Top chef serves up the story behind Saudi Arabia’s new national dishes

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Jareesh is a slow-cooked dish of cracked wheat, vegetables and a sauce, with the optional addition of lamb. (Saudi Culture Ministry)
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Maqshush is made of buckwheat bites topped with some combination of ghee, honey, dates, molasses and sugar. (Saudi Culture Ministry)
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Updated 02 February 2023

Top chef serves up the story behind Saudi Arabia’s new national dishes

  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Rakan Al-Oraifi explains the appeal and cultural significance of jareesh and maqshush
  • They were recently named by the Saudi Ministry of Culture’s Culinary Arts Commission as the Kingdom’s national dish and dessert

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Culture’s Culinary Arts Commission announced this month that jareesh has been selected as the national dish of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and maqshush as its national dessert.

Jareesh is a slow-cooked dish of cracked wheat, vegetables and a sauce, with the optional addition of lamb. Maqshush is made of buckwheat bites topped with some combination of ghee, honey, dates, molasses and sugar.

The commission’s announcement forms part of its National and Regional Dishes Narratives initiative, which seeks to identify and celebrate popular dishes that are part of the Kingdom’s culinary culture. It will include research to discover which dishes best represent each region, the results of which are due to be announced later in the year.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Rakan Al-Oraifi, an internationally renowned Saudi executive chef, welcomed the initiative, which he said will showcase traditional dishes and ensure they are at the forefront of the Saudi Culinary scene.

Al-Oraifi, who is a member of the World Master Chefs Society and the founder of Kit Catering, said that jareesh originated in the central Najd region and there is more than one variety.

“Usually, we cook it with laban (buttermilk), so it is known as white jareesh,” he said. “We also have a second kind of jareesh, which is from Hail (in north-western Saudi Arabia), and it is red because we cook it with tomato sauce.”

The distinctive flavors of the dish come from its topping of ghee, caramelized onions and lemon powder, he added.

The selection of jareesh as national dish reflects its popularity across Saudi society, the Culinary Arts Commission said, and references to it can be found in heritage books dating back centuries. It is considered one of the most important dishes in Saudi heritage and is known as “master of dishes,” it added.

Al-Oraifi said that the main reason jareesh is so popular is because people in the Najd region historically ate wheat rather than rice because it required fewer resources.

“Jareesh is a traditional dish everyone likes, young and the old,” he said. “The dish is filled with different flavors; it is kind of salty, a little bit sour because of the buttermilk, and you can eat it during winter or summer.”

According to the commission, the dish is typically served on a variety of occasions, mainly happy ones, and though it originated in the central region it spread throughout the Kingdom.

Maqshush, meanwhile is a dessert typically served as breakfast in Saudi households, and comprises wheat flour, ghee and honey or sugar. It is particularly popular during the winter. According to the commission, the history of the dish dates back more than a century and it is commonly served with Saudi coffee.

Al-Oraifi — who is also a member of the World Association of Master Chefs, the Emirates Culinary Guild, Latin American gastronomic association Aregala International, and the Saudi Arabian Chef Association — is pleased that the dessert, which originated in Hail, is being recognized.

“Maqshush also is made from wheat,” he said. “We mix two kinds of flower in Maqshush: white and brown.”

He added that it is a popular breakfast dish because the wheat, ghee and honey provide energy and power.

In addition to their widespread popularity, the authenticity of their flavors, and their significance in Saudi culture, jareesh and maqshush were chosen as national dishes because they are simple to prepare using ingredients that are readily available, the commission said.

According to “Saveurs d’Arabie” (“Flavors of Arabia”), a cookbook published recently by the commission and Cassi Edition, maqshush might be considered a combination of pancakes and bread because of its taste and texture. It’s small, soft loaves are simple to make and were traditionally baked on a saj, a convex metal pan.

According to the book, the word maqshush means one who picks the smallest portion or pieces of food, which is thought to reflect the fact the dish is prepared from simple, inexpensive ingredients.

Al-Oraifi has been crowned the best chef in Saudi Arabia three times. In 2021, he was awarded first place in the culinary category at the National Cultural Awards. He was the executive chef of Suhail restaurant in Riyadh and AlUla, for which he created a unique, authentic menu.

He joined Al-Khozama group as Executive Chef in 2022 to create a contemporary Saudi menu for Maiz restaurant in Diriyah, and recently moved to Paris for the advanced study of French pastry.

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Jareesh and maqshush

Jareesh, a popular dish that originated from Saudi Arabia's central Najd region, has been designated as national dish of the Kingdom by the Ministry of Culture’s Culinary Arts Commission. It is a slow-cooked dish of cracked wheat, vegetables and a sauce, with the optional addition of lamb. Maqshush, made of buckwheat bites topped with some combination of ghee, honey, dates, molasses and sugar, is the national dessert.

King Salman sends best wishes for Ramadan to Saudi citizens and all Muslims

Updated 22 March 2023

King Salman sends best wishes for Ramadan to Saudi citizens and all Muslims

  • It came as he chaired the weekly Cabinet meeting, during which ministers reviewed the outcome of recent meetings and approved a number of international agreements

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Tuesday sent his best wishes for Ramadan to citizens of the Kingdom and Muslims everywhere, expressing his hope that the holy month will bring hope and peace to Muslims and the entire world.

He instructed authorities involved in providing services for visitors to the Two Holy Mosques to continue to work with the highest levels of efficiency and excellence to ensure that pilgrims can perform their rituals with ease and tranquility, the Saudi press Agency reported.

The king was speaking as he chaired the weekly Cabinet session at Irqah Palace in Riyadh, after the Supreme Court announced that Ramadan would begin on Thursday.

Minister of Media Salman Al-Dosari said ministers reviewed a number of issues that were discussed during meetings involving senior Saudi officials in the past week that aimed to develop relations and cement the regional and international status and role of the Kingdom.

Ministers reviewed Saudi Arabia’s participation during the 49th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, during which its representatives affirmed the Kingdom’s continued support for joint action, particularly in the humanitarian and development fields, and its unwavering stance in support of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect worldwide.

The Cabinet noted the Kingdom’s pledge, during an International Donors’ Conference in Brussels on Monday, to support the victims of the earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria, help mitigate the effects of the disaster, and assist the recovery process.

Ministers affirmed that such efforts reflect the Kingdom’s constant commitment to showing solidarity with communities in need around the world and helping to address their needs.

The Council of Ministers said that recent positive evaluations by credit-rating agencies of the Kingdom’s economy reflected the effectiveness of the reforms implemented by the state, including the development of public-finance management, improvements to the quality of financial planning, and the more efficient use of resources under the financial sustainability program.

Al-Dosari said that the fact the Kingdom climbed 15 places on the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Global Innovation Index 2022 is a reflection of the continued interest in and support for upgrading the quality of the research, development and innovation sector, which is helping to enhance the Kingdom’s global competitiveness and leadership in line with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030.

The Cabinet approved a memorandum of understanding for cultural cooperation between the Saudi and Mexican cultural ministries, and another relating to the digital economy between the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and its Chinese counterpart.

It also authorized the minister of Islamic affairs, dawah and guidance to sign a draft memorandum of understanding in the field of Islamic affairs with the Somali Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs.

Ministers approved two agreements with South Africa, one for cooperation in a feasibility study for establishing a joint fund to encourage direct investment, and another for cooperation in the field of maritime transport.

They authorized the minister of transport and logistics and the chairman of the board of directors of the General Authority of Civil Aviation to sign a draft agreement for air services with the Polish government.

The Cabinet also authorized the chairman of the Education and Training Evaluation Commission to sign a draft cooperation agreement for the evaluation and accreditation of Arab language curricula and programs with the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization.

Ministers approved an agreement between the Saudi Public Prosecution Office and its Tajik counterpart for combating terrorism and its financing, money laundering, and other related offenses.

They also added the Human Rights Commission to the membership of the secondment and employment committee of regional and international organizations and bodies, and approved amendments to a bylaw for protecting personal data.


Thursday to be first day of Ramadan in Saudi Arabia — Supreme Court

Updated 21 March 2023

Thursday to be first day of Ramadan in Saudi Arabia — Supreme Court

  • Muslims across the world fast from sunrise till sunset during the holy month of Ramadan
  • This is followed by the sighting of the new moon and is marked by Eid Al-Fitr celebration

RIYADH: The crescent moon was not sighted on Tuesday evening in Saudi Arabia and Thursday, March 23, will be the start of the holy month of Ramadan, the Kingdom’s Supreme Court has said. 

The court called on all Muslims in the Kingdom to look for the Ramadan crescent on Tuesday evening that corresponds to Shaban 29, 1444.

The Ministry of Justice announced it has launched an electronic system for crescent sighting “with the aim of automating and governing the moon sighting processes, and unifying work procedures between the courts of first instance and the Supreme Court.” 

The service aims to unify the data source of the observatory through a robust electronic system that provides speed and integration with the relevant authorities, raising the quality of the observatory operations, and speeding up the issuance of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding new moon sightings.

More than 1.9 billion Muslims around the world will mark the holy month, during which believers abstain from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn until sunset.

These Saudi restaurants offer a taste of Persia on a plate

Updated 21 March 2023

These Saudi restaurants offer a taste of Persia on a plate

  • Restaurants in the Kingdom offer flavor-packed Persian dishes, including the national dish of Iran
  • Launched in 1999, the Persian restaurant Alshaya has expanded to nine locations around the Kingdom

RIYADH: Persian cuisine is popular around the world for its healthy, hearty and luxurious dishes.

The aromatic and flavorful cuisine includes perfectly cooked fluffy rice, grilled or stewed meat such as chicken, lamb, goat or fish, and vegetables that are enhanced by a variety of nuts, fruits, herbs and rich spices like cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, cloves, sultanas, berries and dried rose petals, among others.

Bordered by Iraq, Turkiye, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Oman and Turkemenistan, Iran comprises diverse ethnicities, with neighboring countries having a huge influence on its food.

Popular Persian dishes include ghormeh sabzi, chelo kabab, dizi, kabab koobideh, khoresht gheymeh, zereshk polo, tahdig, faloodeh and tulumba, among others.

The undated photo shows chelo kabab, a popular dish by Isfahani, a Persian restaurant in Saudi Arabia. (Photo courtesy: Isfahani)

Renowned Saudi food blogger Hisham Baeshen is known for his cooking videos on Instagram. With about 4 million followers, Baeshen makes dishes from around the world, including Saudi Arabia.

Baeshen said that he has cooked Persian food, with his favorite being the national dish of Iran — ghormeh sabzi, a stew prepared with meat and kidney beans with a side dish of zereshk polo, a mixture of white and saffron flavored basmati rice topped with barberries.

“I consider sabzi as the king of Persian foods. With a side order of zereshk rice, which I consider one of the staple dishes in Persian food,” Baeshen told Arab News.

Drawing similarities between Saudi and Persian cuisine, the blogger said: “I would absolutely recommend Saudis cook Persian food at home, because all the materials that you need for the Persian kitchen are available in the Saudi kitchen and the techniques used in cooking Persian food are not very different than the Saudi cuisine.

“Many people have tried Persian recipes and loved them. Honestly — very beautiful and delicious.”

Here are some restaurants in the Kingdom offering a taste of Persia on a plate.

Founded in 1990 in Bahrain, Isfahani has expanded its presence to eight locations across Bahrain and in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, with branches in Dhahran and Alkhobar.

Ahmed Alqaseer, vice president of Isfahani group, said that Isfahani started when his uncle, Elias, gave his father, Jalil Alqaseer, the business.

Ahmed’s father took it upon himself to learn more about Persian culture from top Persian chefs by visiting Iran and Lebanon.

“The most important thing for us is to explore and share is the quality of the food. We keep on tracking, developing and adding more dishes,” Ahmed said.

With many great options to choose from, chelo kabab remains by far the the most popular choice among diners.

“Chelo kabab is the dish that gets the most recommendations and gets sold out the quickest in Isfahani locations and food delivery applications like Talabat,” Alqaseer said.

Isfahani’s target for 2023 is to expand to new locations and focus on its design, ambience and food.

“I want the customers to have a great restaurant experience and taste, as if they are in another world. We keep on developing the food and getting new recipes all while maintaining the quality of the food. The new restaurant will have customers will feel like they are in a very modern Persian restaurant,” Alqaseer added.

Mohammed Abduljabar is the owner of Zahra Zad, one of the only Persian restaurants in Al-Qatif.

The undated photo shows Saffron tea served at Zahra Zad, a Persian restaurant in Al-Qatif, Saudi Arabia. (Photo courtesy: Zahra Zad) 

“We decided to open a Persian restaurant because we saw that there weren’t any in the city of Qatif. The people of the city love Persian food and we wanted to give them something to indulge in,” said Abduljabar.

The soft opening of the restaurant, which is adorned with paintings highlighting Persian culture, architectural style and clothing, took place in February this year.

“We try to capture the true essence and atmosphere of a traditional Persian restaurant through these paintings and decorations. We have all sorts of paintings that symbolize Persian society and dress. Additionally, we added Persian music to add to the ambience.

“I think before starting any project, it is very important for us to study the culture thoroughly so that project truly succeeds,” Abduljabar said.

He added that the most popular dishes are mixed Persian grills — a mixture of beef and chicken kabab — and kashk bademjan, a Persian eggplant dip.

To satisfy one’s sweet tooth, Zahra Zad offers saffron cake and bastani sonati, a rich pistachio ice cream with saffron and rose water.

Taking accessibility and inclusivity into consideration, Abduljabar has kept its ground floor exclusive to people who are unable to climb stairs.

To make the restaurant attractive for customers of all ages, Zahra Zad also contains a shisha cafe.

Alshaya is another Persian restaurant with branches in Riyadh and the Eastern Province. Started in 1999, Alshaya has expanded to nine locations around the Kingdom. The restaurant offers traditional Persian dishes such as kabab, sultani steak and morgh chicken kabab, among others.

Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court calls on Muslims to look for Ramadan crescent on Tuesday evening

Updated 21 March 2023

Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court calls on Muslims to look for Ramadan crescent on Tuesday evening

  • Ramadan 2023 will begin either on Wednesday or Thursday this week depending on the sighting of the crescent
  • Saudi court says anyone who sights Ramadan crescent with their eyes, through binoculars should notify nearest court

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has called on all Muslims in the Kingdom to look for the Ramadan crescent on Tuesday evening, Saudi Press Agency has reported.

Tuesday corresponds to Shaban 29, 1444 and if the Ramadan crescent is spotted on Tuesday evening, then Ramadan will begin on Wednesday. If not, the holy month will start on Thursday.

The court said anyone who sights the Ramadan crescent with their eyes or through binoculars should notify the nearest court to their location and record their testimony there, or contact the nearest center so that they can be directed to the nearest court.


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Saudi Arabia ranks second for world’s happiest people — Ipsos global survey

Updated 20 March 2023

Saudi Arabia ranks second for world’s happiest people — Ipsos global survey

  • Results show 86% of residents in Saudi Arabia are 'very or rather happy'
  • China came in first with 91% and the Netherlands ranked third with 85%

Saudi Arabians are the second happiest group of citizens in the world according to a new survey.

The results of the new Ipsos global survey showed that 86 percent of residents in Saudi Arabia say they are “very or rather happy.”  

This put Saudi Arabia second out of the 32 countries that were polled.  

China came in first with 91 percent, and the Netherlands third with a 85 percent, followed closely by India at 84 percent, and Brazil 83 percent.  

Meanwhile, respondents from Hungary, South Korea and Poland reported the lowest, ranging from 50 to 60 percent.

The US hovered around the middle of the pack, with 76 percent.

The survey found that on average, nearly three in four adults described themselves as “happy.”  

With 73 percent of people on average saying they “happy,” the survey shows that global happiness has gone up by six points since last year.  

Globally, people say they are most satisfied with their relationships with their friends and family.