As the sun sets over the Sea of Oman, the sound of the adhan echoes through the streets, signalling the end of another day of Ramadan. For many Omani families, this is a time to come together and break their fast with a delicious meal. During the holy month of Ramadan, food plays a central role in the lives of Omanis, and the country's diverse cuisine reflects its rich history and cultural heritage.
Ramadan is a month-long period of fasting and spiritual reflection observed by Muslims worldwide. It is a time of introspection, prayer, and community, and is also a time for feasting. In Oman, Ramadan is steeped in tradition and is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Families come together to share meals, exchange gifts, and participate in charitable activities.
Food has always been a central theme of Ramadan in Oman. Historically, the people of Oman broke their fast with simple meals of dates and water, followed by a larger meal later in the evening. Traditional Omani cuisine is characterized by its simplicity and use of local ingredients, such as fish, rice, and dates. However, over the years, the eating habits of Omanis have evolved, and the cuisine has become more diverse, reflecting the country's changing demographics and cultural influences.
One of the most iconic Omani dishes is shuwa, a slow-cooked lamb or goat that is marinated in a blend of spices and wrapped in banana leaves before being buried in an underground pit oven for up to 24 hours. The result is a tender, flavorful meat that falls off the bone and is often served with rice or bread.
Another staple of the Omani Ramadan table is harees, a savoury porridge made from cracked wheat and meat that is simmered for several hours until it reaches a smooth, creamy consistency. Harees is often flavoured with ghee, cinnamon, and cardamom, and are traditionally served with a side of dates.
For those with a sweet tooth, Omani desserts are a must-try during Ramadan. Halwa, a sweet made from sugar, saffron, and rose water, is a favourite among Omanis and is often served as a dessert after the evening meal. Another popular dessert is luqaimat, fried dough balls drizzled with syrup.
Preparing these dishes is no small feat, requiring hours of preparation and a keen sense of timing. In many households, the women of the family take charge of the cooking, waking up in the early hours of the morning to start preparing the ingredients for the day's iftar meal.
In some parts of Oman, particularly in rural areas, traditional cooking methods are still used. For example, shuwa is often cooked in a pit oven dug into the ground, with hot coals placed on top of the banana leaves to create an even heat. Harees is often cooked in a large cauldron over an open fire, with family members taking turns stirring the mixture to ensure it cooks evenly.
Over the years, Arabic and Indian, Lebanese and Moroccan cuisines have started to amalgamate into the iftar feast in Oman. Sometimes, it's even harder to distinguish which dish influences which. It is noticeable that there is always generous use of spices such as cumin, coriander, and cardamom to get bold flavours. If you're headed to restaurants or hotels, it's easy to see biryani, samosas, and kebabs mixed with Ramadan staples like hummus, tabbouleh, and fattoush.
Despite the challenges of preparing these dishes, they remain an integral part of Omani culture and tradition. They serve not only to nourish the body during the holy month of Ramadan but also to bring families and communities together in a spirit of unity and generosity.
Despite the abundance of food during Ramadan, Omanis also prioritize giving back to their communities. Charitable acts such as feeding the less fortunate and donating to local charities are an integral part of Ramadan in Oman. Many families prepare extra food during Ramadan to give to those in need, and businesses often donate a portion of their profits to charity.
As Oman continues to modernize and evolve, the country's cuisine will undoubtedly continue to reflect these changes. However, during Ramadan, traditional dishes such as Omani halwa and Arabic fattoush will always hold a special place in the hearts and stomachs of Omanis. Ramadan in Oman is a time to come together, share food and stories, and celebrate the country's rich cultural heritage.