A Little Bit of Everything: Discover Omani Cuisine
Many recipes in the traditional Omani kitchen can be traced back to over 1,000 years. Ranging from the simplest of plates to the most sublime of dishes, a world of experiences awaits anyone venturing into the delicacies available here. Expect some foods to resemble favourites from back home – albeit with a distinct flavour found nowhere else. And in other cases, it may take more adventurous spirits to bite into what may seem to be quite unfamiliar feasts! Get ready to savour just a few of the area’s more enticing victuals.
The heart and soul of any region’s cuisine begin with the most basic and common items found in local kitchens and restaurants. Oman has a few of its own special staples that are enjoyed every day in every part of the country. As with many other places, bread figures big here. Khubz ragag is the name Omanis use for their doughy concoctions. Made only of flour, water and salt, it’s kneaded into a pancake-like shape and cooked over a pan, much like Indian naan or Mexican tortillas. It’s commonly served with an egg, honey or cheese.
Less familiar to newcomers in Oman is harees, a regional favourite. Think of it as a sort of porridge or the equivalent to American grits. Cracked wheat is soaked in water, then mixed with either clarified butter (another Indian influence) or sheep fat and set overnight. The result is a delicious pudding-like dish, served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon. The dish is most popular during holiday seasons when sugar and spices like cinnamon are added to sweeten up the proposition while affording an enticing aroma. As a bonus, there are traditionally ten different varieties, each representing a different Arab country. Choose one or all ten to embark on a geographically-inspired flavour adventure!
The Sea Gives Up Its Bounty
When it comes to seafood in Oman, there is a lot of tradition even as some foreign variances begin to seep into the local restaurants. Obviously, the proximity to the ocean means fish is a big deal here. Grilled is one of the favorite methods of preparation. Try local species like sharri and hamour. Soups made with tuna and special spices are also a local favorite. For the more adventurous, the dish known as malleh offers a challenge as it’s fish preserved in the old way using thyme and chilis (there are also dried and salted preserved fish to try). If you’re looking for more familiar meals from local waters, shrimp cocktails and lobster tails are also easy enough to find. Platters can also offer a mix of indigenous recipes with more western-style morsels side by side. And oh yes – there are sushi restaurants here as well, with fish as fresh as can be.
Taking It to the Streets
As any tried and true foodie can tell you, some of the best-tasting meals around, no matter where you travel, can often be found not in fancy restaurants but served from the carts of humble street vendors. Oman is no exception. Staple foods and on-the-go favourites can be found corner after corner, stall after stall. Start out with a sample of the local shawarma. Most Middle East countries have their own version of this meat wrapped in pita bread, but the regional spices here give it a unique flavour.
Another convenient comfort food in Oman is the ubiquitous mishkak. If it looks familiar, it’s because it may remind you of the better-known shish kebab. But again, it’s done here with its own variation. Marinated meats are grilled and cubed, then impaled on wooden sticks. The most common choices will be chicken, beef or mutton. Whichever you choose, expect them all to be accompanied by the traditional hot tamarind chutney sauce – a delicious way to seal the authenticity into the experience. Enjoy right off the stick or on top of Arab bread, which can help fend off some of the spicier aspects of the meal should you need relief from the heat!
More Intricate Delicacies
Once you get the basics of Omani cuisine out of the way, it’s time to level up to the more sophisticated fare on offer here. Perhaps the most special is shuwa. Following the recipe for this coveted meal is so painstaking, it’s usually reserved for the most rarefied of occasions. The process takes at least two days from preparation to plate. It begins with lamb, goat or camel meat marinated in specific local spices. From there, the meat is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked very, very slowly in a sand oven buried in the ground. This elaborate method requires patience but is worth the effort. When it’s hoisted out of the oven, it is sliced up and served with rice and sauce. The intricate dance of flavours is like no other.
Another special occasion dish is the savoury and sweet majboos. Most often enjoyed at weddings, the name translates into ‘to be engaged.’ This meat recipe takes a page from typical Arabic cuisine, such as Saudi traditions. The meat is mixed with rice and features bold spices like tarragon and saffron. You’re also likely to taste cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, affording a more aromatic quality. It can be made with chicken, goat or beef, while seafood varieties can include shrimp and fish. In any case, the sublime blend of ingredients will leave you with a taste you’ll long remember.
Light, Sweet and Wet
Finally, a look at some of the dessert-like treats to be enjoyed in Oman, along with some beverages to wash it all down. As in many nations in the area, dates are a staple sweet treat. These fruits are a key source of vitamin C in the region. They’re enjoyed ripened or sweetened, sometimes rolled in sesame seeds, and often accompanied with our next item: the local coffee known as kahwa. It’s made from an ancient process, and in fact, the bean originated in this area. Strong and often spiced with cardamom, it’s sure to perk you up! Another sweet diversion comes in the form of halwa, a sort of Jello-like snack made with eggs, sugar and spices. Consider chasing this delicious treat with a glass of laban. This salty drink, a mixture of buttermilk and yogurt, is often tempered with spices or pistachios.