From prawns and lobsters to shellfish and crustaceans, Oman offers a platter full of seafood delicacies, says Aftab H. Kola.
Food mirrors a culture, and Arabic food is a reflection of the Middle East’s history and its people’s customs, culture and way of life.
With its trademark dash of spices, Arabic cuisine has become a global hit with gourmands around the world.
Omani fare is a key element of Arabic cuisine and can offer its own take on tasty yet simple dishes that incorporate Iamb, chicken, lentils and vegetables.
However, it is Oman’s seafood delicacies that will leave your taste buds angling for more, and your palate hooked.
A taste of tradition
A perennial favourite, the samak bil narjeel is a fish marinated in spices and topped with rice coconut sauce.
Mazoor (boiled shark) is usually served cold, while kana’d (kingfish) is used in preparing mashwai, a whole fish roasted on a burning coal and served with rice and lemon juice.
Fish curry dishes can include sahwa (a curry with large sardines) and seema (with small sardines).
For non-coastal regions, whether in Sharqiyah, Al Wusta or Al Dhahirah; Oual (small sharks, dried) is a staple. Oual is best served with plain white rice. Baby shark is also sometimes dried for use in stews.
Tuna is always a hit grilled or salted, and Tuna Omania bil sumac (seared Omani tuna with sumac powder on makbous rice) is particularly delish, delectable and easy-to-do. Tuna salads can’t fail to be mouth-watering mainstays in Oman’s star restaurants while Omani purslane (Farfina ou qash’a) and dried fish salad is an evergreen hit in Omani homes.
Soup fiends are bound to plump for Paplou, which is made with fish stock, lemon juice, cilantro, fennel, turmeric and garlic with soft, sautéed chunks of onion and tuna. It is a bright but sumptuous broth and a suitable starter for a main course consisting of the ever-popular hammour.
This ubiquitous favourite can be grilled or fried and has enough taste to obviate going over the top with the spices. Alternatively, it can be minced to make fish kebabs; perfect for a late-night (and healthy) snack.
Mackerel and sardines abound here in Oman, and can be fried or grilled the Arabic way, or crushed into madqouka kashie (pounded dried sardines) using red chilies and cardamom. Alternatively, they might be pressed with oil to make the Gulf-wide delicacy mehyawa, which is then spread on flatbread for a crispy snack.
Shrimps and squids are easily available in Oman and you can often find spelt and rosemary risotto with prawn and bisque served as a delicacy (though not a local recipe), rustled up in few hotels in Oman.
Sea lobster is one of the most sought-after seafood items in Oman. It is usually fished from the first week of March until the end of April. After that, no catch is permitted legally. Therefore, it’s a bit of a delicacy. Skilled chefs might grill it using light spices or adopt it into mouth-watering curries or into intricate and luscious salads. The Omani Rock Lobster Salad and Omani Lobster with Za’atar and crushed garlic with a dash of mustard seeds are just heavenly.
Oman can also lay claim to catches of clams, oysters, crabs and abalones. The Governorate of Dhofar is known for its abalone, a marine gastropod mollusk, which was banned for harvest, sale and export in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to conserve its supply. As a result, a few hotels in Dhofar might serve it, but it has become something of a rare (and expensive) treat.
Happily, sampling the best of Oman’s seafood options can be straightforward. Here are some easy recipes to have the family ‘reeling’ for seconds.
Fresh filets of Omani tuna seasoned with fragrant sumac powder and served on a fluffy bed of makbous rice.
• 150g yellowfin tuna loin filets
• 5g sea salt
• 25g sumac powder
• 10ml corn oil
• Mix the sumac powder and the sea salt together and roll the tuna loins in it until they’re evenly-coated. In a pan, heat the oil and sear the tuna for two minutes on each side. Remove and let rest for few minutes. Serve hot with lemon wedges on the side.
(Source: Adapted from ‘Tagine to Masala’ by Mike Harrison (2004) Photo credit: www.goodfood.com.au)
Plenty of protein meets Italian flavour in this family-friendly weeknight favourite.
• 1kg, whole fish, cleaned (red snapper or sea bream)
• A pinch, turmeric
• Salt, to taste
• 1 tsp, pepper powder
• 100 ml, lemon juice
• 100 ml, olive oil
• 2 Tbsp, oil for frying
For the sauce:
• 180ml, chopped tomatoes
• 2 Tbsp, tomato paste
• A pinch, saffron
• 25g, pine nuts
• 1 onion, chopped
• 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
• Salt, to taste
• Wash and clean the fish and marinate with salt, pepper, lemon juice, turmeric and olive oil. Keep aside for 30 minutes.
• Prepare the sauce by sautéing the onions, garlic, chopped tomato, and tomato paste.
• Add in the saffron, pine nuts, and salt and pepper to taste.
• Heat the pan and add in the oil. Place the fish in the pan and cook evenly on both sides.
• Remove from the pan, put in a serving dish and pour the sauce over top. Serve immediately.
(Source: Chef Akash Srivastava,
Al Bustan Palace – A Ritz-Carlton Hotel)