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Wagamama


Wagamama is one of the latest restaurants to hit the Jeddah food scene. Wagamama is an Asian cuisine chain that was first started in Bloomsbury London in 1992 by Chinese British restaurateur Alan Yau, and now has more than 140 branches in more than 20 countries worldwide.

Many Jeddawis had been eagerly keeping an eye on their upcoming site and now that Wagamama is up and running, Jeddah Blog’s very own reviewer Abdullah Yahya lost no time in trying it out. He reports back to JB readers in this exclusive report.

The concept of Wagamama, which means ‘self-indulgent’ in Japanese, is inspired by Japanese ramen bars with food served fresh and fast. Their menu is extensive and designed to suit different tastes. And although it’s influenced heavily by Japanese cuisine, it has different elements from other East Asian cuisines.

The newly opened restaurant is still in soft opening (or at least it was when we visited it a few weeks ago). It is in Rawdah District, on the intersection of Hail Street and Al Nahdaa Street (the street parallel to Tahliah Street to the north aka Flood Canal Street).

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Wagamama’s open plan seating

When it comes to the décor, the restaurant went for simplicity in its design. It gives a feeling of open space with its high ceiling. The lamps hang down towards sturdy wooden tables, which gives a feeling of communal experience. So, if you’re one to like cozy more intimate places, this place is not for you. It also has an open kitchen, which always assures me that my food is up to high hygienic standards.

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Clear and simple – an easy-to-read menu.

The menu for Saudi Arabia is smartly designed to help one decide what to eat. It has sections for appetizers, sides, salads, ramens, curries, teppanyakis, and more. Many of the main dishes can be ordered to your liking by changing the type of meat or turning up the level of spice to your taste.

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Lollipop Prawn Kushiyaki and Shrimp Gyoza

For our first visit, we wanted to order ramen, but sadly it was still not available. We ordered fried Shrimp Gyoza (duck was not available) and Lollipop Prawn Kushiyaki. I did not like the Gyoza at all, the taste of the dough was bland and starchy, and it did not make me want to have another one. The Lollipop Prawn on the other hand was very tasty, but the serving of 3 pieces is strange, I think they should make it an even number.

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Firecracker Chicken Curry – spicy and aromatic.

For the main dishes we had the Firecracker Chicken Curry, which was amazing. Spicy and very aromatic with a side of sticky rice. The other dish we chose was a Teppanyaki dish. We opted for Teriyaki Soba with rice noodles. This one was another home run, but gun to my head, I would give the edge to the curry. The drinks we had with these main dishes were fresh juices which we liked, but did not necessarily love.

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Teriyaki Soba with rice noodles

Finally, we checked the dessert menu, not all of the items were available but the Banana Katsu was, and it was glorious. It’s a play on the famous fried banana dessert with a scoop of ice cream. We had that with hot drinks, which were not all that special.

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The Banana Katsu – glorious!

If you would ask me whether I would visit Wagamama again, my answer would be sure. With the speedy friendly service, tasty food, and moderate prices, one must be crazy to pass that over. That said, I would wait to make sure all the items on their menu are available first.

JB rating

Food: 8.5/10

Service: 9/10

Ambience: 9/10

Approximate cost per head
SR150, including two appetizers, two main dishes, 2 fresh juices, one shared dessert and two hot drinks.

Skill on the Grill – Review


Skill on the Grill is a newly opened restaurant on the intersection of Prince Sultan Street and Sari Street in the fancy new mall that brings us lots of delectable eateries. Jeddah Blog writer Samreen Ahmed set out on a mission to sample the new outfit and gave us her verdict.

Read more…

An Evening in the Company of Nouman Ali Khan


Well-known and loved Islamic speaker Nouman Ali Khan was in Jeddah last week and spoke to a select audience at a local mosque in the run up to Ramadan. JB reader Zainab binte Shahid and Jeddah Blog writer Haris Ali were lucky to be present among the listeners, and they sent us their reviews of the event.

Eloquent and charismatic, Nouman Ali Khan.

Haris Ali

Being Nouman Ali Khan’s biggest fan (I graciously share this position with a several hundred million or so other Muslims), it felt surreal to walk into the lecture hall of the Islamic Education Foundation, and to see the Islamic Speaker in the flesh – in front of my eyes. It is difficult to explain; he surpassed my expectation in terms of his personality, sense of humour and warmth. Witnessing the Ustadh standing at the Mimbar, ready to deliver his speech on the topic of Ramadan, in my heart indeed, I felt I knew him personally.

His judiciously crafted words and the trustworthiness and sincerity in his voice was just the same as I had heard in his YouTube videos in my free time. After listening to his lectures online, I was so keen to understand and apply the concepts in my life, and to strengthen my Ibadah and Yaqeen.  I felt a greater insight into comprehending the meaningfulness of Allah Almighty’s words in the Qur’an, and the explanations of the Qur’anic stories were given so clearly and authentically, that any person would be keen to listen. These are the attributes that have lead a great many hearts young and old – to their settlement, in a world filled with so many unsettling questions.

Nouman Ali Khan speaking about Islam

Nouman Ali Khan speaking to the gathering at the IEF Centre.

Soon into the talk I realized that throughout my run of listening to the Ustadh speak, I had always been so moved by his knowledge and eloquence in Islamic Principles, true Muslim character, and how the Muslim community in particular must act with each other and with those outside it.

He spoke particularly on the occasion, about giving proper Da’wah to non-Muslims, inviting them to Islam through justice and reason, as Islam was a gift to us by our Lord, the Creator, and so it is our duty to respectfully and honestly propagate the True Word of the Merciful Creator, the Eternal to those who are but lost and in a deep abyss of darkness. The Ustadh conveyed, that we need not have endless resources, but only the assurance in our hearts from the Lord, Most Merciful to truly convey the message. As he quoted the Prophet Moses in the Quran, faced with the difficult task of confronting the cruel and self-important tyrant, the Pharaoh:

رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِنْ لِسَانِي يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي

Rabb-ishrah li sadri, wa yassir li ‘amri, Wah-lul ‘uqdatam-min-li-saani, Yaf-qahuu qawlii

O my Lord! Open for me my chest (grant me self-confidence, contentment, and boldness); Ease my task for me; And remove the impediment from my speech, so they may understand what I say
[Surah Ta-Ha; 20:25-28]

It was indeed a wonderful speech Mashaa’Allah, from Nouman Ali Khan (may Allah grant him and his family Paradise), telling us not to solely focus on ourselves this coming Ramadan the most blessed month of the Qur’an’s revelation, but to spread the brilliant message of Islam, and that is not difficult to do so, as we are in desperate need to ask Allah to ‘open our chests’ and so our task shall be made easy for us Inshaa Allah.

Nouman Ali Khan, inspiring generations.

Zainab binte Shahid

Assalam O Alaikum. My dream, no our dream just came true!! Our Beloved Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan aka NAK was here in Jeddah, and by the grace of Allah I got a chance to visit one of his lectures. Approximately one thousand people attended the event and the whole crowd was excited; I even felt butterflies.

As for those who aren’t familiar with Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan’s work, he is the founder, CEO And lead instructor at Bayyinah Institute, in Dallas.

He discussed topics regarding Ramadan, Dawah and our relationship with the Qur’an with the reference of Surah Taha and Surah Al-Kahf and their linguistic miracles.

He first told the story of Musa (a.s.) which is in Surah Taha. When Musa (a.s.) was sent to the Pharaoh to deliver the message of Allah (swt), Musa (a.s.) was worried that he would be unsuccessful due to the weight of the duty, but he took refuge in the vast grace of his Lord.

“(Moses) said: O my Lord! Expand me my breast;

   Ease my task for me;

   And remove the impediment from my speech.

   So they may understand what I say:” Surah Taha(25-28)

We learn from his story that we should always seek help from Allah in any difficult situation rather than seeking it from the people.

Ustadh Nouman also gave an example from our Prophet’s (saw) life. Princes used to come from Egypt to learn from the Prophet (saw). So when one came in to the Prophet’s congregation wearing those expensive clothing and jewels, seeing the poor people with torn clothes, he refused to sit with them, so Allah (swt) revealed to the Prophet (saw):

“And keep yourself patient [by being] with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His countenance. And let not your eyes pass beyond them, desiring adornments of the worldly life, and do not obey one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance and who follows his desire and whose affair is ever [in] neglect” Surah Al Kahf:28

He (swt) tells the Prophet (saw) not to even look at him and not to even turn his eyes and be with those who call upon their Lord.

Suppose if a man comes to your charity and gives you a big cheque to donate for a masjid, but says I don’t believe in zakat. You may think to yourself that if you engage in discussion with him to teach him about zakat, you won’t get the cheque. You might decide to set religion aside for ten minutes and and take the cheque and teach him later. But no, you can’t do that, not even temporarily. We should not choose the world over Allah. The lesson we learn from this is that we should not prefer worldly resources, rather use the Book of Allah as a resource and seek the company of the believers. Never to compromise Allah when it comes to worldly desires.

His suggestion on making Ramadan productive: choose a surah (chapter) of about 2-3 pages. Find a lecture on it online and recite it day by day and eventually you will start understanding it. By the end of Ramadan you will be one surah closer to Allah.

Everyone was given a free book “Basic Dawah 101” courtesy of the organisers, written by Ryan Fawzi Arab.

2014: Our Year in Review


We’re kicking off the blog for the New Year, and have lots of articles, reviews and giveaways planned for 2015. First though, a look back at last year’s activity on Jeddah Blog. Thanks to the WordPress.com stats helpers who have been busy preparing a summary of our most popular posts, top commenters, referrers and much more. Click on the link below if you’d like to take a peek at what we got up to last year.

We would love to have your feedback on how you think the blog has been doing, and what you hope to see this year. Do leave a comment at the end of this post, and let us know what you think.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 160,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 7 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Make a Date with Talah Al Jood, the Ultimate Date Store in Jeddah


Few fruits can boast the historical significance, cultural heritage and nutritional benefit of the Dactylifera – more commonly known as the date! The sweet crop of the Phoenix is thought to have originated in the lands of Iraq, and known to be cultivated in Eastern Arabia circa 6000 BCE. Truly a magnificent plant, the Phoenix Dactylifera – for evidence shows it has been around for at least 50 million years. Dates are one of the most popular food items in the Makkah region, but also in the whole of Saudi Arabia and the Arab World. They are available in most markets, with many names and in various forms. From sweet and gooey Sukkary dates to larger fruity Anbary dates, simpler varieties to the most expensive Ajwah dates from Madinah there are endless choices to discover and sample.  You will find pastries filled with dates, date bars, even McDonald’s offers a date pie as an alternative to its apple pie! Explore, if you wish, the rich varieties and flavours of this special fruit. They can be found in many vendors’ shops and supermarkets, yet as a personal recommendation; I suggest a trip to Talah Al Jood. By far, Talah has dates of the most delicious flavour and superior quality in the whole of Jeddah. In addition, their customer service is truly unparalleled. Upon entering the store, customers are greeted and served piquant dates – completely free of charge – to dip into a rich chocolate fountain. Also, a cup of the finest Arabic coffee to accompany your chocolate date – poured fresh from the Dallah. Inside, a vast variety of dates awaits, ranging from as low a price as SR35 per kilo, upwards. Staff are friendly and extremely generous with their samples, and offer whatever the customer may ask to try. If you feel at all adventurous and are keen to excite your taste buds beyond just the fruit, try their caramel dates, dates with coffee beans (a coffee explosion in your mouth), cappuccino dates, pistachio dates, dates packed with hazelnuts, rolled in sesame seeds, filled with chocolate, covered in chocolate and many, many more. They even sell confectionery (I spied a round ‘chocolate panda’) and tiny bite-sized crunchy deserts. Date cakes are also on display. My personal favourites are the delectable caramel kind and the distinctively delightful coffee dates. For relatively small orders, dates can be packed in gift boxes or gift plates, however for larger orders; parties or corporate buyers: Talah has a variety of elaborate arrangements. There are many branches of this irresistable store, but the one I visit most frequently is the branch on Sari Street (from Prince Sultan Street, head past Jarir, and it’s on the right-hand side). It’s a definite must-visit for anyone living in Jeddah. If you’re an expat, try taking some home with you. There will surely be dates to satisfy every palate. What’s your favourite date? Be sure to tell us in the comments, happy date-shopping!

Welcome to 2014! (and a review of our work last year)


Welcome back Dear Readers, after a hopefully relaxing winter break.

Jeddah Blog has enjoyed an exciting year, and 2013 has been pretty eventful. According to our blog stats, Jeddah Blog has been viewed 100,000 times in 2013, we gained 1,000 followers on Twitter, and over 6,000 members on our Facebook group.

Looking back at some of our favourite blog posts of 2013, we’ve written about  a typical Eid in Jeddah, Iftar at the Red Sea, the Pakistan Kidney Centre, Fayfa Garden Centre, the Urdu Academy, Going Green in Jeddah, and a special dinner in honour of cricket superstar Shahid Afridi.

Places we talked about were World Heritage Site Madain SalehThuwal Beach, the Tomb of Eve and the newly-renovated Jeddah Corniche.

Food-wise we’ve reviewed the Teayana tea house, Gelato Mochi, Lama Al Khereiji’s desserts, our recommended pick-me-up Breakfasts, and tried some delicious Zaatar recipes.

We’ve been very lucky to interview film director Rahul Gandotra, Diana from That Jeddah Podcast, the Mad Traveler Paul Hudspith, and highlighted the amazing achievement of Raha Moharrak – the first Saudi woman to climb Mount Everest.

New columnist Hanane Fathallah aka The Plus Size Fashionista wrote about her pick of plus-size brands in Jeddah and Summery swimsuits, and Bee gave us her top tips on makeup.

We compiled a list of Compounds and Hospitals and Doctors to join our lists of schools and preschools, and brought you news of a large number of workshops, conferences and courses happening all over the city.

Thanks to our designers, we introduced our new logo at the start of the year and entered the Expats Blog Contest 2013. We are so pleased to be able to announce to all of you that Jeddah Blog won the top spot and bagged the Gold Award for Saudi Arabia. Thanks to Alina Bokhari for writing the winning article. The badge has proudly taken its place in our right-hand side menu bar.

Our sponsors this year were the N.Sight Centre, Arabian Food Corporation, Zamudi, Hello Food, Lifebuoy, Asus, Intel®, Jumeirah luxury hotels & resorts,

This review of 2013 would not be complete without a heartfelt thank you to all of our wonderful contributors who work hard to bring us great articles. We couldn’t have done it without you. Team Jeddah Blog 2013 were:

Alina Bokhari

Anousha Vakani

Bushra Azhar

Delina Partadiredja

Haris Ali

Hanane Fathallah

Muhammad Abdul Nasir

Naima Bashir

Rohail Khan

Zareen Muzaffar

We have some great articles, reviews and competitions lined up, so stay tuned to Jeddah Blog, and please continue to support us throughout 2014.

‘Your Friends and Neighbours’ by Jowhara Al-Saud


At the intersection of social and visual culture, Jowhara Al-Saud’s  ‘Your Friends and Neighbours’ embodies interesting concerns and questions.

In the Islamic artistic tradition, human representation is surrounded by misconception, myths, and controversy. Sometimes a certain interpretation of religion and sometimes local custom seem to be at cross-purposes with figurative representation. Its status has always depended on locally relevant, hence variable factors.

The equation becomes more complex in Saudi Arabia (or perhaps in the larger context of the Middle East where tradition and law constantly define and impose new limits) where official censorship, a compound of tradition and legislation, brings in an additional variant of legitimacy and limits, of what can be represented and what must not be, of what is appropriate for the private sphere, and what is forbidden in the public sphere, what is allowed ‘under certain circumstances’ and what is ‘simply out of the question’.

The dynamics of censorship, and the constant shifting and manoeuvring between restraint and permission, between approval and disapproval creates pockets of selective permissiveness, in which certain things otherwise forbidden become acceptable after a partial erasure, omission, or addition. This choice reforms the image, and its visual traces become a part of the image when we read it. For example, we might pay more attention to the black ink marks than we would want to, we might spend more time trying to guess what is being glossed over. Our attention and our process of reading are reoriented as a result of this visual tampering. Jowhara Al-Saud, in her series ‘Out of Line’, conducts a visual experiment investigating the visual language that emerges when an image undergoes the transition from inappropriate to appropriate, what it loses, and what it gains in the process. As viewers, it invites us to reinvent both our notion of image as well as our postures of beholding it.

 New pictures, new postures: The title ‘Your Friends and Neighbours’ predisposes us to a certain mindset even before we behold the image

 
The language of presence and absence: How does the absent influence our reading of the present?

Jowhara starts with a series of pictures from her personal life, pictures of her friends and family. She ‘operates’ on the images, removing certain selected elements (in keeping with the etiquette of censors) by scratching into the negatives, and then reconstitutes the ‘operated’ image back onto film. Although the images are from an intimate circle and the identity of these people is central to the artist’s reading of them, when she decides to share the images in a public manner and a public place, she needs to surgically remove traces of identity, and replace their uniqueness with a more generic, universal quality. She names the selection ‘Your friends and neighbours’, putting the viewer in the middle of the artistic experience.

The metamorphosis of the image from the intimate to the public is a concern that she consciously translated into the guiding exercise for her series, circumventing the local taboo of sharing the personal and private in public. ‘It became a game of how much you could tell with how little’. At several levels, this series (or for that matter, some of Jowhara’s other work) is a visual experiment, and pushes the boundaries of the notion of image, what it means to create it, what it means to read it, and to what extent the image is dependent on or independent of the process and circumstances of its creation.

At face value, the series is a collection of stills from narratives of daily lives. Jaunty, youthful, and pulsing with a joyful energy, they read like snapshots of daily lives that could be from anywhere and about anyone. It’s interesting to see how, as the image mutates from its conventional paradigm, its aura changes. As soon as some factors are suppressed, others rise to the fore. In direct relation to this, our own behavior and expectations as viewers change and we draw upon other elements for our ‘reading’. Traditionally, the locus of an image with humans is the face, we learn to centre our gaze on the face and move outwards from there. In a group of humans, we automatically scan the picture for what sets them apart. Confronted with the images in the series, we are surprised at how seamless and unconscious our re-orientation as a viewer is, and how quickly and naturally we respond to the re-invented paradigm of ‘image’. In the absence of eyes and facial expressions, we latch on to other cues to make sense of the image.

We notice the impact of posture, the body language, the group dynamics, and a general atmospheric charge that leaps off the surface, and which is a function of several elements like the angle of shot, clues suggested by the title, the energy of the lines themselves, or the hint of a lurking backdrop. To reply to the artist’s question then, how much can you express with how little? Apparently, a lot. In fact, if anything, the series proves that the identity of people in the series becomes almost irrelevant, since even with that suppressed, there are innumerable counts on which we can still own the image. There is much that replaces the glint in the eye, the hesitant flicker of eyelids: a dramatically candid camera angle, a naughty tilt of the face, or the query in a gesture of the hand.

 

A sense of narrative and continuity

It has often been said that the images look like story boards. The narrative mystique is common to other works of Jowhara as well, where she works a constant interplay of the revealed and the hidden up to a delicious suggestivity. This fictional dimension, this reminder that the images are being manipulated and tampered with is deliberately evoked by the reminders of secondary surfaces (the corner of an envelope, a graded work sheet from a school note book, a sheet of fabric, a series of stamps) which jut rudely into the picture plane, coming from nowhere and dissolving into nowhere, it seems. For the artist, it is a conscious concern as an artist to ‘undermine any documentary claim that photography lays claim to’, and to sensitize us to the margin of manouevring inherent in the medium.

Another unreality is the sense of time they embody. They seem to exist in a parallel time zone, where they never snap out of their languorous postures, where the music and holidays never end, where youth is permanent as is the warm embrace of family and friends. This idyllic universe lingers beyond the last frame along a make-believe timeline. They have a quality of frozen perfection, and the recurrence in the sequences creates an illusion of permanence; they are as real and as unreal as the perfect families in yoghurt ads, who seem to go on living in a world where they never age or fight, and where they continue to savour happiness on repeat long after we’ve switched the television off and returned to the imperfection and reality of our own lives.

Forever young, forever happy?

Exploring the metamorphosis of image with the subtraction of some conventional elements inspired by the visual logic and process of censorship and social etiquette, Jowhara creates a crisp new visual idiom.

Naima Rashid

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