The population of Oman is about 4.5 million. 1.5 million of that are expatriates who live in Oman searching a better life. On my last night in Muscat, I met one lady from Philippines who has lived in Oman for ten years, and she loves it there. She told me that in Oman, the expatriates can actually save money, as standard of living is lower than that of Dubai and the people are kind. Her comment validated my own opinions formed during my trips of the people. However, I did not have the chance to discuss with her the other aspects of the Omani life. All the things we discuss below are from my own experiences.
Coffee and dates are prevalent on the daily basis in Oman and Middle East in general. The coffee is not very strong, but it is prepared with added spices, such as cardamom and rose water. It is to be consumed with no sugar after eating dates or halwa (sweets). It is common to share cups. Usually the server will carry five cups, and after the fifth person is served, he would return and collect the cups for the next five people. I recorded my guide/driver, Khalfan, giving us a lesson on Omani coffee and how to unpit dates with his fingers, when we visited a Bedouin home.
The food and customs in Oman surprise me, too. There are much influences of the Indian subcontinents. I ate biryani rice (basmati rice cooked in spices) almost every meal. The accompanying meat is either cooked in Indian curry style or as a dish called mandi (Yemeni style that is also very popular in Saudi Arabia). They also usually serve us soup and tomato spicy sauce with the meal (I did not know Omanis love spicy food). At first, I could not believe that the food is Oman is as such. I kept asking for a different type of food (I expected to eat Arabic food with grilled meat and bread and hummus) while we were on the road, but we always ended up eating biryani rice. So, on my last evening in Muscat, I decided to go to typical Omani restaurant. Little did I know it is a very Omani dish to eat the meat dish with biryani rice. On my last evening I ate Shuwa (goat cooked in an underground pit) with biryani rice, accompanied by spicy tomato sauce and a salad. By the way, the Shuwa dish is not commonly available. It is usually cooked for the Eid holidays. I had it at Bin Ateeq. It cost me 3.50 riyal and they only accept cash payment. I also decided to try roasted shark for appetizer, which apparently is common in Oman.
Another interesting food is try is camel meat. I had a chance to try grilled camel meat in Sama Al Wasil, our desert camp. The camel was grilled on skewer (the Omanis call meat cooked on skewer, tikka). It was chewy and it has a strong flavor. To me, it is more similar to goat meat, than to beef.
In Oman and Middle East in general, there are family rooms available at restaurants. It is very Omani to eat on the floor sitting on the carpet. The only utensils needed are your hands. It is also interesting to note that a relaxed sitting stance for Omani man is with one knee folded up, so that they can get up quickly in case they need to serve.
It is difficult to learn about a society’s customs and habits in depth in 4.5 days. I barely scrap the surface. But what I know is certain, the Omanis I encountered are warm, friendly, and hardworking.