Assouline, luxury book publishers celebrated the official global launch of two books on April 26th. ‘Saudi Coffee: The Culture of Hospitality’ and ‘Saudi Dates: A Portrait of the Scared Fruit’. These are the latest additions in their Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Collection.
The publishers hosted an exclusive Eid breakfast provided by Saudi Arabian born chef, Marwa Alkhalaf. This took place at their flagship store Maison Assouline in Piccadilly circus, London. The venue had a chic library jazz ambiance, inspired by the 1950s New York elite character Truman Capote from the book Swans: Legends of the Jet Society.
Assouline was founded in Paris in 1994 by Prosper and Martine Assouline and they are a luxury brand specialising in culture, art and travel books. They have published approximately 1,700 titles in three main collections, including limited editions and unique library accessories in boutiques all over the globe.
Saudi Coffee: The Culture of Hospitality
“For Arabs and Saudis, coffee is an integrated part of our culture and identity. It’s how we show generosity and hospitality.” – Sara Alali
Coffee in Saudi Arabian culture symbolises hospitality, pride and tradition. This even extends itself to the various methods of serving coffee in Saudi.
As Chef Marwa explained, guests are often served very small amounts of coffee at a time as a sign of respect and honour, in order to allow them to really savour and enjoy the taste.
Although the coffee beans are typically grown in eastern Saudi, the harvesting and flavour of coffee varies across the regions as a lot of people tailor it to their own liking.
As well as information on the historical and cultural significance of the beverage, the book also contains original photography from Oliver Pilcher and illustrations by Rafael Alterio – Ibrahim Sarhan, Mohammed Albaijan and Dhafer Alshehri.
The book was created in collaboration with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Culture. Author Maher Raed Al Nammery is a Saudi Arabian chef and he believes that what we eat and drink is vital to creating strong deep connections between people.
And what else is the perfect accompaniment to coffee none other dates? It’s no wonder Assouline chose to pair these books together, which segues us on to the next book they released…
Saudi Dates: A Portrait of The Sacred fruit
“When we led a Bedouin way of life, dates meant survival.” – Nasr Khadaish
Date palms are considered a sacred fruit in Islamic culture because of its association with the Prophet Mohammed (s.a.w – peace be upon him) who often enjoyed dates and encouraged Muslims to follow in his practice by eating them (sunnah). Dates are also frequently referenced throughout the Quran and are usually eaten during Ramadan as Muslims are encouraged to breaks their fasts (at iftar, sunset) with dates and water.
Some also consider date palms to be the “tree of life and power” because they provide both shelter and sustenance. The Saudi natives historically incorporated the palms into every aspect of their lives from using it to build their houses to even creating furniture and baskets from its fibers. It’s very easy to harvest dates and plant them as they spread when their seeds fall on the ground.
Areeka by Marwa Alkhalaf in Maison Assouline’s Swans Bar (Photograph Credit Dashti Jahfar)
Date palms are integral to Saudi’s agriculture as the country is home to one of the world’s largest date palm oases with 31 million palm trees in the region, producing 1.5 million tons of dates, in over 300 different varieties.
Author, Mohammed Bin Ismail Al-Ismail is head of king Abdullah International city for dates. As well as this, he also researches and specialises in palm trees/dates farming and production.
Chef Marwa Alkhalaf
Having grown up in the Saudi eastern coast, Marwa Alkhalaf has developed a life-long affinity with cooking food. Being surrounded by ingredients and living close to the sea, she enjoyed fishing and farming fresh dates, tomatoes, limes, Indian almonds to use in her cuisines.
She followed her passion for cooking and trained professionally at the Le Cordon Bleu, where she earned an 11-month diploma in the basics of classical cookery. Following this, she took up a position at Mayfair’s two Michelin starred restaurant The Greenhouse.
Marwa and her husband then opened up their own restaurant, Nutshell, in July 2019 which served a unique take on traditional Iranian dishes.
Alkhalaf is currently working on publishing a Nutshell cookbook and is looking to develop her next restaurant.
The Eid breakfast was a perfectly balanced palette of sweet and savoury foods, each infused with dates and served with coffee. Here is my review of the dishes provided:
Areeka – Bread pudding with dates, butter, cream and honey
This was a sweet filling pudding and the fresh dates (which can only be served when in season) provided a delicious complimentary soft texture to the dish.
Date Granola – fresh dates with honey, orange, pumpkins seeds and tahini yoghurt
This was my favourite part of the meal because the orange zest added a tangy twist to the sharpness of the yoghurt, mixed with an array of other sweet flavours.
Masabeeb – spiced pancakes with fried onions and peppers
This was the only savoury dish on the menu and it was described as a mix between a mini pancake and a crumpet. The pepper sauce and accompaniment added flavour and texture to the softness of the pancake, which worked exceedingly well together.
The menu would not have been complete without coffee to compliment the dates. The drink was very flavorsome and lacked the normal expected bitterness that in my opinion often ruins coffee. This Saudi take on coffee was light and almost chai-like, mixed with caradmom, saffron and spices on the tongue.
Eid Breakfast in Maison Assouline’s Swans Bar (Credit Dashti Jahfar)
Overall, the breakfast was delightful and made for a light and balanced taste experience in your mouth – a great way to celebrate Eid-ul Fitr and mark the end of a month of fasting during Ramadan.
Follow @UrbanMuslimz and @shaheenathejourno on Instagram to stay up to date with our latest articles!