Archive | December 2014

Delightful Omani Dishes

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Salads

Farfina Salad: Watercress salad with white onion and cherry tomato garnish with lime dressing.

Eggplant Salad: Roasted eggplants with garlic flavor, garnished with chilies and coriander.

Awal Salad: Duo of sun-dried baby shark meat flakes and green mango accented with white onion, dressed with fresh tomato coulis.

Soups

Harees Laham Soup: Creamy whole wheat soup, slow cooked with lamb pieces seasoned with hints of cardamom and cinnamon.

Tomato Soup with Dry Limes: Omani take on classic tomato soup, slow cooked with whole sun dried Omani limes to flavor.

Alkarasea Soup: Traditional clear goat leg soup slow cooked with vegetables, lightly spiced with ginger and red chilies.

Rice Mains

Omani Shuwa: Traditional roasted lamb marinated with special ‘shuwa’ spices and vinegar, covered with banana leaves and slow roasted overnight in an underground pit.

Arsia Laham: Mashed rice with lamb, flavored with cardamom with special sauce ‘turshe’.

Qabuli with Camel Meat: Rice cooked in ‘qabuli’ spices served with camel meat.

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Meat

Maraq Ma’ajeen: Sun dried meat stewed and lightly flavored with garlic and coriander.

Maraq Mashakik: Mashakik meat cubes stewed in tangy tomato sauce.

Mahmas Laham: Sautéed lamb with roasted onions and tomatoes flavored with a little ginger.

Sea Food

Marqat Pablo: Light king fish stew with onions, tomatoes, green chilies, saffron and lemon juice.

Salqat Al Samak: Broth of hamour fish with onions and tomatoes with hint of zaatar (thyme).

Samak Mtafai: Pan-fried king fish served with tangy tomato and tamarind sauce.

Chicken

Marqat Al Dijaj: Chicken stew, lightly flavored with garlic, accented with fresh coriander.

Marqat Al Dijaj Bil Narjeel: Chicken stew with a creamy coconut and tomato sauce lightly spiced accentuating the flavor.

Salqat Al Dijaj: Broth of corn fed chicken flavored with lime and zaatar.

Vegetarian Hot Dishes

Marqat Al Dal: Classic lentil stew with distinct Omani flavor.

Dengu Mqashad: Lentil stew prepared with onions and lightly spiced with cumin seeds.

Garlic Jareesh: Creamy broken wheat slow cooked with milk and onions, flavored with garlic.

Desert:

Omani Halwa: Gelatinous Omani sweet, made from fine ingredients, flavored with saffron, cardamom and rose water.

Asida Bi Dibs: Soft crumble flavored with cardamom and saffron, served with dibs (date syrup).

Khabissa Bil Findal: Sweet potatoes prepared with sweet dough.

Wadi Dayqah Dam

Latitude: 23° 05’ 04.5’’ N Longitude: 58° 50’ 56.4’’ E

Wadi Dayqah Dam is the Sultanate of Oman’s largest dam. As far as man-made bodies of water are concerned, it is undoubtedly one of the worlds most beautiful as well.

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Wadi Dayqah is about an hour’s drive south-east of Muscat, and one of the most accessible sites in the Sultanate. A walk along the gigantic concrete dam wall, followed by a picnic on the grass adjacent to the dam, makes for an ideal half-day trip and an absolute ‘must-do’ item for travelers.

One of the defining characteristics of Wadi Dayqah Dam is that it is surrounded on all sides by the peaks of the Hajar Mountain Range. The combination of this huge body of water, and sheer cliff faces on all sides (some over 1 500 meters high), is spectacular.

On a clear day, the dam and surrounding areas are a paradise for a photographer.

There is a small restaurant at the main lookout area, but you’ll also be well off bringing your own picnic lunch or breakfast to enjoy at the garden area, where there are grassy and shaded areas to sit around.

Wadi Dayqa had for centuries been the source of irrigation for a system of aflaj open irrigation canals in the area. Now, this ancient system is fed from the new dam reservoir

Swimming in the dam, in the vicinity of the wall, is prohibited. However, it is possible to take a refreshing dip in the rock pools below the dam wall during the summer months, when hardly any water flows from the dam

For the adventurous, there are a few informal trekking paths leading north along the dam’s shoreline.

Originally, about 120 wadis flowed into the area that now contains the dam. There is still a year-round low of water through the dam, with winter being the peak period.

The storage capacity of the dam is about 100 million cubic meters. The entire expanse of water covers an area of 350 hectares. The dam wall itself is 390 meters long, and just over 73 meters high.

A walk along the top of the dam wall gives a literal bird’s eye view of the entire area: Views of the dam, the mountains, and the wadi and small town below the wall. Access to the dam wall and picnic area is free.

Original Omani Food With A Modern Touch!

The Omani people are passionate about their food, and this is evident wherever you travel around the Sultanate. Thankfully, there are restaurants that create exceptional Omani food and unforgettable Omani eating experiences. Al Angham restaurant happens to be one of the finest. It does original Omani food, with a modern Omani touch. Wings of Oman’s Paul Winter went to investigate.

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In the best eateries all over the world, it is very often the little details – in the service, the food, and the décor and design of the restaurant – that set them apart from the rest.

Al Angham is one of the restaurants in the Sultanate that consistently gets described as a top venue to experience traditional Omani food. And just like at some of the best eating venues around the world, the fine attention to detail here (along with the food) seems to be one of the reasons it does what it does so well.

Some of these details included the ‘Royal Omani Guard’ who welcomed me at the door, and who was impeccably dressed in the traditional Omani attire (complete with silver Khanjar dagger); the exquisite silverware, fresh roses, and embroidered napkins that adorned the dining tables; the original Omani artifacts and décor items that are placed at various points around the rooms; the interior architecture of the restaurant, and many more things.

Treating guests like royalty and making sure everyone feels special is one of the things that Al Angham’s staff (who all wear traditional Omani dress) take a lot of pride in. I got a feel for this as I was taken on a welcoming tour, like most guests are, around Al Angham’s four private dining rooms and halls – named Al Zabarjd, Al Turayia, Al Majlis, and Al Sabah. These are all separate from the main dining hall; all have their own character and design; and feature superb examples of Omani décor.

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Original Omani food – With a modern touch

After the above introduction to Al Angham, I now faced the most difficult part of my time spent at the restaurant – negotiating my way through the restaurant’s menu. As a food-loving expatriate living in the Sultanate, I have become relatively familiar with what ingredients makes up traditional Oman-style uisine. So being able to identify each dish on the menu, and talk about some of the combinations of flavours being presented, is something that comes naturally. The difficult part was dealing with being overwhelmed with what was on offer.

My goal at Al Angham had originally been to sort of ‘taste my way through’ the full spectrum of the Sultanate of Oman’s cuisine. But of course, this proved impossible in just one sitting! I settled for selecting a few dishes that were recommended by various food reviewers who had previously been to Al Angham.

Many of the dishes at Al Angham are presented and laid out according to an innovative and modern aesthetic. My halwa turned out to be the perfect example of this.

Fine Omani Dining

Some food reviewers have suggested that Al Angham restaurant represents the very best in fine Omani dining, and it’s hard not to agree. Plenty of professional service, and warm, friendly hospitality – which is typical of the Omani experience – accompanied each of my dishes.

The food, of course, was spectacular, and the highlight for me was knowing I was eating classic, original Omani food, prepared and served in the traditional way (with, as mentioned, some modern Omani touches).

When I was done, the Al Angham experience ended off with the cherished Omani custom of rinsing my hands with rosewater. It was the perfect ending to what will surely be a very long love affair with Omani food and Omani food culture.

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True Omani Cuisine

Having been at crossroads for world trade and travel between the Middle East, Africa and the Far East since ancient times, Oman’s cuisine has been influenced by many food cultures. But over hundreds of years, it has also naturally evolved into something original and unique. One of the main examples of this is that Omani dishes are not as hot as those of other cuisines from neighbouring regions.

Traditionally, Omani cuisine is prepared with liberal use of marinades, spices, herbs, onions, garlic and limes. These are combined and fused with the base ingredients of chicken, mutton, cooked vegetables and fish. (The abundance of fish and seafood dishes in Oman is also a reflection of the rich maritime tradition that the country has procured over hundreds of years).

Omani cuisine also includes a wide variety of soups prepared from vegetables, legumes and meats. Various types of vegetable and non-vegetable salads are also standard. Main courses very often include vegetable curries, which are combined with barbequed kebabs, and grilled or curried meat, chicken and fish dishes.

Musandam Peninsula: Land of Mountains, Seas & Adventure

Located at the northernmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula, and jutting out into the Strait of Hormuz, the Musandam Peninsula is a magical combination of mountain and maritime landscapes. Some say it’s the most spectacular travel destination on the Arabian Peninsula. It’s hard not to agree.

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Exploring dramatic fjords on wooden dhows, snorkeling with dolphins and a fantastic array of marine life (sometimes Whale Sharks), sea-kayaking, and taking in some of the planet’s most breathtaking mountain and sea scenery – this is what the Musandam Pensinsula is all about. In fact, Musandam is often referred to as the ‘Norway of Arabia’ – due to the rocky, arid Hajar Mountains that rise up directly out of the deep blue waters of the Arabian Gulf. A maze-like series of steep-sided fjords (known locally as chores) and inlets is the result – with most of them being only accessible by boat or traditional Omani dhow.

‘Old World Arabia’:

Picture perfect coastal drive getting to Musandam is a highlight in itself. The thirty kilometers or so from Bukha to Khasab must be one of the world’s most spectacular drives, as the Khasab Coastal Road weaves its way along the edge of the clear Arabian Gulf waters and its many soft sand beaches, and right next to the sea cliffs and mountains of the towering Hajar Mountains.

Along the way, you’ll also see picturesque little mosques with their beautiful minarets near the coastline, tiny fishing villages, herds of goats, palm frond shelters where fishermen sort their catch and maintain their nets, and the hulls of old wooden dhows. This is ‘Old World Arabia’ at its very best. As you approach Khasab itself, you’ll begin getting views of the spectacular fjords and inlets. You’ll also see flat-roofed, mud-coloured houses dotted around the villager’s date palm plantations.
(There is also a collection of prehistoric rock art – etchings of warriors on horseback and other creatures – near Wadi Qidah). At only thirty kilometers you can do the drive at a leisurely slow pace – and stop now and again on the side of the road to take in the scenery and take photos.

Musandam

History, Culture & Adventure:

The Musandam Peninsula has been the home of extremely isolated communities for centuries, and many coastal villages here can only be reached by boat. Some of these fishing villages are tiny – and surrounded on all three sides by coastal cliffs, and by the sea in front of them. Life here is probably very similar to what it was like many years ago. When visiting Musandam you seem to get a sense of travelling back in time to a world of what would have consisted of dangerous trading adventures and merchant voyages, rumors of mythical villages and people, and fantastic piracy and smuggling stories taking place in the secret coves and bays below the rocky, mountainous headlands. And this all seems to add to the mystery and charm and sense of adventure you get from travelling here.

What to do:

Two classic Musandam experiences A dhow cruise, offered by one of a handful of ecoadventure operators in the area, should be on any traveler’s essential to-do list for Musandam. Full or half-day dhow cruises to explore some of the biggest fjords and inlets in the area are available. Snorkeling equipment can be provided for the day, and overnight options – where you can camp on a secluded beach – are also possible. Whenever you’re on a dhow cruise in Musandam, you’re almost guaranteed to be intercepted by a friendly and inquisitive pod of dolphins. Most dhow trips also make a stopover at the interesting Telegraph Island, which is a small rocky island that, in the 19th century, was used as a base to boost messages along the London-to-Karachi undersea telegraph cable. Another classic Musandam experience is a guided four-wheel-drive tour up the region’s highest mountain – Jebel Harim. The absolute high point is used for military purposes (the altitude is 2 087 meters), but it is possible to drive to within a few hundred meters from the summit, to a height of around 2 000 meters. From here the views of the mountains and the Arabian Gulf waters are spectacular.

Bimmah Sinkhole

There are many sinkholes in Oman, but Bimmah is the most impressive. Since it is only an hour’s drive from Muscat, it is also one of Oman’s most popular tourist sites. It is well worth a visit.

Longitude: 23° 03’ 44.8” N Latitude: 59° 07’ 19.41” E

bimmah

Bimmah Sinkhole has been attracting travelers and locals to its crystal clear waters for a long time. A walk down the stairs to the water’s edge – and even a swim in the Bimmah’s refreshing waters –is something too enticing to miss.

Bimmah Sinkhole was formed by the collapse of a large underground cave, due to natural erosion. Remnants of the cave can be seen at the base of the hole. Access to the sinkhole is free, and there are picnic and toilet facilities available.

After a site-seeing trip to Bimmah, travelers often continue their drive through to the coastal town of Sur, which is the traditional home of dhow building in Oman.

Tiny fish can be found in the pool and sometimes, they gently nibble on your toes. The sinkhole is approximately 60 meters by 80 meters wide, and about 25 meters down to the sinkhole is located the water level.

In Hawiyat Najm Park, which is about an hour’s drive south-east of Muscat, and just off the Muscat-Sur road. Bimmah sinkhole is only about 600 meters away from the Sea of Oman shoreline.

A park and viewing platform have been built around the sinkhole – as well as a stairway that leads down to the water’s edge. The natural lighting conditions at the sinkhole and the iridescent blue-green color of the water make for wonderful photographs.

The sinkhole contains salt water that is crystal clear – with underwater visibility up to 20 meters at certain times.

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