Taste of history as Saudi turns old police station into heritage eatery

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The Abha castle heritage restaurant has become a landmark attraction, serving up traditional southern flavors to tourists visiting the historic southwest Saudi city. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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The Abha castle heritage restaurant has become a landmark attraction, serving up traditional southern flavors to tourists visiting the historic southwest Saudi city. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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The Abha castle heritage restaurant has become a landmark attraction, serving up traditional southern flavors to tourists visiting the historic southwest Saudi city. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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The Abha castle heritage restaurant has become a landmark attraction, serving up traditional southern flavors to tourists visiting the historic southwest Saudi city. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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The Abha castle heritage restaurant has become a landmark attraction, serving up traditional southern flavors to tourists visiting the historic southwest Saudi city. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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The Abha castle heritage restaurant has become a landmark attraction, serving up traditional southern flavors to tourists visiting the historic southwest Saudi city. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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The Abha castle heritage restaurant has become a landmark attraction, serving up traditional southern flavors to tourists visiting the historic southwest Saudi city. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 26 September 2021

Taste of history as Saudi turns old police station into heritage eatery

  • Abha restaurant draws visitors from around the Gulf with traditional southern flavors

ABHA: A young Saudi “jack of all trades” has used his creative talent and love of cooking to transform a former police station in Abha into a traditional restaurant.

Now Ibrahim bin Mansour Bashashah Al-Asiri’s Al-Hosn Al-Turathi — or Abha castle heritage restaurant — has become a landmark attraction, serving up traditional southern flavors to tourists visiting the historic southwest Saudi city.

Diners from around the Kingdom and Gulf states regularly visit the eatery for a taste of southern hospitality.

Al-Asiri, a plastic artist, and gift and flower designer, told Arab News that the restaurant was previously a coffeeshop owned by his brother.

“The building was originally the Asir police station. I did not favor strong additions and alterations that would erase the designs that characterize the building,” he said.

“My main objective was for the visitor to be able to sense the history of a place that is 40 or 50 years old.”

Being a jack of all trades, Al-Asiri decided to invest his talents and help preserve the city’s heritage by turning the coffeeshop into a restaurant.

He used his talent with lighting and art to transform the site into a heritage icon that takes diners back in time.

Initially, the restaurant served only breakfast, but the menu quickly expanded until meals became available throughout the day. 




Ibrahim bin Mansour Bashashah Al-Asiri, owner of Al-Hosn Al-Turathi. (Supplied)

One form of art found in the restaurant is Al-Qatt Al-Asiri, a traditionally female interior wall decoration and ancient art form considered a key element in Asir’s history.

Al-Hosn Al-Turathi restaurant relies on the work of two people — Al-Asiri, who cooks and oversees artistic tasks, and his brother, who handles management.

“There aren’t many restaurants that offer popular southern meals, especially in Abha, while there are many popular restaurants in Khamis Mushayt,” he said.

Menu favorites offered at Al-Hosn Al-Turathi include al-arika, a traditional dessert in the southern region made with brown flour mixed with warm water, oil and ghee to form a dough, and flavored with a drizzle of honey and cardamom.

The restaurant is the first to serve “miva” or southern “tannour” bread, Al-Asiri said, adding that he is the first Saudi in the Kingdom to cook while wearing a traditional Saudi outfit.

Al-Asiri also launched the Asiri bouquet, a collection of local plants with aromatic scents, gifting them to a number of princes and other high-profile personalities.

Al-Hosn Al-Turathi heritage restaurant supports local productive families. A coffee and hot beverages corner is managed by one of the sisters, Umm Joud, who holds a master’s in business management, and supervises the preparation of hot drinks using traditional ingredients.

Al-Asiri urged Saudi youth to work hard, saying Saudi Arabia offers many opportunities to realize the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. “We need to be patient and active, and try to reach the top with the capabilities that we have. So we need to be persistent and work hard,” he said.


Who’s Who: Malak Abed Althagafi, a senior researcher in the Saudi Human Genome Program

Updated 28 January 2022

Who’s Who: Malak Abed Althagafi, a senior researcher in the Saudi Human Genome Program

Malak Abed Althagafi is a professor of pathology and molecular genetics, consultant physician-scientist, RDI leader, and entrepreneur.

Althagafi is a senior researcher in the Saudi Human Genome Program. She helped establish the project’s laboratory in King Fahad Medical City, and now holds a number of key positions, including director of the satellite administration research center, chair of the genomics research department at Saudi Human Genome Program lab, consultant subspecialty molecular genetics/neuropathology, and director of national RDI coordination at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

Althagafi has held a number of different roles at the latter in the past, including assistant research professor, deputy director of general directorate for research and innovation, and associate research professor. From 2018 to 2019, she was the medical director of the Saudi Diagnostic Lab at King Faisal Specialist Hospital International Holding Co.

Althagafi received her bachelor’s degree in medicine from King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, in 2005. She specialized in clinical and anatomical pathology, neuropathology, and molecular genetics, and received four American board certifications in those specialties.

She has studied and worked in universities including Georgetown, the University of California San Francisco, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and Harvard.

She has published more than 120 papers in prestigious peer-reviewed journals and conferences, and has contributed to a number of books on the subjects of pathology and oncology, including the World Health Organization’s Tumors Classification “blue book” on CNS and pediatric tumors. 

In 2019, she was awarded the KACST Distinguished Scientist award by the National Genomics Center.


Ethiopian finance minister meets Saudi aid officials in Riyadh

Updated 28 January 2022

Ethiopian finance minister meets Saudi aid officials in Riyadh

  • The Ethiopian minister also met with the head of the Saudi Fund for Development

RIYADH: Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, supervisor general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, met Ethiopian Finance Minister Ahmed Shide Mohamed and his accompanying delegation in Riyadh on Thursday.

The two sides discussed issues of common interest relating to humanitarian and relief affairs. The Ethiopian minister praised Saudi humanitarian efforts worldwide.

Since its inception in May 2015, KSrelief has implemented 1,814 projects worth more than $5.5 billion in 77 countries, carried out in cooperation with 144 local, regional and international partners.

According to a recent KSrelief report, Yemen, Palestine, Syria and Somalia are the biggest beneficiaries of its projects.

Meanwhile, Mohamed also met with the CEO of the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) Sultan Al-Marshad, where they reviewed the Kingdom’s development projects and programs financed by the fund to support infrastructure and contribute to sustainable growth Ethiopia.
He praised Saudi Arabia and the SFD’s efforts in financing development projects and programs over the past years, adding that they have had a positive impact on social and economic growth and prosperity in different sectors.
SFD has provided eight soft loans to support and finance eight development projects and programs totaling more than $227 million.

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Who’s Who: Aghareed Ehsan Abdul-Jawad, a senior manager at Eastern Province’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Updated 27 January 2022

Who’s Who: Aghareed Ehsan Abdul-Jawad, a senior manager at Eastern Province’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Aghareed Ehsan Abdul-Jawad has recently become the first woman to be elected to the senior management team of the Eastern Province’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Abdul-Jawad, who is fluent in both English and French, is an analytical professional with extensive exposure across multiple corporate sectors in finance. She is also proficient at logistics, shipping and investments. She has gained significant knowledge in designing short and long-term investment strategies and driving critical business decisions to meet desired objectives.

She is the daughter of the chairman of board at Abduljawad Holding Co., the investment arm of Globe Group, one of the region’s top logistics and transportation companies, founded in 1976 by Abdul-Jawad’s late grandfather.

She has been chair of the board of directors at Tamkean Arabia, a real estate development company, since September 2020, while also working as the finance director at Abduljawad Holding Co, a role she has held since 2015. In 2016, she became the company’s board director.

In 2018, she founded Valet-it, a valet parking service company. Since 2020, she has been the finance and budgeting director at Global Marine Services, where she is a board member. She also worked as the supply chain director for five years from 2015.

For over a year beginning in August 2014, she worked as a credit-risk analyst at Banque Saudi Fransi. Before that, she attended a summer intern program at KPMG.

Abdul-Jawad graduated from Dhahran Ahliyya Schools in 2010 before she joined the Alkhobar-based Prince Mohammad bin Fahd University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in finance in 2014.

She received a French language diploma in 2018. Currently, she is a level-3 Chartered Financial Analyst candidate and is expected to achieve certification this year.

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Saudi Arabia extends residencies, exit-entry visas

Updated 25 January 2022

Saudi Arabia extends residencies, exit-entry visas

  • The extension, issued by the Minister of Finance, is part of the Kingdom’s efforts to address the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • It will be carried automatically in collaboration with the National Information Center, without the need to visit the passports directorate

The Saudi Passport authorities started automatically extending the validity of residency permits (Iqama) and exit and re-entry visas without charges until March 31, 2022, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Monday.

The extension, issued by the Minister of Finance, is part of the Kingdom’s efforts to address the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will be carried automatically in collaboration with the National Information Center, without the need to visit the passports directorate or the Kingdom’s missions abroad.

The validity of residency and exit re-entry return visas will be extended for residents who are outside the Kingdom in countries from which travel was suspended due to a COVID-19 outbreak until March 31, except for those who have already received one dose of the vaccine inside the Kingdom before they departed.

The validity of visit visas will also be extended until March 31 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for visitors who are outside the Kingdom in countries from which entry has been suspended due to the virus.


Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment

Updated 24 January 2022

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment

  • Appearing on the video interview series, Dr. Osama Faqeeha points out that the problem lies not in hydrocarbons but emissions
  • He says Saudi Green Initiative target will be achieved with due consideration for environmental sustainability

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia can retain its role as the leading exporter of oil in the world while pursuing an ambitious strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change, one of the Kingdom’s leading environmental policymakers has told Arab News.

Dr. Osama Faqeeha, deputy minister for environment, water and agriculture, said that the issue for the Kingdom and the world was to deal with polluting emissions from hydrocarbon production, while exploring other uses for oil products and renewable alternatives.

“I think we don’t see the problem in the hydrocarbons; we see the problem in the emissions,” he said, pointing out that “petrochemicals, plastic, medical supplies, clothing and other things are made from hydrocarbons; the emissions are the issue — namely, CO2 emissions.”

Faqeeha, who is closely involved in implementing the measures of the Saudi Green Initiative unveiled last year, was appearing on Frankly Speaking, the series of video interviews with leading policymakers and business people.

He also spoke of the ambitious plan to plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom, the campaign to protect its environmental eco-system and biodiversity, and efforts to improve the air quality in the capital Riyadh and other big cities.

Faqeeha said that the environmental campaign launched in the SGI was part of a comprehensive strategy to tackle the challenges of climate change and global warming.

“In this situation, Saudi Arabia has launched the Circular Carbon Economy approach, which is really to treat CO2 like any other waste, by basically taking it and recycling it in various ways.

“We have to realize that there is no single approach that can single-handedly address the global climate change challenge.

“We need renewable energy, we need the Circular Carbon Economy, we need recycling, we need to stop this deforestation, preserve habitats, reduce marine plastics. We have to focus on all of this,” he said.

The plan to plant 10 billion trees in Saudi Arabia over the coming decades, a striking feature of the SGI, is acknowledged as a challenge given the Kingdom’s desert climate and relatively low level of rainfall.

“Definitely this is a very challenging, ambitious target. As His Royal Highness the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) announced, the time frame will be over the next few decades. Our focus really is on environmental sustainability. We intend to achieve this target with due consideration for environmental sustainability.

“To achieve this, first of all we will focus on using native plant species in the Kingdom. Believe it or not, there are more than 2,000 documented species of flora in the Kingdom that have adapted to the dry and arid climate in Saudi Arabia.

“So, really these plants thrived in this environment and (fully) adapted to it,” he said.

The tree planting program — already under way — would focus on four main areas: Restoring natural flora in mountains and valleys; an “urban greening” program for the big cities; plantation in agricultural areas to support food production and rural communities; and tree planting along major highways to counter sand encroachment and enhance the experience of travelers.

Renewable water sources would also be used in the tree-planting program, to avoid endangering precious groundwater. Treated wastewater and rain harvesting were among the techniques available to environmental policymakers, as well as greater use of maritime resources.

Dr. Osama Faqeeha appears on Frankly Speaking. (Arab News)

“Saudi Arabia has thousands of kilometers of coastline on the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea. There are two species of native mangrove trees that grow in sea water, so we intend to focus on those species as well,” he said.

One issue that has provoked debate in the Kingdom is the traditional practice of cutting natural wood to make campfires, held responsible for some of the desertification the SGI is pledged to eliminate.

“Local people enjoy picnics and the outdoors, they like to light wood fires for family gatherings, and these are local traditions that we really cherish. However, it came at a high expense of the local vegetation.”

The new environmental law has imposed severe penalties on such practices, but Faqeeha said that there were incentives for alternatives to wood fires so that these traditions would not be affected.

The World Health Organisation has criticized Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East for low standards of air quality, but Faqeeha took issue with some of the WHO findings.

“I’d like to highlight a distinction between air pollution and degraded air quality. Sometimes you have a degraded air quality not because it’s polluted by human activities. The WHO uses particulate matters as the main parameters to measure air quality,” he said.

“That’s a very good parameter for (places such as) Europe and the US, where you have extensive vegetation cover, and the main source of particulate matters are power plants, factories and other human activities. We call such particulate matters anthropogenic particulate matter or PM.

“Here in Saudi Arabia and in the region as a whole, particulate matters are dominated by natural causes, mainly coming from dust storms. Definitely air quality becomes degraded during dust storms — no one claims that it is healthy to go outdoors and inhale dusty weather.

So, that’s really what they (WHO) are referring to. It is degraded air quality because of the natural particulate matters emanating from dust storms.”

The ministry was working on comprehensive measure to reduce dust storms and improve air quality, Faqeeha said.

At the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow last year, some experts warned that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries would suffer more than other parts of the world from the health effects of global warming, including extreme heat, diseases and air pollution.

Faqeeha acknowledged this was an issue that policymakers were confronting. “Definitely, climate change and global warming is a major global challenge that we are taking very seriously.

“In terms of the outlook for temperature, there are very few studies. In the entire region we don’t have a climate center for climate studies and that’s why the Crown Prince announced the creation of the Regional Center for Climate Studies here, which will be championed by the National Center for Meteorology in Saudi Arabia. Its job is to do national and regional studies on the mid- and long-term outlook for climate change,” he said.

One big focus of Saudi environmental strategy, he added, is the push to reverse the trend to land degradation and desertification, a major contributor to the generation of polluting greenhouse gas emissions that costs around trillions of dollars globally.

“Land degradation is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases. In fact, land degradation is the cause of about more than 50 percent of biodiversity loss, which is a large contribution. Also, it has a huge impact on agricultural lands and food security,” Faqeeha said.

Measures to reverse land degradation were a major achievement of the G20 summit under Saudi Arabia’s presidency in 2020.

Faqeeha also outlined the Kingdom’s new strategy toward waste management, which he views as an area ripe for private sector involvement and foreign investment.

“Private sector participation is an important enabler to achieve the objectives of the national environmental strategy,” he said.

“We have many international companies that are coming, who feel the regulatory environment now is highly conducive to their participation.”