Flavours of Oman

From grilled lamb to sweet date delicacies, Omani cuisine offers a fresh Arabian spread.

india Updated: Oct 18, 2011 01:37 IST
Rupali Dean
Rupali Dean
Hindustan Times

Arab food has always enticed the foodies for its distinct presentation and flavours. Omani cuisine is different across the various regions and is unlike the traditional dishes of the other Gulf States. A daily meal includes a variety of soups and salads that are usually based around fresh vegetables, smoked eggplant, tuna fish or watercress.

Bin Ateek, in Oman, is a great restaurant for those who appreciate culture and tradition. It has a few floors, divided into private rooms, usually named after various places in Oman. Every room has its own TV and air-con. Guests are seated on the floor, and food is brought on large traditional round trays to be eaten community style, just like at the home of any Arab. We literally ordered all the specialities on the menu. The star of the show was the “shuwa” that is lamb cooked for up to two days, wrapped in banana leaves in an underground clay oven while marinated in herbs and spices such as red pepper, garlic, cumin and coriander. Being surrounded in the south and east by the Indian Ocean, the “Mashuai” made for a great choice. This fish is spit roasted and served on a bed of lemon rice, and is decadent to the core. Another indulgent dish is “Maqbous”, a saffron flavoured rice dish cooked over white or red meat. The other native curry dishes, based on various meats such as beef with green beans and potatoes or spicy fish in lime and coconut milk do not disappoint either.

Meetha To Complete The Meal
Dates have a significant presence among the Omanis and are valued for its social, religious and agricultural value. So much so that one would come across fresh juicy dates all over the country. “Lokhemat” aka deep fried cardamom flour balls, served with lime syrup; make for a traditional sweet ending to most Omani meals. And to complete the meal, you cannot leave without trying a deep rich kahwa that is strong and bitter and flavoured with the ever popular cardamom. Another popular dessert is the halwa — a symbol of traditional Omani hospitality and is usually served in homes before drinking Arabic coffee. It is usually made by combining starch, eggs, sugar, water, ghee, saffron, cardamom, nuts and rose water from the Jebel al Akdhar in proportions and quantities known only to the skilled halwa maker, and cooked in a “mirjnl”, basically a large cooking pot used especially for halwa, for about two hours. This halwa can be preserved for more than four months without losing its quality.All in all given the natural hospitality of the Omani people, one is left with no choice, but to try everything that is on offer!

Fast Facts
* The main daily meal is usually eaten at midday, while the evening meal is lighter.
* Main course has rice as the main ingredient, together with cooked meats.
* Breads rage from the plain to those flavoured with dates, sesame, thyme and garlic.
* Pork does not exist in the Omani diet as it is prohibited by Islam.
* Dining out options includes small coffee shops, occasional Lebanese or Turkish restaurants and roadside shawarma (shaved meat) stands.

First Published: Oct 17, 2011 17:39 IST