First Published: 2018-03-15

Kuwaitis flock to get hands on rare ‘desert truffle’
Demand is so high in Gulf emirate's market that each year hundreds of merchants compete for limited stall space to sell coveted delicacy.
Middle East Online

"Three to four tons are imported daily, and sold fresh"

KUWAIT CITY - White or beige, but never black, the "desert truffle" is a rare delicacy with a dedicated marketplace in Kuwait, where remnants of the Iraqi invasion and changing weather patterns have decimated local production.

Less prestigious and less expensive than its darker cousin, the Middle Eastern truffle is a prized ingredient for bedouins, who integrate it into their traditional rice and meat dishes or in sauces, boiled with onions.

On the outskirts of Kuwait City, in the Rai industrial district, connoisseurs begin perusing the truffle souk at 9:00 am, surveying the various weights and colours and using their noses to select the best fungus by smell.

Some barter while others go straight for the top shelf, with the "Zebidi" variety especially prized for its use in traditional recipes.

Demand is so high in the Gulf emirate's market that each year hundreds of merchants compete for limited stall space during the cooler winter months.

The market was devised by the municipality of Al-Rai, an industrial zone just northwest of Kuwait City, which oversees quality control and guarantees the traceability of the fungus.

"We decided to build this market in 2006 to organise sales of this product, which you used to find in all sorts of corners in Kuwait," said Faisal al-Jomaa, vice-governor of Kuwait City.

This year, he said, 520 merchants applied for one of the nine-square-metre (97-square-foot) stalls. Just 123 vendors secured space.

One of them was Iranian Abdel Ali Said, who has bought and sold truffles since the 1960s.

"They come from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and beyond," he said of his truffle selection.

Prices range from seven to 20 Kuwaiti dinars ($23 to $67) per kilogramme depending on the quality, according to Said.

This year, the market is reportedly flooded with truffles from Libya.

"That happens every six years," said Kuwaiti merchant Mohammed al-Shammari on a recent day in the truffle market. "Production is cyclical. You also have a lot coming from Tunisia this year".

- On a $10k budget -

To drive home just how popular truffles are among Kuwaitis, Shammari pointed out that "three to four tons are imported daily, and sold fresh".

But for all its love of truffles, Kuwait's own commercial cultivation and harvesting of the fungus has plummeted to zero since Iraq invaded the emirate in 1990.

The risk of coming across an unexploded landmine left behind by the Iraqi army keeps Kuwaitis from scouting the desert for wild truffles.

The only remaining production is purely for personal consumption.

Kuwait's truffle crops have also been hit by a changing environment.

Unlike European truffles, which grow under tree roots, desert truffles spring up after rain, which means that volume and quality vary according to the amount of precipitation and the general weather.

"Irregular rainfall, rapid urbanisation and encroachment on the desert are all factors in the disappearance of (local) truffles," explained vice-governor Jomaa.

That has only increased desire for the delicacy, especially for making Kabsa, a spiced rice speciality common throughout the Gulf and the most popular dish in Kuwait.

The main ingredients are long grain rice, red meat and truffles, used to flavour the broth while cooking.

"Kuwaitis are addicted to truffles because they are rare and have such a distinct taste," said Yousef Mohammed al-Khaled, a young truffle aficionado, who claims he can distinguish between various sub-varieties.

Khaled said he spends up to 3,000 Kuwaiti dinars (nearly $10,000) each year on white truffles, which he incorporates into his diet twice a week, including family lunches on Thursdays, the last day of the work week.

Fresh truffles are only available from November to April in Kuwait, but some vendors sell a dried variation of the delicacy during the region's scorching summer months in a bid to meet their customers' cravings all year round.

 

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Morocco, EU start talks on new fisheries deal

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

FIFA to return to Morocco to check hotels, stadiums

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever

Israeli fire neat Gaza border injures five Palestinian

Egypt army says killed jihadist leader in Sinai