saudi Arabian makeup artist Shouq Artist, Kuwaiti fashion blogger Fouz Al-Fahad, Bahraini content creator Zainab Al-Alwan, Kuwaiti influencer Fatima Al-Momen, and Egyptian actress Nour Ghandou.

The Arab brand sells lenses in various shades of grey, brown, green and blue.

Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 

Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 
Updated 01 March 2024

Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 

Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 
  • How two childhood friends made their newfound love for camels the heart of a Netflix hit 

LONDON: It takes a certain level of trust to go into business with your best friend. It takes an even greater degree of faith to do so in an industry that is new to both of you. And it takes a crazy amount of love and commitment to document that journey together and showcase it to audiences around the world.  

But ‘a crazy amount of love and commitment’ is a pretty good way to sum up the relationship between childhood friends Safwan Modir and Omar Almaeena, the stars of comedy docuseries “Camel Quest,” which premiered on Netflix at the start of February and went straight into the streaming service’s regional top 10. The show sees the duo travel across Saudi Arabia in a bid to reach the Crown Prince Camel Festival, learning more about the revered animal — and themselves — along the way.  

Key to the show’s success is the fact that Modir and Almaeena, now 40, have known each other for more than half their lives. 

Safwan Modir (L) and Omar Almaeena (center) shooting “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

“We met when we were 16,” says Modir. “We met at a mutual friend’s house, and we clicked immediately. We’ve been good friends since then. Omar was studying in the United States, so we used to talk through Messenger or phone calls, and then every time he came back to Saudi, we would do crazy things. And we were always dreaming of doing something together as we grew up.” 

And while no obvious opportunity to work together presented itself — “Saf went into being a hotelier,” Almaeena recalls, “and I was bouncing around trying to figure out what I was good at” — that desire to create a project together never went away. The pair’s separate careers continued to develop. Modir became the youngest Saudi general manager of a five-star hotel, and Almaeena became a seasoned entrepreneur with a series of successful startups. 

“Omar came back after COVID,” Modir recalls, “and he had been bitten by the bug of entrepreneurship. He came to the hotel to visit, and he saw the setup, and he said to me: ‘Safwan, I think we should do something together.’ That’s when everything started to cook.” 

Omar Almaeena (center) and Safwan Modir. (Supplied)

That ‘something’ turned out to be the camel business — an industry that, Almaeena admits, he “wasn’t very keen on” at first. “But we found it to be a very lovely world that can be passionate and loving towards the camels, yet also financially viable if done properly.” 

“There was a lot of movement in the camel world,” Modir adds. “It’s going in a similar direction to the horse industry — it’s becoming super-fancy; you have beauty competitions, you have races, you have competitions all over the world, with royalty attending. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed love camels, and one of the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030 is to take the camel industry to the next level — to the level of the horse industry and maybe even beyond. 

“And,” he adds with a laugh, “it’s something that we had absolutely no clue about. We had never seen camels (up close) in our lives. So that was a challenge. It took me time to convince Omar that there was an opportunity here.” 

Omar Almaeena (L) and Safwan Modir in their Netflix show “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

And therein lies the second reason the pair have had such success. Modir and Almaeena share the kind of comedic chemistry that can’t be workshopped or choregraphed — and the kind of trust that convinces two successful men to leave their existing careers and start something new together. 

“The fear was there, but the support from my family, especially my wife, was there too,” says Modir. “And having my best friend beside me made it easier.” 

The two started the Redsea Camel Company — a camel breeding farm (and soon to be racing stable) in Al Qassim — powered by their collective experience and ceaseless enthusiasm. And it’s been such a rewarding experience that Almaeena suggested making a TV show about it. So, looking back now, was he scared too? 

“No, no, no…” he says with a chuckle. “I’ve done this so many times, and I’ve failed so many times, what’s one more…?”  

Omar Almaeena (L) and Safwan Modir in “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

The chuckle is swiftly upgraded to a full-blown laugh from both men — something that happens a lot during their conversation with us. “There’s trust there, that was so important. I can’t lie, and I don’t know how to sugarcoat things.” 

Despite the fact that they had as much experience with TV production as they had previously had with camels — i.e. none — the pair made smart decisions, surrounding themselves with professionals who could help them tell their story. Director Tarek Bou Chebel, creative directors Rana Sabbagha and Amin Dora (who also served as showrunner) bought in, convinced as much by the relationship between the two friends as by the concept for the show — which wound up being perfectly timed with the Saudi Ministry of Culture’s declaration of 2024 as the Year of the Camel. 

They started filming in November 2021, and finished in the first weeks of 2022. The pair recall being scared on the morning of the first day, but that getting the first shot in the can did a lot to calm their nerves — not to mention those of the director.  

“We thought we would be repeating that first scene 20 times,” says Modir. “But we did it, and the director said we were amazing. And that he had been worried, but that we had surprised him.” 

“He came clean afterwards,” Almaeena says with a laugh. “He said we were naturals. That gave us a lot of confidence.” 

Safwan Modir (top) and Omar Almaeena in a promo shoot for “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

Although the pair’s comedic chemistry is key to “Camel Quest,” it was important that the real stars of the show were given the respect they deserved. 

“The joke is always on us, as it should be,” says Almaeena. “There have been instances in the past where the joke was on the camel, and it wasn’t very well received.” 

“The joke is about Omar pranking me,” adds Modir. “Just like when we were kids. But it’s never about the camels; we were very careful to take that into consideration.” 

“The (idea) is to build this business, and to understand how it takes us across Saudi Arabia to see the camels in different cities,” Almaeena continues. “To see the beauty contests, to see camels raised for milk, or for meat. You see all the different variations. But the point is, whoever has them, you see the ultimate love for this animal.” 

The pair insist they didn’t fall out during the trip — Modir, when pressed, slightly amends this and says it did happen once, but only because Almaeena cancelled his food order — and they would love to do a second series. But that’s only the start of their plans for their camel empire. 

“The breeding program has shot up now, and Saf’s come up with some brilliant ideas for the program and getting people involved,” Almaeena explains. “People are signing up to buy camels from us, and we’re close to finalizing the racing team, which will have its first race in May. And we have one movie hopefully close to preproduction, and another in the pipeline.” 

But in all of these projects, one thing remains constant — and no wonder, given how well it’s served them thus far. 

“I’m handling the camels, and Omar is handling everything to do with the movies and production,” says Modir. “But, with all of these things, we’ll be doing it together.”