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Photo Courtesy of Kargeen

“Sometimes people tell me my food has too much flavour,” says Chef Salim Al Kalbani, a self-taught Omani chef who helms Al Loomie restaurant, on the grounds of Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

But that’s the beauty of Omani cuisine. Any single dish could be packed with 12 to 20 spices—from dried lemons to garlic, saffron, cardamom, and cumin—thanks to the country’s role as a strategic entrepôt on the trade route between Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

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Photo Courtesy of Kate Springer

“By being on the coastal lines, Oman has access to so many spices,” explains Kalbani. “It all comes back to trade and that’s why our food is very diverse.”

While the cuisine cross-pollinates with international influences, Omani food remains distinct from its neighbours—and varies widely from one region of the country to the next.

Click the arrows in the gallery below to read more about each Omani dish 

Kahwa with Dates

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Photo Courtesy of Kate Springer

A warm welcome in Oman begins with two things: kahwa (cardamom-infused coffee) and dates. The sweet dates counteract the strong coffee, which tends to be bitter. With more than 250 types of the fibrous fruit in Oman, every kahwa experience may be a little bit different.

Where to try it: Many hotels offer kahwa and dates upon arrival, or as part of an afternoon tea experience. For an experience fit for a sultan, head to the majestic domed lobby of the Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel, PO Box 1998, Muscat, Oman 

Shuwa

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Photo Courtesy of Kargeen

There’s one food in particular that marks a celebration: shuwa. Considered Oman’s national dish, this slow-roasted lamb recipe typically takes several days to prepare. After marinating for 24 hours, the lamb is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an underground pit for at least a day. Served with rice topped with honey and ghee, the rich dish is an experience—a mix of smoky flavours, tender meat, and a crisp spice-kissed crust. 

Where to try it: At the Alila Jabal Akhdar’s Juniper Restaurant—in the mountains two hours south of Muscat—Chef Alex Ensor serves this special Omani dish in a cliffside setting.

Alila Jabal Akhdar, Al Roose, Jabal Al Akhdar, Al Jabal Al Akhdar, Oman 

Kabsa Dajaj

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Photo Courtesy of Kargeen

Most Gulf countries have a distinct version of kabsa, a popular Saudi Arabian rice dish that resembles biriyani. In Oman, the dish is typically accompanied by chicken, aka dajaj, and an assortment of spices, including saffron, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom.

Where to try it: Tucked away in a residential neighbourhood in Muscat, Kargeen cafe is easy to miss but impossible to forget. Once you’ve found the garden-like courtyard restaurant, the eclectic decor will transport you to another world—as will the dense menu, covering both international and local dishes.  

Kargeen, Al Bashair Street, Muscat, Oman 

Sambusa

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Photo Courtesy of Kate Springer

They might look simple, but sambusa represent Oman’s complex trade history. Thought to have originated in Zanzibar, at one time under the control of the Sultanate of Oman, the fried pastries are stuffed with ground beef or spiced chicken, onion, cabbage, cumin, cardamom, and tamarind.

Where to try it: Stop by a no-frills snack shop in Muscat’s Old Muttrah Souk and snack on these crispy bites while strolling along the coastline.

Old Muttrah Souk, Muscat, Oman 

Lokhemat

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Photo Courtesy of Salim Al Kalbani

These caramelised deep-fried balls of dough glow under a drizzle of cardamom and date syrups. Typically served after dinner alongside bitter Omani coffee, the golden brown treats provide a sweet end to an Omani meal. 

Where to try it: Specialising in contemporary Omani cuisine, Al Loomie by Chef Salim Al Kalbani serves a sophisticated iteration of Lokhemat, garnishing the dessert with intricate sugar art and fresh berries. 

Al Loomie by Chef Salim Al Kalbani, Seblat Al Bustan, Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, PO Box 1998,

Muscat, Oman

Halwa

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Photo Courtesy of Kate Springer

A household staple, halwa is an Omani sweet made with brown sugar, cornstarch, egg, and ghee. Traditional recipes are flavoured with saffron or rose water—though the rich gelatinous dessert now comes in dozens of varieties. Pairing well with coffee, halwa is easy to eat by the spoonful, but you can’t buy just a bite—stores normally sell this dessert by the bowl.

Where to try it: The Barka Factory—one of the oldest halwa specialists in Oman—operates a tiny sweet shop, just a five-minute walk south of Muscat’s Muttrah Souq. There’s also a larger factory to the west of Muscat, in the coastal city of Barka, that welcomes visitors.

Mutrah High Street, Muscat, Oman 

Shorbat Harees

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Photo Courtesy of Kate Springer

Though not the most photogenic dish, shorbat harees makes an appearance on most Omani menus. Especially delicious on cool winter nights, the homestyle crushed wheat soup comes topped with crispy pine nuts, a spritz of lemon and a circle of olive oil.

Where to try it: Opened in October 2016, the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort overlooks Oman’s Grand Canyon. Go for the Omani cuisine at Al Qalaa restaurant, and stay for the views.

Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, PO Box 110, Postal Code 621, Al Jabal Al Akhdar, Nizwa, Oman

 

Tags: Oman, Omani Cuisine, Tatler Travels