A compendium of Jeddah worth an unhurried read!

October 29, 2018

S. Athar H. Rizvi

Saudi Gazette

ALL human beings love to travel, to read, write and savor different types of food items — ethnic, Mughlai, Asian or continental. They love to celebrate the good stuff and lambaste the bad.

A good chef is the one who adds the local or required taste to a cuisine cooked, baked or fried traditionally. The pizza slice is Italian. Fries are Belgian or Dutch. Hamburgers and frankfurters? Likely German. But chefs around the globe have all these dishes improved to tempt the taste buds of the food lovers everywhere as the culture of a place has a lot to do with the cuisine of that area.

The Culinary Epic Of Jeddah is an in-depth and serious effort to shed light on and popularize the cuisine and eating habits of the residents of the historic city, the Bride of the Red Sea.

The Saudi port city of Jeddah is a modern commercial hub and gateway for pilgrimages to the Islamic holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. Besides several historic places, the city boasts of resort hotels, beaches and outdoor sculptures lining the Corniche and a seafront promenade anchored by the iconic King Fahd Fountain. The city’s Al-Balad historic district dates back to the 7th century and retains traditional homes built from coral.

The book under review is the story of “Jeddah” which means Grandmother in Arabic as it refers to Eve (the Mother of mankind). The book takes the reader on the journey of the city and its prestigious history which earns it a rightful place as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Besides its iconic historical background, the book also has a massive portion of food and ingredients savored by the populace here — both natives and foreigners. Several food items are prepared based on the Prophetic traditions and as mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. This book not only takes the reader on to the historical and culinary journey but also shows how Jeddah evolved over the past 1,000 years to join the elite club of modern world-class cities.

Jeddah is multi-lingual, multicultural and cosmopolitan where foreigners from across the globe rub shoulders with the traditional, peace-loving Jeddawis. As such, what could be the perfect and ideal source of information than from the pen of an expatriate who has lived much of his life in the city?

Ajai Sharma, the writer of the marvelous compendium, was born in Meerut in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in 1996. Ajai is the alumni of Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration (WGSHA) in Manipal, in the southern Indian city of Udupi in Karnataka. Ajai’s passion for cooking inspired him toward the culinary arts, eventually making his feet move toward hospitality administration, and WGSHA became his choice.

A traveler and videographer by nature, Ajai got a chance to train himself in various hospitality brands such as Hilton Hotel, Qatar, Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai and Park Hyatt in Jeddah as a part of his curriculum.

About the book, Anjana Gopakumar, Food Blogger (Eat at Trivandrum) writes: “The culture of a place has a lot to do with the cuisine of that area, The Culinary Epic Of Jeddah gives in-depth information about the rich heritage and cuisine of the Arabian city. Ajai's debut book feels like one that has been handcrafted to perfection with minute details covering the history, culinary culture, religious rituals, and artefacts of Jeddah. The book reflects an immense passion for food and a lot of hard work that has gone behind for research to provide the readers with well-ground information about the port city.”

Michelin Star Chef Vikas Khanna sounds extremely proud of Ajai for “celebrating and documenting the rich heritage and cuisine of the legendary Arabian city of Jeddah in his epic book.”

Chef K. Thirugnanasambantham, principal of the Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration, Manipal, has the following encouraging words to say about Ajai and his masterpiece: “Happy to see the commitment of Ajai toward his book ‘The Culinary Epic of Jeddah’ which unfolds the untold stories of food, culture and rich heritage of the city.”

The compendium on Jeddah, thus, is a treasure trove of all the information about the historic city and worth a leisurely read and to be bought for the purpose of posterity.

October 29, 2018
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