Fanja is just about 25 kilometres from Muscat. It is a historical town renowned for its hot springs, forts and watch towers. But other than the natural beauty of the place, one of its top attractions is its traditional souq.
The turn on the road that indicates the direction of the souq takes you on a picturesque road with the Sultan Qaboos Mosque of Fanja to the left a hard reference point to miss.
Once you get to the area, a sudden splash of colour and the rush of different activities will definitely get your attention. The souq is a row of shops filled with merchandise depending on the interest of the shop owners. The souq itself is under the supervision of the Municipality. It takes a while to register the variety of products that are on display.
Fanja is located in the Wilayat of Bidbid, and is the first town you’ll pass by if one wants to explore the Al Dakhiliya Governorate. The Fanja Souq, however, has products from different parts of Oman.
Yaqoob al Farsi was preparing for another typical day when Oman Observer team arrived to explore the souq. The summer is in its full swing but the shoppers to the souq continue to drive in not minding the hot temperature. There is plenty of parking area for the vehicles to park.
One of the first products you’d notice are the potteries. They vary in shapes and sizes and depending on their purpose. There are traditional clay pots to store drinking water, there are ceramic garden pots for plants and many others.
Coming in aplenty also are the work of art metal. Made from wrought iron, they make one to linger around. There are other home products to choose from that — from brooms to water tanks to traditional hand held fans, the display of the products are a major attraction, but also gives a peak into the lifestyle of the people from this area.
Yaqoob showed us a shelf with bottles that were of different colours. He showed us the content where one is honey and the other is red-coloured rose water. There was also one with Zamote.
“We use it for stomach pain. You can take it in a small cup without adding any water,” Yaqoob said.
The rose water is important because it is used for headaches, adding flavour to Omani Kahwa and culinary delights especially Omani halwa.
“This is Sedr honey. One way to detect if honey is pure is to keep it in the refrigerator or in any cool place. If sugar has been added you will see it sticking it on the top of the bottle,” explained Yaqoob.
The honey smelled great and it was from the mountains.
“Most of the products here are from Oman, but I also look out for interesting items from other countries such as the breadbasket from Iran. There are other souqs in the country but when people come here we know they are looking for traditional items,” Yaqoob said.
Right in front of Yaqoob’s shop, and all the other shops in the souq, one can find round shaped trays in a pile filled with Qasha’a — salted and sundried small sized sardines.
This product was proving to be popular as, a gentleman named Khalfan and his wife drove in and bought two kilos of Qasha’a while we were interviewing Yaqoob.
Khalfan came all the way from Ghubra to Fanja just to purchase Qasha’a.
Customers sampling the fish just removed the head and tail and taste it.
“Sihnah is a popular dish made with Qasha’a. Once the small sardines are dried, they can be directly eaten or one can mixed them on salads. Some people though like to cook them with vegetables and eat it with white rice,” Yaqoob shared.
Another popular product is Awal — small shark.
“People in Sharqiya call the dish Khambasha while in Al Batinah and Al Dakhiliya, it is called Masoor. It is very tasty and is very light on the stomach. Since the meat is dried, the dish is popular throughout the year. We cook it with red onions, squeezed fresh lime and a dash of black pepper and zattar. Some people also add homemade butter – gee,” explained a homemaker at the souq.
“Awal can be expensive because the process of drying takes a long time,” she added.
Another popular item that has been a commodity and has been exported from Oman for centuries and is available in Fanja Souq is dried lemon.
SHOP OWNER’S DREAM
After 20 years of service to his job, Yaqoob always knew that when he retires, owning a stall in the souq is what he always wanted to do.
Yaqoob speaks fluent English and can interact very well with Arabic and non-Arabic speakers and tourists. His language betrays his education and professional work background.
Owning a souq however didn’t come without a challenge.
“In the past, the road to Al Sharqiya used to go right in front of the souq. As people drove through, there was great excitement about the products they see which prod them to purchase something. The number of cars passing through and stopping by created traffic jams.”
After the new roads were built, there was bit of a hiccup.
“Most of the tour operators tend to take the tourists straight to Nizwa. So they often miss out on Fanja,” said Yaqoob.
But he also added that the new souq is finally catching up again.
Right now Yaqoob and all other shop owners work from 8 to 9pm but once Ramadhan begins the timings will change.
“I think I will work from 8 am till 12pm.”