In honour of National Day, we’re celebrating local delicacies with Omani dishes that speak to the indelible connection between culture and cuisine.
If there’s one thing the Arab world is known for, it’s hospitality. Visit any Omani home and your cup will always be full and your plate never empty. The world over, across countries and cultures, the offering of food has always been a way to show caring, respect, and love – be it guest or family.
And diverse cultures mean equally diverse cuisine, with culinary traditions developed over the centuries with flavour, essence, and ingredients retaining the vibrancy of the heritage from which they came.
Travel the MENA region and across the Levant and you’ll find cuisines that are distinctively unique yet share an intrinsic common ancestry. You may find dishes that share a name, but differ completely in flavour, spice and preparation. Take the iconic dish of the GCC – majboos, or kabsa as it’s also known. Its closest relative could be considered the biryani, as its morsels of marinated meat or chicken, tossed with a paste of fragrant spices through mounds of basmati rice, share delicious similarities.
But when it comes to flavour – that’s where the similarities end. And don’t mistake Qatari machboos for Omani majboos, for example, as both are unique to the regions from which they come. It’s this singularity that makes Omani cuisine enduringly recognisable, with flavour profiles crafted over centuries that reflect the diverse cultural influences that have shaped our nation.
Here are just a few of our favourite quintessential Omani dishes that will have you going back for seconds…and thirds!
If there’s one dish that makes it onto every Omani table during special occasions, it’s shuwa. Arabic for ‘grilled meat’, it’s a dish that’s often made for Eid – as it’s not easy to prepare! Lamb or mutton is basted in a marinade of Omani spice paste, wrapped in palm leaves and placed in an underground sand oven to slow-cook. And when we say ‘slow-cook’ we mean it – as it usually takes two days to reach fall-off-the-bone roasted perfection. This traditional method of preparation is why shuwa is some of the tenderest, most flavoursome meat that will ever pass your lips. Just think of all those spices working their way into the roast, giving it a succulent, juicy seasoning that pairs perfectly with a freshly-baked portion of Omani bread, or helping of saffron-scented basmati rice.
With its rich history as a sea-faring nation (and alleged birthplace of the infamous Sindbad!), Omani waters offer up a bounty of some of the Gulf’s most exquisite seafood. Visit any five-star restaurant anywhere in the GCC and we can guarantee you Omani lobster will be on the menu. From plump Gulf prawns and oysters to more than 1,000 species of fish that call the Gulf of Oman home, seafood plays a pivotal role in the culinary history of the Sultanate.
One of the most popular fish dishes you’ll find at any local seafood stand in Oman is mashuai. Filleted portions of kingfish are basted in Omani spices (think cardamom, pepper, ginger, garlic, and nutmeg), then grilled over an open flame and served with a puckery lemon sauce. This is one fish-fry you don’t want to miss!
We’d be remiss if we didn’t end with something sweet. While most foodie faithful in Oman will have tried this sticky-sweet dessert at least once – most likely as part of a celebration such as a birthday or special occasion like Eid – for newcomers halwa is a thick, custard-like preparation of honey, sugar, eggs, Omani spices, nuts, and rosewater to give it its distinctive flavour. Traditionally served with a piping-hot cup of kahwa and dates (just to up the sugar factor even more!), it’s a communal dish that’s meant to be shared family-style.
This hearty comfort food essential is a staple on every Omani dinner table.
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
• 750g mutton, with bones
• 3 cups of water
• 1 large cinnamon stick
• ¾ tsp cardamom
• ½ tsp cloves
• 1 tsp black peppercorns
• 2 large onions, sliced
• ⅓ cup (80ml) water
• 3 Tbsp ghee
• 3 garlic cloves, crushed
• 2 Tbsp raisins
• 1 tin (400g) chickpeas, drained
• A generous pinch of saffron strands
• ⅓ cup (80ml) rosewater
• 2 chicken stock cubes
• 2 cups basmati rice, washed and drained
• Salt to taste
For Omani Paste:
• 2 cloves garlic
• ¾ Tbsp cumin seeds
• ¾ Tbsp coriander seeds
• ¾ Tbsp cardamom
• ¾ tsp paprika powder
• ¾ tsp red chili powder
• ½ tsp turmeric
• 2 Tbsp vinegar
• Combine ingredients for Omani spice paste and grind into a coarse mixture. Set aside.
• Place the mutton, along with the other whole spices, into a pressure cooker. Add a pinch of salt. Cook on a high flame until the whistle blows once then switch off. Allow the steam pressure to escape fully before opening.
• Drain the mutton into a large bowl. Sieve the remaining stock into another bowl and discard the whole spices. You should retain around 4 cups of stock.
• In a frying pan, add the ⅓ cups of water along with the onion and cook till the onion starts wilting and the water evaporates.
• Add in 2 Tbsp of ghee and sauté the onion till it turns golden brown.
• Add the garlic, raisins, chickpeas, saffron, rosewater, and 1 Tbsp from the ground paste and cook for another couple of minutes. Set aside.
• In a large pot add the stock, along with the remaining 1 Tbsp of ghee, the remaining spice paste, the stock cubes, and rice. Bring it to a boil while stirring occasionally.
• Once it boils, reduce the flame to minimum and keep the lid closed until the rice is half-cooked. Add in the mutton and mix well. Cook till the rice is completely fluffy and the stock is absorbed.
• Serve the rice topped with the chickpea and onion mixture or, gently fold it through.
Fancy a taste of traditional cuisine on a night out? Here are three authentic options serving up some of the best!
This hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Al Khuwair is no-frills, all-flavour. Try their version of harees, a traditional dish made with shredded chicken in a glutinous wheat emulsion.
Location: Al Khuwair St.
Timings: Open 24 hours
Contact: (+968) 2447-8225
This eatery’s original branch in Ruwi has been serving up homestyle Omani dishes since 1973. They also offer a multi-cuisine menu with a variety of palate-pleasing options.
Location: Near Ruwi Roundabout
Timings: Sat-Thurs: 11:00 a.m. till 3:30 p.m., 6:00 p.m. till midnight; Friday: 1:00 p.m. till 3:30 p.m., 6:00 p.m. till midnight
Contact: (+968) 2470-3035 / 2470-7082
Let the scent of its namesake frankincense draw you into this elegant culinary abode where homemade meets hospitality, Omani-style. You won’t be disappointed.
Location: Al Mina St., Muttrah Corniche
Timings: 12 noon to 11pm daily
Contact: (+968) 2471-1842/ 9457-9457