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Sharing is high up on the menu
With its colourful markets, spicy cuisine, camel caravans and kind-hearted people, Oman is like a fairytale out of One Thousand and One Nights.
After an eight-hour flight with a short layover in Dubai, we landed in Muscat where the temperature was a pleasant 28°C. At that point, we didn't yet know just how enchanted we would become by the hospitality of the Omani people or how we would marvel at the many sights.
Tradition and progress go hand in hand in Oman. Over the last 40 years, Sultan Qaboos has invested a lot of money into the development of the streets and has catapulted the country into the future. It is an incredibly exciting place, without being chaotic. It is contemporary while remaining very traditional and unusual.
The culinary traditions of the Sultanate have been impacted by many different cultures over the years. Oman is heavily influenced by Indian and Pakistani cuisine, however Sri Lanka and Zanzibar have also left their mark.
Omani cuisine is packed with hearty spices, including cardamom, saffron, cinnamon and cloves. Fresh fish is a staple in Muscat, which extends approx. 60 km along the coast. Further inland, chicken and beef are the order of the day. The dishes are always accompanied by rice.
Great emphasis is placed on hospitality in Oman. One of the most important aspects of eating in Oman is the sharing of food. People come together to eat, sitting on cushions on the floor. There are no plates. You just help yourself to the overflowing platters of food in the middle.
The coffee culture in Oman is something very special. Wherever you go – in any hotel, home or market – you are welcomed with qahwa, an Arabic coffee with notes of cardamom, saffron and rose water. As it is very bitter, it is served with dates in a silver bowl. Before you take the first sip, you place a date in your mouth. The aromatic notes of the coffee and the sweetness of the date produce the most delicious flavour combination. N.B.: If you turn down a cup of coffee, you are effectively rejecting an important gesture of hospitality.
Dates are known as the jewels of Oman. Unlike the few varieties we have here in Switzerland, the buttery soft dates in Oman smell of caramel and have a nutty, sweet taste. The dates are used to make syrup, delicious desserts and moist date cakes. The seeds are fed to the camels and the palm leaves are used to thatch roofs and make kitchen utensils. What other culinary delights await?
Shuwa is a celebratory dish from Oman which is only served during Eid al Adha at the end of Ramadan. An entire lamb is braised slowly in an earth oven for two whole days until it is cooked perfectly.
Biryani rice infused with saffron can be found on almost every menu. It is prepared slightly differently wherever you go, but is always served on a large platter. The magical combination of spices regularly made our taste buds dance. It can be served as a vegetarian dish, or with meat or fish. It is accompanied by salad. N.B.: Always eat with your right hand.
Halwa (Arabic for sweet) is the most famous of the Sultanate's desserts. Sugar, honey, rose water, eggs, various nuts and spices are mixed together to form a sticky, pudding-like mixture and served with Arabic coffee and dates. Traditionally, halwa is served on a large platter in the middle and enjoyed by hosts and guests alike.
Culinary highlights aside, there is so much more to discover in Oman. We explored the country in a 4x4 and had some great adventures. We raced off-road through the desert, ventured into wadis, marvelled at the animal markets and climbed through the mountains. Here are our best moments.
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