Oman’s location on the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula is a key element in the evolution of a rich and unique culinary heritage that reflects influences from Persia, the Indian subcontinent, East Africa and, of course, elsewhere in Arabia.
Centuries of cultural exchange and trade, both by land and sea, are represented in flavourful traditional dishes that use aromatic spices as well as locally-sourced ingredients. Beyond its borders, mentioning Oman tends to conjure romantic images of the Empty Quarter’s sandy desert, yet the sultanate’s intricately-designed Aflaj irrigation system has long ensured that fresh produce flourishes.
Local Omani ingredients
Notably, lush date groves produce the fruit that is synonymous with Omani hospitality. Remarkably, well over 200 varieties of indigenous and nutrient-rich dates are grown with Fardh, Al Khalas and Al Khunaizi dates among the most celebrated. They are often served to guests as a snack alongside drinks in a land where sipping coffee is ingrained as part of people’s daily routines and, beyond that, the culture of hospitality.
Kahwa is traditional Omani coffee made with cardamom and cloves and poured from dallah pots with beak-like spouts. Pausing at a streetside café and sipping coffee, or sweet and spicy karak or mint tea, is a great way of observing the rhythms of local life. The beverages are an ideal accompaniment to halwa, a slow-cooked, jelly-like reduction containing cashews. Flavoured with ingredients including nuts, saffron, and rosewater, it is widely regarded Oman’s national dessert. A must-try dish, it is often available at souks, Oman’s traditional marketplaces.
Traditional Omani dishes
Visitors looking for a quick, inexpensive bite while out sightseeing can savour flavour-packed snacks from stalls on Omani streets. Try mishkak, a marinated meat that is grilled on skewers over glowing charcoal and served with tamarind chutney, chilli sauce or even local woodland honey in the verdant uplands of Dhofar. Additionally, flatbread or khubz ragag is widely available as a comfort food and is pan-cooked with cream cheese and egg at street stalls.
Visitors looking to sample authentic Omani cuisine can take their pick of both moderately-priced and high-end restaurants to try traditional dishes such as mashuai, featuring spit-roasted kingfish rubbed with a tantalizingly tasty blend of spices and lemon-infused rice, and majboos, a rice-based delicacy made with saffron and herb-laced meat. Shuwa is a festive favourite enjoyed during Eid and the succulent outcome of pit-roasting goat, camel or lamb meat after lengthy marination.
Shuwa features on the menu at Muscat’s Bait Al Luban. Known as ‘the house of Omani hospitality’, it is an ideal venue for a traditional dining experience with sweeping views of the Mutrah Corniche. Fittingly for a waterfront restaurant, seafood dishes are available, including samak mashwi, spiced and grilled fish served with vegetables, and manshab, a coconut-rich rice and fish dish that is traditionally associated with Oman’s south.
Shuwa is also served at Rozna, a Muscat restaurant whose heritage-inspired architecture resembles a crenellated fort with an arched gate. Both the exterior and the dishes served are ideal for Instagram feeds. Camel qassabiah, another of Oman’s popular southern delicacies, and the spiced rice dish, qabuli, are on the menu with the latter giving guests a choice of meats, including dried shark.
Traditional heritage inns, such as Bait Al Sabah and the Nizwa Heritage Inn, in the historic inland city of Nizwa, present visitors with opportunities to overnight in traditionally-furnished rooms and to try local cuisine.
Cooking lessons in Oman
Visitors looking to not only taste Omani cuisine but to learn how to cook it, and replicate it at home, can book classes. Meaning ‘guest’ in Arabic, Zayr food experiences present opportunities to visit locals’ homes and dine with an Omani family. Pre-booking is essential and give the option of spending time in the kitchen learning how to cook traditional dishes.
With experiential travel gaining popularity among travellers, more and more people realise that tasting local food and drink is a way of understanding the heritage of the destinations they visit. It’s a core element of Oman’s warm-hearted hospitality.
Become an Oman Ambassador
To learn more about Oman, take the online training course Oman Ambassadors at omanambassadors.com