Food & Exploring Oman
By staff - Wed Aug 08, 6:46 am
BY Sasha Martin
Jabreen castle wall. Photo by Tristan.
Pull up a chair, grab a steaming cup of Kahwa and a few dates. We’re going to Oman, a boomerang shaped country on the edge of the Arabian pennisula.
Kahwa is omani coffee, made with enough sugar for the biggest smile in your heart, a dusting of dreamy cardamom and brittle, sunset-colored strands of saffron. Sip by sip, let the heat soak into your pores as you dream your day away.
If coffee isn’t your preference, perhaps a cold glass of rosewater lemonade, or a salty buttermilk drink called laban, or even a creamy yogurt sipper will help you while away the time among the desert dunes. Whatever you choose, just be sure to heed the traffic signs.
When it comes time to dine, Oman has an astonishing array of rice dishes (anything from steamed rice to pilafs or even mekboos, a.k.a. machboos). We cooked machboos [recipe] last fall and it was so good it actually inspired me to boil my Thanksgiving turkey. While the house smelled like a far away spice shop mixed with down home flavor, I still need to perfect the cooking time.
The rice can come with stewed or roast meats, kabobs or even kofta (slender cigars of hand rolled meat). Because of Oman’s proximity to the coast, fish dishes are also popular, such as Mezroota, made with dried fish, turmeric, citrus, cumin and hot chili pepper.
Oman is well known for frankincense, which is a resin found abundantly in the boswellia trees. You’ve heard about it in incense, but the resin is also used medicinally, in drinks and even in ice cream.
The staple food of Oman is simple and nourishing which includes marinated meats, soups, rice, curries, vegetables and salads. The popular drinks are coffee, kahwa (Arab-style coffee) and yoghurt-based drinks. Rice forms main food stuff for the meals, along with cooked meats. The morning meal is simple, mostly with tea and leftovers from the day before. The main meal usually taken early or mid-afternoon is generally a large dish of rice comprised of tomato sauce, meat or fish. Pork is completely forbidden in Oman. For the evening meal, Omanis take a very light meal consisting of fruit or bread and tea.
As the Indian influence is very strong you will find many Indian restaurants throughout the country. In the capital area, there are many Western fast-food establishments and a variety of French, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese restaurants as well. The chefs of Oman are keen on preparing traditional Omani dishes or even creating new dishes. The regular items on restaurant menus are mutton, chicken and fish. The salted butter milk called Laban is popular for its cooling properties apart from the yoghurt drinks delectably concocted with pistachios nuts and cardamom.
Dates, fresh or dried, are important to the diet and the hospitality of Omanis. A kind of sweet called helwa made with butter, honey, and spices is also equally important. If you are a guest, Omanis serve both with strong, bitter, and often cardamom-scented coffee. During Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, Omanis observe fasting between dawn and dusk. They break their fast with coffee and dates followed by a ritual meal, often shared with family and close friends.
Muslims are not allowed to drink alcohol, but most hotel bars and restaurants have a bar for guests. Visitors can purchase drinks from licensed hotels and restaurants and the legal drinking age is 18. Especially during festivals, Omanis prepare a variety of dishes such as harees, shuwa(meat roasted in underground clay ovens), mishkak, khubz rakhal (Omani bread), sakhana(a sweet soup) and fatta.
This apart, on the grand festivals of Eid Al Adha and Eid Al Fitr, Omanis are known for preparing many delicacies such as ruz al mudhroub, muqalab, maqdeed and arisia. Muqalab is a dish made from crushed spices like black pepper, cardamom and garlic while arisia is a dish made from lamb meat with rice. In short, travel to Oman is a real culinary delight with numerous restaurants which offer you the cuisines of Arabic, Indian, Oriental, European and other international dishes.