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5 Fragrant Omani dishes that are too good not to try

5 Fragrant Omani dishes that are too good not to try

These traditional Omani dishes fuse succulent meats with flavourful spice blends for an unforgettable culinary experience

Oman has so much to offer visitors, including frankincense tours, shopping in souks, mountain scenery, Bedouin culture, Arabian deserts, sparkling coastlines and delicious dishes.

The Omani cuisine has a medley of influences, from Pakistani and Indian dishes (as seen in the variety of biriyani-type dishes) to Zanzibarian and Persian flavours (signalled by the spices used). Trade routes, proximity to other countries and immigration have all played a part.

Arguably the most famous cooking ingredient associated with Oman is the Omani lemon. But in fact, they are limes dried out in the sun and their flavour is unique.

Personally, I love the tart, almost fermented, musky taste and often throw one into a stew for an extra kick.

The lightly roasted coffee (kahwa) made from green coffee beans is flavoured with saffron, rose water or cardamom and is intwined in Omani hospitality.

It is often served with delectable dates when visiting a locals’ home or upon arrival in a good hotel—a custom not to be missed.

While Omani cuisine is diverse, these five dishes are perhaps the most famed and definitely worth a try.

Shuwa

Shuwa Omani recipe made with spiced rice and meatIt is traditional to start cooking shuwa on the first day of Eid

Translating to “grilled” in Arabic and heralded as Oman’s national dish, this tasty meal is often served on special occasions such as Eid. It is presented on large platters encouraging people to tuck in and share.

The lengthy preparation begins with chunks of lamb, goat or camel, often with the bone still on, which is marinated for 48 hours in a magical blend of spices featuring chilli, cardamom, coriander, cumin, cloves and cinnamon.

"Often people do not have their own pit to cook in, so communal ones are available"

The meat is wrapped in banana leaves, or sometimes palm leaves, placed in a bag constructed from woven palm branches, then traditionally cooked in an underground pit with hot coals for one or two days until unctuous and tender.

Often people do not have their own pit to cook in, so communal ones are available, in which bags would be marked to signify which belongs to whom.

It is common to start cooking on the first day of Eid then eat the dish on the second or third. It is served on a bed of fragrant rice with traces of spices such as saffron, alongside salad.

Harees

Harees Omani recipe made with rice and a stick of butterHarees is a sort of hearty savoury porridge that is served during Ramadan

Thought to have originated in Saudi Arabia, this ancient recipe combining wheat berries or rice and meat is cooked together for hours to form a porridge-like consistency.

It is the ultimate Middle Eastern comfort food and the core dish during Ramadan, as well as other occasions, such as weddings and charity functions for the poor.

You can see it with either chicken, mutton or lamb and depending on the region and cooks preference, scented with different spices, usually cinnamon and cardamom.

A key feature is the indulgent melted butter on top. The name “harees” translates from Arabic into English, meaning “to mash or to squash”, aptly, as that is how it is prepared, traditionally with a wooden spoon called a medhrab, but now more commonly a hand-held blender or large spoon.

Qabooli

Quabooli (Kabooli) Omani recipe made out of rice, dried limes, chickpeas and chillisCredit: Miansari66, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons. Qabooli is made with traditional Omani dried limes

This popular dish is commonly found throughout Oman, featuring chicken or lamb with spiced rice. Sometimes it is even meat-free, though traditionally it involves meat.

The rice used is normally basmati, flavoured with spices such as saffron, coriander, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.

"It is thought that qabooli originally came from Kabul, brought to Oman by travelling Afghani traders"

It is thought that qabooli originally came from Kabul in Afghanistan, brought to Oman by travelling Afghani traders, then given an Omani twist by locals using indigenous ingredients such as dried limes.

Omani families serve it up anytime, but Sunday is a popular day. A dish for the whole family to sit around and enjoy, it also looks impressive plated on a large sharing platter topped with fried onions, chickpeas, nuts and fresh pomegranate seeds.

Majboos

Majboos Omani recipe made with spiced rice and chickenMajboos is a fragrant dish made out of whole spices

Also known as kabsa throughout the Gulf States, the hearty meal is essentially a rice dish made with whole spices such as cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and coriander.

The whole spices are often removed at the end before plating. The meal can feature fish or meat, such as lamb, chicken or camel.

Another sharing dish, it would typically be served on a large plate alongside yoghurt, salad and a tomato sauce. Another dish popular for special occasions, it is often served at weddings and engagements.

Halwa

Halva Omani recipe made with pistachiosHalva a favourite sweet treat in Middle Eastern cuisines

Meaning “sweet” in Arabic, halwa is a celebratory pud found all over Oman and traditionally served with kahwa.

"Modern day interpretations can be seen in Omani halwa-flavoured ice cream, chocolates and macarons"

It is made with cornflour, water and sugar, flavoured with saffron, rosewater and cardamom, and topped with nuts such as sliced almonds, cashews and crushed pistachio.

It is easy to make but hard to put down. Modern day interpretations can be seen in Omani halwa-flavoured ice cream, chocolates, macarons and more.

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