Food and Drink in Oman

Numerous restaurants have opened in recent years, but many people retain the habit of dining at hotels - in Muscat at least. There is a wide variety of cuisine on offer, including Arabic, Indian, Oriental, European and other international dishes. Traditional coffee houses and international-style chain coffeeshops are popular. In other parts of the country, except in Salalah and Nizwa, most people eat at home so the main options for dining are small coffeeshops, occasional Lebanese or Turkish restaurants and roadside shwarma (shaved meat) stands.

Omani food tends to be less spicy than typical Arabic food but is cooked with lots of marinades, herbs and spices. It is served in large portions, so expect to be served with a whole fish. Chicken, fish and mutton are regularly used in dishes. Although spices, herbs, onion, garlic and lime are liberally used in traditional Omani cuisine, unlike similar Asian food, it is not hot. There are also regional variations, with some of the dishes prepared in Salalah (in the south) being markedly different from those in Muscat (in the north). However, dates remain a symbol of Omani hospitality throughout the country and are served with kahwa, or Omani coffee, as are nuts.

Specialities:
Special dishes are cooked for festive occasions including the two main religious festivals - Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha. In Dhofar and Wusta, the festivities start with ruz al mudhroub (a dish made of cooked rice and served with fried fish) and maqdeed, special dried meat. In Muscat, Al Batinah, Dahira and Sharqiya regions, muqalab (a dish of tripe cooked with crushed or ground spices) is popular. Other dishes served during Eid festivities include arsia, a dish of lamb meat cooked with rice, and mishkak, skewered meat grilled on charcoal.

Other dishes include:
• Shuwa (meat cooked slowly for up to two days in underground clay ovens, marinated with herbs and spices).
• Mashuai (spit-roasted kingfish served with lemon rice).
• Maqbous (rice dish with saffron cooked over spicy red or white meat).
• Halwa (sticky, gelatinous sweet made from dates or sugar and flavoured with saffron, cardamom and rosewater).
• Lokhemat (balls of flour and yeast flavoured with cardamom and deep fried, served with sweet lime and cardamom syrup).

Things to know:
Waiter service is usual. Muslims are forbidden to drink alcohol, but most hotel bars and restaurants have a bar for guests. Visitors are only allowed to drink alcohol if they purchase drinks from licensed hotels and restaurants. To buy alcohol for home consumption, Western nationals must obtain a licence from their embassy.

Tipping:
Tipping is not expected but becoming more common; 10% should be given in hotels and restaurants with licensed bars but is not expected in more casual restaurants.

Regional drinks:
Muslims are forbidden to drink alcohol, but most hotel bars and restaurants have a bar for guests where waiter service is usual. Visitors are only allowed to drink alcohol if they purchase drinks from licensed hotels and restaurants. To buy alcohol for home consumption, Western nationals must obtain a licence from their embassy. It is a punishable offence to drink, or be drunk, in public.

Typical drinks include:
• Laban (a salty combination of yoghurt and buttermilk; yoghurt drinks, flavoured with cardamom and pistachio nuts are also very popular).
• Kahwa (coffee: strong, bitter and flavoured with cardamom, served with halwa and lokhemat).
• Mixed fruit juice (mango, pomegranate, orange and avocado layered in long glasses).