Oman is a big country with a small population. With only four million people, and an expat population of over fifty percent, it is surprisingly less Arab than it appears. The architecture and art is most definitely Arab, but when it comes to food, the average visitor will have a hard time finding local food.
Omanis have long had a strong connection with India, having traded spices with them for centuries. Perhaps this is why the south Asian community have found it easy to make a home in Oman, and have managed to dominate the restaurant scene. Not once did I come across an Omani restaurant – every restaurant I saw was owned by South Asians, and served chicken tikka and curry. I was of course only there a few days, but it seemed to me that the choices when eating out in Oman were fast food pizza and burgers, kebab (often underneath the tikka option), or curry. Even in the tiny town of Tiwi, the two restaraunts on offer were south Asian, in a town of probably less than 150 people.
I did love the tea in Oman though. We stopped to take a break from driving in a few places, and pulled over in small roadside petrol stations. Many of these stops had a few different shops, including tea houses. These tea houses were not for sitting in, but a waiter would come out to the cars who pulled up, knock on the window and ask if we’d like anything. You’d then order, they’d go into their shop and brew the tea, and then they’d bring out the take away cups on a serving tray and pass it through your car window. It was almost like a drive through café! It made sense, people being able to stay in the air conditioned cars, and pick up a quick snack before heading back on the road, and I quite enjoyed these short breaks over my two days travelling around with Badar.
In one such place, I had my only real taste of Omani specialities. It was similar to a crepe, a very thing type of flat bad, folded over and fried. I chose to have it with cheese, which was deliciously creamy, surpringly filling. I think it may have been goats cheese. An easy, healthy take away snack for the road!
Dates are a big deal for Omanis. I ate dates straight from the tree, surpringly fresh and delicious considering I had been unsure about the very yellow colour of this variety. In the market in Nizwa, people had whole shops dedicated to the fruits, with all sorts of varieties. I’ve never seen so many. Here was where I met one of the nicest, warmest people of Oman. I wandered into one such shop filled with dates, and was immediately offered to take a seat and sip on some Arabic coffee. Several times, I was offered dates to sample, and to have my cup refilled. The owner was busy entertaining two kids, who were giggling in the corner by the counter. After resting a moment, I said I’d return in a few minutes to buy some dates. The man asked me which I’d like, and then refused to take payment for them. I walked out with some dried dates with cumin, a delicious gift from a complete stranger.
The above pictures in this post are not my own