In Karachi, Palestinian mother-daughter trio offers ‘authentic’ Arabic desserts to Pakistani customers 

Eman Al Hajj Ali (right) prepares kunafa at her residence in Karachi, Pakistan on Feb 28, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 01 March 2024
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In Karachi, Palestinian mother-daughter trio offers ‘authentic’ Arabic desserts to Pakistani customers 

  • Eman Al Hajj Ali, her two daughters operate an online business selling Middle Eastern desserts prepared at home
  • The venture sells popular Middle Eastern desserts such as Kunafe, Basbusa and Katayef to Pakistani customers

KARACHI: Eman Al Hajj Ali, a Palestinian émigré with a background in electrical engineering and information technology, did not know she would carve a place for herself within the culinary landscape of Pakistan’s bustling Karachi city after arriving here with her family a year and a half ago because of her husband’s job.

Launching an online business named Palestine Sweets, she ventured into a field far from her formal training, armed with nothing but her mother’s traditional recipes. Ali is not a chef by training neither has she ever aspired to be an entrepreneur, yet she has made a noticeable impact on the lives of people around her while living in Pakistan’s biggest and most populous metropolis.

Middle Eastern cuisines are popular with people across Pakistan, resonating with the local palate due to their rich flavors and aromatic spices. But Karachi’s food scene is mostly dominated by people who either arrived there from India after the 1947 partition of the subcontinent or members of the Pashtun community from the country’s northwest, who are known for their passion for good food.




Eman Al Hajj Ali prepares kunafa at her residence in Karachi, Pakistan on Feb 28, 2024. (AN Photo)

“I have learned [these recipes] from my mom,” she told Arab News this week. “Some of these [recipes] I have, you know, created on my own, learning from here and there before tweaking them to come up with my own version.”

While both of Ali’s parents were born and raised in Palestine, she was born in Kuwait where her father worked at the time. She says she used to visit Palestine every summer until the Arab-Israel war in June 1967, when her family was living outside Palestine. Since the war, Ali’s family, like many other Palestinians, have not been allowed to go back to their home country.

Palestine Sweets is not just Ali’s initiative but also involves her daughters, Laila and Isra, who are both business graduates. Together the three described it as a heartfelt endeavor to share a slice of Palestine’s rich heritage with the people of Pakistan.

Especially since Ali says Pakistanis know little about Palestinians and associate the people of her country with only Israel’s war and occupation.

“They know very little about the culture,” she said. “And food is a great part of any culture. So, I thought that it would be lovely to introduce Palestinian desserts into the Pakistani community.”

So, Ali and her daughters started by introducing Pakistani customers to Kunafe, which Ali says is referred to as the “king of desserts” in Palestine.

Kunafe is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert, made with spun pastry and soaked in a sweet, sugar-based syrup. Although the dish has several variations depending on the region where it is prepared, Kunafe is typically layered with cheese, cream, or nuts.




Eman Al Hajj Ali (center), and her daughters Laila Al Qirim (right) and Isra Jaleel speak with Arab News at their residence in Karachi, Pakistan on Feb 28, 2024. (AN Photo)

Other Middle Eastern desserts offered by Palestine Sweets include Basbusa, cakes baked from semolina flour, and the Katayef dessert, stuffed pancakes often filled with nuts, spices, fruits and cheese.

Besides desserts, the online venture also offers customers the Maqluba, a traditional Middle Eastern rice dish that it serves with lamb’s meat and eggplant.

The prices of these desserts, which Ali and her daughters deliver from their apartment in Karachi’s Defense area through a delivery service, range between Rs1,000 ($3.6) and Rs2,250 ($8), which may vary according to the serving size.

Laila said Israel’s recent war on Gaza, which has killed over 29,000 people since October last year, triggered a lot of curiosity among Pakistanis about the people of Palestine, leading many to visit Palestine Sweets’ social media accounts and learn about their venture. 

“With that increase in curiosity, a lot of people found their way to our page,” she told Arab News. ” And praise be to God, a lot of Karachiites have supported our business.”

But Laila was quick to clarify that that wasn’t the only reason for the venture’s success, saying that customers loved the unique and original Middle Eastern taste its dishes offered.

She cited the example of the Kunafe dish, saying that it is not made with any variations. She said what sets Palestine Sweets apart is that it is the only venture that offers authentic Middle Eastern desserts to people.

“It [Palestine Sweets] is fully run by Arabs and Palestinians, specifically,” Laila said. “We have our own original recipes.”

And it is paying off as well, according to Laila. A chunk of their customers are the adventurous ones who want to try out a new dish just to see what it tastes like, however, the bulk are regular ones. 

“We have a lot of customers that are very, very loyal,” she said. “Some even order every week, at least once. It’s become a permanent part of their table.”

Some of their clients in Karachi are Arabs as well, who equally love their food items. But for very different reasons.

“They give me beautiful feedback that it is nostalgic,” Ali explained. “It took them back to memories with their grandparents and families back in the Middle East, especially when they have Katayef during Ramadan.”


Italian coast guard searches for migrants, including Pakistanis, missing after boat capsize

Updated 19 June 2024
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Italian coast guard searches for migrants, including Pakistanis, missing after boat capsize

  • A fishing vessel was the first to respond on Monday after the boat capsized and rescued 11 people, one of whom later died
  • The partially submerged boat was still in view, but the commander of the search operation said no bodies were in sight

MILAN: The Italian Coast Guard was searching by sea and from the air on Thursday for dozens of people missing when a boat capsized and partially sank earlier this week in the perilous central Mediterranean, 195 kilometers (120 miles) off the Calabrian coast, officials said.
The partially submerged boat was still in view, but the commander of the search operation said no bodies were in sight.
A fishing boat was the first to respond on Monday after the boat capsized and rescued 11 people, one of whom later died. Six bodies have also been recovered, and survivors say some 60 more are missing.
Survivors reported that the boat motor had caught fire, causing it to capsize off the Italian coast some eight days after departing from Turkiye with about 75 people from Iran, Syria and Iraq on board, according to the UN refugee agency and other UN organizations. They included more than 20 children.
A spokeswoman for Doctors Without Borders said the survivors have suffered both psychological and physical trauma, and “remained very confused.”
“They have been hospitalized ... and don’t yet know who in their families is alive and who died at sea,’’ said Cecilia Momi, in charge of the group’s humanitarian affairs. “Entire families are destroyed. Some lost a wife, some lost a child, a husband, a friend, a nephew.”
In another incident Monday, the charity rescue ship Nadir rescued 51 people from Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh and transported them to Lampedusa. Another 10 people on the same smugglers boat were found suffocated to death on the lower deck.
The deaths bring to over 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year, an average of five dead a day, the UN agencies said.
The International Red Cross said that the incidents are “another testament to Europe’s failing approach to migration and asylum, which prioritizes walls and deterrence over humane welcome.”


Pakistani religion ministry urges people to disregard social media rumors about Hajj pilgrims

Updated 19 June 2024
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Pakistani religion ministry urges people to disregard social media rumors about Hajj pilgrims

  • The statement came in response to reports and videos that purportedly showed some Pakistani pilgrims had been left stranded during Hajj rituals
  • Pakistan Hajj Mission director-general says the videos shared online are ‘baseless,’ urges people to rely on credible sources for accurate information

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani ministry of religious affairs on Wednesday urged the masses to disregard rumors about Hajj pilgrims and verify information from credible sources before sharing it on social media platforms.
The statement came in response to reports and videos that purportedly showed some Pakistani pilgrims had been left stranded while performing rituals in Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah during the Hajj pilgrimage.
Abdul Wahab Soomro, director-general of the Pakistan Hajj Mission (PHM), said the videos shared online were “baseless” and their authenticity could not be confirmed.
“The PHM relies on information provided by the Saudi government, which is later verified by the mission itself,” the official said in a statement.
“As of 4:00 PM on June 18, a total of 9 deaths of Pakistanis had occurred in Mashair, with 4 in Mina, 3 in Arafat, and 2 in Muzdalifah,” he said, adding that this year’s Hajj was challenging due to extreme heat and harsh weather conditions, with temperatures reaching 50°C.
Soomro emphasized the mission received reports of deaths and verified them before taking any action.
“The Saudi government has set up a system for burials and funeral prayers in Haramain, and arrangements are also made to send the dead body of a pilgrim to Pakistan if the heirs demand it,” he added.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able.
Pilgrims pelted the jamarat and performed the Farewell Tawaf on Tuesday, bringing this year’s Hajj to a close.
Pakistan had a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which more than 70,000 people performed the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest used private tour operators.
The South Asian country will begin its post-Hajj flight operation on Thursday to bring local pilgrims back home.


‘Riyadh is where the future is’: British-Pakistani boxer hails Saudi capital as global sports hub

Updated 19 June 2024
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‘Riyadh is where the future is’: British-Pakistani boxer hails Saudi capital as global sports hub

  • Hamzah Sheeraz entered professional boxing arena in 2017 and has won all 20 of his games
  • The undefeated boxer plans to compete again during the Riyadh Season in September this year

ISLAMABAD: British-Pakistani boxer Hamzah Sheeraz, who defeated Austin Williams from the US state of Wisconsin in a bout in Riyadh this month, has hailed the capital city of Saudi Arabia as the future hub of global sports.
Sheeraz defeated Williams on June 1 in a highly anticipated middleweight clash at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh as part of the Queensberry vs Matchroom: 5vs5 event.
The 25-year-old, who intends to compete again in the Saudi capital later his year, says it was an “amazing” experience to fight in Riyadh, though he competed for the first time in the Kingdom.
“[Saudi Arabia has] a massive, huge impact and not just only on boxing. We’re talking all sports here across the board. We’re talking soccer. We’re talking snooker. We’re talking obviously boxing. We’re talking UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship],” he told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
“Riyadh is where the future is in terms of sports. I see for the next, however, for the foreseeable future, Riyadh is where it’s all happening.”
Sheeraz was born in Ilford, London into a family of athletes. His father hails from Matore village in Kahuta tehsil of Pakistan’s Punjab province. Sheeraz’s father was a cricketer who played for Gloucestershire, while his paternal grandfather and uncle were both boxers. Sheeraz’s uncle also won ten national amateur titles for Slough and Pinewood Star clubs in the UK, according to the 25-year-old.
He was formally introduced to boxing at the age of 8 by his uncle and had his first bout at 12, becoming a three-time finalist at the national junior championships in the UK, before turning into a professional fighter.
In 2017, he signed up with Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions as a professional boxer. Sheeraz debuted in September of the same year and defeated Duane Green in technical knockout in the second round on the undercard of the Billy Joe Saunders–Willie Monroe Jr. fight at the Copper Box Arena in London. Standing at 6 feet 3 inches, Sheeraz has been undefeated and boasts a 20-0 record.
He said it was a great first experience competing before the “vibrant crowd” in Riyadh, adding that it was valuable to face that level of competitiveness and to be among the elite where even a 1 percent difference can be crucial.
“The people around the world can really see that Riyadh and the whole Riyadh Season is really portraying the pinnacle of sports and showing that this is the best level it can get to,” the 25-year-old said. “So, it’s always an honor to be a part of that and to be part of something where the competition is so high, but the reward is so much higher.”
Asked about his next fight, Sheeraz said he intended to compete again during the Riyadh Season in September. “Hopefully, we are looking at September but nothing has been confirmed yet. Hopefully, it’ll be another Riyadh Season event,” he added.
The annual Riyadh Season festival is part of the Saudi Seasons initiative to promote tourism and national heritage of the Kingdom, according to Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA). The festival is attended by millions of people each year to enjoy exciting activities and events.
In honor of his exceptional performance in Saudi Arabia, Sheeraz said, Turki bin Abdul Mohsen Al-Shaikh, chairman of the GEA, had signed him as an “Ambassador of Riyadh Season,” alongside two other boxers Terence Crawford and Jared Anderson.
“I am an ambassador for Riyadh Season now and it is an absolute honor,” he told Arab News. “I can’t thank the people involved, His Excellency [Turki bin Abdul Mohsen Al-Shaikh] enough for choosing me and for allowing me to be someone who represents not just them, but who represents them on such a big, big worldwide level.”
Sheeraz garnered global fame in 2022, when he was recognized by the prestigious Boxing Writers’ Club as the ‘Young Boxer of the Year’. A number of former world champions have been the recipient of the award presented at the Savoy Hotel on London’s Embankment.
In March 2022, he defeated Jez Smith for the WBC International Silver Middleweight Title at the OVO Arena, Wembley. Previously, he defended the WBO European Champion title in super welterweight category on four occasions.
About boxing in Pakistan, Sheeraz said Pakistan had many great fighters, but the problem was that they did not have a platform and financial backing to advance their careers.
“Hopefully, [I will] bring these young superstars to Riyadh, bring them to Riyadh to perform,” he said, adding that he had a plan to build gyms in the country of his origin to help natural talent come through without any worries.
“Definitely, I would love to come back there,” he said, when asked whether he would like to compete in Pakistan. “I would [also] love to do tours, go to universities, give speeches, get in touch with the youth over there to steer them in the right direction and show them there are opportunities out there that they wouldn’t even dream of.”


Pakistan naval ship Babur visits Jeddah, conducts joint exercise with Saudi Arabia’s Al-Riyadh frigate

Updated 19 June 2024
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Pakistan naval ship Babur visits Jeddah, conducts joint exercise with Saudi Arabia’s Al-Riyadh frigate

  • Pakistan, Saudi Arabia enjoy strong defense ties and regularly engage in joint air, ground and sea exercises
  • Apart from defense and security ties, Pakistan enjoys strong economic and trade relations with Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS) Babur has visited the Jeddah port and conducted a joint exercise with Saudi Arabia’s Al-Riyadh frigate to strengthen mutual cooperation between the two countries, the Pakistani military said on Wednesday.
Upon arrival at the Jeddah port, the Pakistani naval ship was received by Pakistani diplomats and officials of the Royal Saudi Navy, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistani military’s media wing.
On the occasion, the commanding officer of PNS Babur met with Deputy Western Fleet Commander, Rear Admiral Yahya Mohammad Majrashi, of the Royal Saudi Navy.
“During the meeting, issues of mutual interest, including maritime cooperation between the two countries, were discussed,” the ISPR said in a statement.

In this handout combination of photographs, taken and released by Director General Public Relations Pakistan Navy on June 19, 2024, Pakistan navy officials brief Royal Saudi Naval Forces personnel onboard PNS Babur in Jeddah. (Pakistan Navy)

“At the end of the visit, PNS Babur participated in a naval exercise with Royal Saudi Naval Forces ship, HMS Al-Riyadh.”
The ISPR said the passage exercise, named PASSEX, was aimed at promoting mutual cooperation and strong friendly relations between the two countries.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong defense ties and bilateral security cooperation. The two nations regularly engage in joint air, ground, and sea military exercises, while several cadets from the Kingdom, along with counterparts from other Middle Eastern nations, annually visit Pakistan to undergo specialized military training.
Apart from defense and security ties, Pakistan enjoys strong economic and trade relations with Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates, serving as the top source of remittances for the cash-strapped South Asian country.

In this handout combination of photographs, taken and released by Director General Public Relations Pakistan Navy on June 19, 2024, Pakistan naval ship Babur conducts passage exercise with Royal Saudi Naval Forces in Jeddah. (Pakistan Navy)

 


Pakistan search for missing Japanese climbers called off after body recovered

Updated 19 June 2024
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Pakistan search for missing Japanese climbers called off after body recovered

  • The climbers, Ryuseki Hiraoka and Atsushi Taguchi, went missing on June 10 while climbing 7,027-meter Spantik Peak
  • Pakistan is home to five of the world’s tallest mountains that loom above 8,000 meters, including K2 and Nanga Parbat

ISLAMABAD: A search operation in northern Pakistan to locate a Japanese climber, who went missing along with another one, has been called off after one body was recovered, the Pakistan Adventure Tour company said on Tuesday.
The climbers, Ryuseki Hiraoka and Atsushi Taguchi, went missing on June 10 while climbing Spantik Peak, which stands at 7,027 meters above the sea level.
On June 15, the civil administration of the Gilgit-Baltistan region in northern Pakistan confirmed one body had been found.
The search for the second climber continued with the help of a team, including two Pakistan Army helicopters, crewed by high-altitude climbers and experts.
“We tried our best and continued search for the second body but we could not see it because a lot of snow had fallen there and there were lots of crevasses there,” said local climber and member of search team, Imtiaz Sadpara, at a news conference at Deputy Commissioner’s office in Shigar.
Spantik, more popularly called the Golden Peak, is largely viewed as more accessible and straightforward. The Japanese climbers were attempting to summit it in the Karakoram Range.
Pakistan is home to five of the world’s tallest mountains that loom above 8,000 meters, including K2 and Nanga Parbat that are known for their treacherous climbs.
Last Sunday, Pakistan’s army rescued Estonian climber Saama Marie who injured her leg whilst attempting to climb the Nanga Parbat peak in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Marie last updated followers on her Facebook account on June 9 that she had camped on the slope of Ganalo at an altitude of 4,900 meters. There had been no update from her since then.
In a video shared by Pakistani state broadcaster PTV, two men were seen carrying an injured Marie to a Pakistani army helicopter from the snowcapped mountain.
“I have a leg injury and I have currently escaped by [the help of] Pakistan Army helicopter, taken from Nanga Parbat base camp to Skardu hospital,” she said.
Pakistan’s mountains attract climbers from all parts of the world. According to official figures, over 8,900 foreigners visited the remote Gilgit-Baltistan region in 2023 where the summer climbing season runs from early June till late August.
— With input from Reuters