No one can not live on dates alone, although the intrepid Bedu and other explorers often subsisted largely on dates for long periods of time when traversing the desert. In Arabian Sands, Wilfred Thesiger’s epic account of five years traversing the wilds, he confesses to hoping he never sees another date and certainly could never eat one.
Our local guide told us there are five items in every Omani household: Omani coffee, dates, fish, Halwa and lemons. During our week there, these foods were central to our days, too.
Every day began with Omani coffee and we continued to imbibe it throughout, but after a
long day of hiking or even just sightseeing, refreshing mint lemonade was our beverage of choice.
Fish was served at almost every lunch and dinner. We visited the fish market in Muttrah where there is a brisk trade in fresh king fish, tuna, squid and sardines.
In Nizwa and other interior areas, most of the fish consumed is smoked tuna which we saw in the souq. The souq had fabulous produce, as well.
A highlight of Nizwa’s souq was sampling the myriad kinds of Halwa, Oman’s national sweet. There are many variations of Halwa throughout the region.
In Oman, the ingredients include ghee, caramelized sugar, almonds and farina, and can be flavored with saffron, cardamon, rose water or, my personal favorite, Omani black honey.
The most delicious single item I ate in Oman was Ragog – traditional griddled bread – served hot with fresh goat cheese and honey. Other favorite breads included Maldouf,- a chapati made with dates – and Mandazi – a cardamom flavored fried bread. The breads reflect the cross-pollination of cuisines throughout the area and the influence of Zanzibar, which was an Omani colony for almost 200 years.
I’m afraid the picture doesn’t do it justice – nighttime and fluorescent lights are not a photographer’s friend – but the meal we enjoyed at Bait al Luban (House of Frankincense) across from the fish market in Muttrah was a trip highlight. Dinner started off with a glass of frankincense infused water and ended with date cheesecake and frankincense sauce. Personally, I prefer my frankincense burned but I did enjoy trying these dishes. In between, we were treated to Shuwa – lamb that is cooked underground for 8-10 hours, accompanied by tomato chutney and a yogurt sauce, grilled chicken, king fish and two kinds of rice! The restaurant is located on the top floor of a 140 year-old guest house with great views and excellent service.
To top off this feast, and every meal, or cup of coffee, delectable dates!
Next up: Desert Sands and Stunning Seas!