BY AMER AL MASHANI
A couple of weeks ago I was offered to join my elder brother and his friends for an overnight stay in Dhofar Mountains. I accepted the offer without any hesitation. I’d had a busy week, and I was eager to document the preparation of milk the Dhofari way “maa’theeb-pish” literally means cooking milk with stones in the Jabbaly language (a language that is spoken by some tribes in Dhofar), so within a blink of an eye I was gearing up for the trip.
During this time of the year, Spring in Dhofar, which is known “Surb” in Shehri/ Jabbali language, considered superb for camping outside Salalah, the trees in the mountain are celebrating the sun’s arrival by spreading their captivated smell everywhere, while the yellowing grasses play the breeze.
On a given day we went in a band of five, my brother and I in one car, his friends in the other car, and we headed to Samham Mountain, to a place called Greeb, a lush greenery area located at the top hills of Samhan Mountain, roughly the trip took 30 minutes drive from Salalah.
“We are lucky not so many people are familiar with this site yet, otherwise it would be impossible, in this time of the year, to find this decent site unoccupied,” said Said one of my brother’s friends.
He was right. Most of the spots in Jbjat camping area, the first choice for camping in Dhofar, often are taken by 11 am every Thursday.
Before dawn, all of us had been given a certain task, to prepare the “maa’theeb-pish”, my mission was to gather stones, “try to find some solid and black stones; they are unlikely to fracture once heated”, asserted Ali, the oldest member in the group.
After wandering around for 10 minutes or so, I brought some stones, I found that they had already set the campfire; they had put some shopped and dry woods in the campfire, had arranged the firewood in four layers, each layer contained five-piece structured in parallel, there was a room lifted for stones, so I placed them between the layers.
About 30 minutes later, the fire had settled, my brother Salim took 3 pieces of the heated stones and he threw them in a saucepot using a piece of tongs, then Ali poured the locally fresh milk into the pot, and the smoke immediately arose from the pot carrying a delicious smell.
“It’s best to bring the milk to a simmer, and you may need to add some unheated milk to keep the milk below boiling to give it a creamy taste” my brother added while he was stirring the milk.
The night was getting dark, and the group had gathered around the campfire when the maa’theeb-pish milk was finally served in paper cups.” yummy, the milk taste is out of this world” said
Ahmed, after taking a sip of his cup, and moving his head admirably.
The Group members confirmed that the distinct taste is a result of flavourful smoke that’s absorbed by the stones while cooking wood is burned. We then spent the time relaxing and enjoying a taste from the past. A taste that evokes memories.
Preparing maa’theeb-pish milk, however, is not a piece of cake, and it really takes time and effort, Still, the group seemed happy while sharing the cooking tasks. In fact, it has become their new tradition while camping out. Personally, I don’t blame them, the milk really tastes mighty good, it has something different to offer, a new experience, a taste from heaven, a nostalgic feeling of the good old days.