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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Oman

Historic Diet

The historic Omani diet consisted of little more than dates and camel's milk, plus seafood along the coast. This was particularly true in the desert where the Bedouin had nothing more than this available. While some meats were historically eaten, this again was very rare.

Culinary Influences

Omani Food - Nuts in a market
Nuts in a market

With the introduction of Islam in the 600s and 700s, the diet changed little as little additional foods were available. The most significant change was that among the little pork that was consumed at the time, the practice ended since eating pork is forbidden according to Islamic Law (and most Omani are Muslim).

In the 1800s and 1900s, with advanced communication, transportation, and most importantly, with the discovery of oil, much of the nomadic lifestyle collapsed as people fled to the cities. In conjunction with this migration the coastal cities were greatly influenced by outsiders as Levantine food altered the cuisine. Today much of Oman's food is similar to Levantine food in the case of garlic, onions, lemon/lime, grilled meats, and fresh fruits & vegetables. Plus, with trade, spices have been introduced, primarily from India.

Staple Foods

Rice: popular and served with many dishes, but definitely not served with every meal
Bread: there are multiple varieties of bread, but the most common are thin breads, like lavash
Meat: there tends to be a meat in most dishes; chicken, lamb, mutton, and fish are the most popular, while pork is forbidden

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Shuwa: the national dish is only eaten on extremely festive occasions, because the work needed to make it requires a village. After seasoning an entire cow or goat the animal is cooked in an underground oven and served to all who are present in the town or village.

Dining Etiquette

If you happen to stumble upon gracious Omani hosts who invite you in at a moment's notice, it is polite to accept as the occasion will be fairly informal and they'll probably have dates, fruit, coffee and/or laban for you. If you get invited over for a later date and time be prepared for your hosts to go above and beyond for you.

After you arrive to the restaurant or your host's (and be on time) you may encounter a number of situations so be prepared to follow your host's lead and direction. As a Muslim country, and more importantly, with various degrees of orthodoxy, dining rules vary greatly. Conservative Muslim families will require that men eat separate from women and children and some may even insist that their guests eat before they do. This is particularly true for young single locals at dating age. In more liberal families, which is more common today, everyone will dine together and at the same time.

Once the dining guidelines have been established there are a few rules that everyone must follow in Oman. First, the obvious, in a Muslim country never eat or ask for pork products or alcohol; both are forbidden and even liberal Muslims in Oman follow these rules. Also common in many Middle Eastern countries, don't cross your legs or put your feet up in a way that the soles of your feet could be facing another person; this is very offensive and rude. Finally, a couple actions that may seem innocent, like placing objects on the table (like a purse of briefcase) and touching your hair or hat, are not allowed. Both are considered unclean and touching or placing these objects on the table is inconsiderate.

Once eating only use your right hand to eat and take minimal quantities for your first serving. You will most likely be offered food for seconds and even thirds, but don't ask for more since this is inappropriate.

Finally, remember that the person who initiated the dinner (if at a restaurant) is expected to pay, but always offer to contribute. Or if dining in a local's home send a hand written thank you note for their hospitality.

Tipping is not common in Oman. Nicer restaurants and hotels will expect a little extra money for dinner, however elsewhere it is not commonly seen. Leaving your excess change after a meal is a polite, but an unnecessary and at times a confusing gesture.

Celebrations & Events

Oman's, and the region's major food holiday is Eid al Fitr, which takes place after Ramadan, a religious holiday that requires fasting for 30 days. To celebrate the end of this fast Eid al Fitr is filled with numerous foods, which differ by region, although the general basis of these dishes is rice, fish, and lamb. This three day festival and generally the foods served include: harees, which is wheat and meat; mishkak, which is grilled meats; and shuwa, which is the national dish, made of an entire cow or goat.

The second major food holiday is Eid al Adha, which is only celebrated after a pilgrim returns from haj, the mandatory journey for every able Muslim to go to Mecca. Again, this festival contains a large number of rice and meat dishes, including many of those served during Eid al Fitr.

Drinks

The most traditional beverages in Oman are laban, which is a salty buttermilk drink, and khawa, which is Oman's version of coffee, although it is a fairly strong version of coffee.

As a primarily Muslim country, alcohol is rarely consumed in Oman, although technically it is legal. Despite this, there are almost no vendors that sell alcohol; even hotels catered to tourists rarely sell alcohol, although some do exist.

The tap water is safe to drink in Oman. However, many people may have trouble adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.

This page was last updated: March, 2013