When my family and I visited Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman, we were impressed with the beauty of the country and its magnificent scenery.
Situated in mountainous area that overlooks the beautiful Gulf of Oman, Muscat was an important centre along the old trade and spice routes. Traders came from as far as India and the East Coast of Africa for spice, ivory and frankincense. Their influence on the predominantly Arab residents of Oman had a lasting impact – even today, Urdu and Swahili decorate their conversations.
The Portuguese occupied Oman from the 16th century until the mid-17th century. They left behind a number of magnificent forts, strategically located in the mountains, from where they could watch over the seas and guard against enemy invasion.
The peoples of the Middle Eastern Gulf region are diverse and have varied historical backgrounds, but their foods share many similarities. The names of dishes shift from one country to the next, but often with few ingredient changes. The Gulf is a great source of fish and prawns, and these items are a popular feature of many household menus.
The Omani people are known for their hospitality and offers of refreshment. Guests at an Omani home are welcomed with kahwa, a strong, bitter coffee, flavoured with cardamom. Kahwa may be accompanied by dates or halwa, a sticky sweet gelatinous substance, made from brown sugar, eggs, honey and spices. It can be flavoured with many different ingredients, such as nuts or rosewater.
Like elsewhere in the Gulf region, the staple of the Omani diet is rice – specifically the basmati variety. It is often served with fish or lamb in a dish is known as maqboos, which would also be recognised by Indians and East Africans as pilau.
Over the centuries, the peoples of the Middle East have intermingled, blending their cultures and traditions. Yet they have maintained their own distinct foods, traditional dishes and flavours.
Healthy, fresh and delicious, it's little wonder that today the cuisine of the Middle East is so popular with diners all over the world.