The Aseer region (Saudi Arabia) has been officially awarded the title of World Region of Gastronomy 2024 by the International Institute of Gastronomy, Culture, Arts and Tourism (IGCAT). They are the first region outside Europe to earn this important accolade that recognises Aseer’s commitment to protect and promote local food and cultural uniqueness.
The title was formally awarded at an official ceremony organised on 24 September 2022 at Terra Madre – Salone del Gusto in Turin, in the presence of the lead stakeholders from Aseer region and international guests.
The event opened with a welcome tour of the Salone del Gusto, followed by a visit to the Saudi Pavilion with traditional Aseeri dance performances and a tasting of traditional dishes from the Aseer region.
Attendees were then invited to the A Come Ambiente museum for a round table on Sustainable and Healthier Futures moderated by IGCAT’s President, Diane Dodd PhD with the participation of leading executives from the European Regions of Gastronomy and IGCAT experts: Count Francisco de Calheiros, Minho Private Stakeholder and IGCAT Ambassador, from Minho, European Region of Gastronomy 2016 (Portugal); Wendy Barrie, Food writer and chef from Scotland, candidate European Region of Gastronomy 2026 (United Kingdom); and Jaume Gomila Saura, Academic Stakeholder and IGCAT Board Member from Menorca, European Region of Gastronomy 2022 (Spain).
They shared experiences on how valuable the journey towards and beyond the title has been for their regions and expressed encouraging words for Aseer’s stakeholders. A written statement of congratulations from the Governor of the South Aegean Region (European Region of Gastronomy 2019) was also read.
“Mabruk Aseer for becoming the 1st World Region of Gastronomy in the MENA region. I couldn’t be prouder of the brothers and sisters in this room that have worked so diligently to obtain the title” affirmed Dr. Diane Dodd “Becoming a World Region of Gastronomy is not just a title because you have great food. It is a responsibility. By 2024, your mission is for Aseer to lead on sustainable and healthier food not just in the region, or indeed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but across the whole MENA region.”
“Aseer will receive high international visibility in 2024 and become known world-wide for quality, locally-produced and healthy food as well as exceptional, colourful and unique cultural experiences. I have every confidence you will make the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia proud and will contribute successfully to achieving Vision 2030 for Saudi Arabia, because you have all the right ingredients in Aseer and wonderfully talented people to bring these ingredients to the fore. Working together you will ensure this region is known internationally as the region of a thousand welcomes!” concluded Dr. Diane Dodd. You can read the full speech made by Dr. Diane Dodd and that concluded the first session here.
Under the title Celebrating Aseer, World/MENA Region of Gastronomy 2024, a second round table invited views from the lead stakeholders in the region on how the Award will help them tackle their main challenges to ensure local sustainable development. Moderated by Executive Manager of Aseer, World Region of Gastronomy 2024, Dr. Mohammed Hamoud, the round table included two sessions with interventions by:
Mayada Badr, CEO of the Culinary Arts Commission of the Saudi Ministry of Culture;
Dr. Amal Nemengani, Community Director of Aseer Development Authority;
Nabil Tukar, CEO of Bunyan;
Abdulaziz Alghanem, Manager of the Aseer Region Branch of the Heritage Commission of the Saudi Ministry of Culture.
Majed Almuhanna, Research and Preservation Manager from the Culinary Arts Commission of the Saudi Ministry of Culture;
Rehaf Gassas, CEO of the Saudi Heritage Preservation Society;
Dr.Ibrahim Alsini, Adviser to the President of King Khalid University;
“In Aseer we are ready to work hard to ensure local sustainable development, especially by involving the younger generations into appreciating and supporting their food and cultural heritage. Local community engagement, knowledge exchange and collaborations among the different stakeholders are key points in this project, and we will make all efforts to become a model for the MENA region in this respect” stated Dr. Mohammed Hamoud.
After the round tables, Dr. Diane Dodd officially presented the award to the regional stakeholders on behalf of IGCAT.
The award ceremony concluded at the Saudi Pavilion at the Salone del Gusto with a delicious desserts from Aseer and more traditional dances.
Aseer region’s path to the title
After evaluating the bid book, Marhaban Alf – Aseer the Region of a 1000 Welcomes, presented on 31 December 2021, a jury of international IGCAT experts visited the region (27 February-1 March 2022) to meet local stakeholders and assess Aseer’s readiness to hold the World Region of Gastronomy title.
The jury was very impressed with the region’s efforts to support local cultural and food diversity, ensure regional biodiversity and environmental protection, preserve heritage and traditional knowledge, as well as to empower the younger generations to create innovative products and services to attract sustainable tourism.
On this basis, they recommended the region for the title and suggested that they passed to the following stage in their candidacy: presenting a detailed action plan including projects, events and development proposals for the title year and beyond, to ensure a legacy of the Award.
After assessing that the action plan successfully integrated the jury’s recommendations and provided a well-founded roadmap for the region’s development, the IGCAT Board officially approved Aseer to be awarded the World Region of Gastronomy 2024 title.
The international jury affirmed that “the welcoming spirit of the local community and their genuine willingness to showcase and share their local food and culture impressed the jury. The light of the Middle East shines from Aseer: proof of this is the vocation for empowering the community and enlightening it to be prepared for welcoming future visitors with clear and firm criteria, so that a society rooted in tradition can jump to a circular and creative economy of excellence.
“All the local stakeholders that we had the pleasure to meet – including chefs, farmers, producers, young entrepreneurs, guides – demonstrated great pride and love for the heritage and traditions of their region, as well as passion for their work and country. We are confident that Aseer will be an exemplary World Region of Gastronomy 2024,” concluded the jury.
The Aseer, World Region of Gastronomy 2024 candidacy and programme have been created by a cross-sectoral consortium including stakeholders from the public, private, third and knowledge sectors. Founding stakeholders include: Culinary Arts and Heritage Commissions (overseen by the Saudi Ministry of Culture); Saudi Heritage Preservation Society; Aseer Development Authority; Bunyan; Saudi Tourism Authority; Abha Chamber of Commerce; Soudah Development Company; King Khalid Univerity; Faseel; and Qoot.
About the World Regions of Gastronomy
Candidate and awarded World/European Regions of Gastronomy, guided by IGCAT, are working together to strengthen food security through the celebration of distinctive food cultures; create employment by stimulating creativity and gastronomic innovation; nourish children and adults through culinary and cultural education; driving environmental sustainability in tourism, hospitality and agricultural sectors; supporting balance and sustainable tourism practices; highlighting and supporting expertise from within rural and urban communities, creating connections and sharing good practices; and contributing to community health and well-being.
IGCAT aims to empower local communities by raising awareness of the importance of protecting and promoting distinct regional food, culture, arts and natural assets as part of sustainable and balanced tourism and development strategies. This is essential to safeguarding our planet, health, wellness and local economies.
IGCAT is a non-profit institute established in 2012, working with regional stakeholder consortiums in the fields of gastronomy, culture, arts and tourism. It counts on the expertise of a worldwide network of experts and works in partnership with specialised intergovernmental organisations.
IGCAT founded the World/European Region of Gastronomy Award and is the official secretariat for the World/European Regions of Gastronomy Platforms. Furthermore, the Institute has developed the European Young Chef Award, the World Food Gift Challenge, the Top Websites for Foodie Travelers Award and the international Food Film Menu.