Tracing back Oman’s history, it is easy to find evidence that the Sultanate’s coastal residents always had a love affair with seafood. Whether it’s steamed, fried, or grilled, the Omanis of Oman’s coasts had figured out ways on how to prepare and preserved these gifts from the sea.
A visit into Oman’s fish market will show a wide variety of seafood — from lobsters to prawns, to a dazzling array of fishes from the much-loved kingfish to even freshwater tilapia.
In some souq like Fanja and Nizwa, one will find salted and preserved shark or tuna, a delicacy quite popular with the locals in these wilayats. The texture is entirely foreign and the meat not so easy to chew but you’d find kids enjoying chewing on this local favourite.
But although Samak and other seafood preparation are a must-have at least once a week to a big number of people, there are those who can’t stand the smell of seafood and want nothing to do with it.
Such was the case for entrepreneur Saad al Balushi’s mom.
“I remember my mom growing up; you can never make her eat fish. We can’t find a good restaurant in Oman that made fish and seafood appetising for her,” he shared.
It was only after a trip to Malaysia when they chanced upon a restaurant with a great concept that his mom finally yielded.
“We ate at this restaurant in Malaysia and surprisingly, that convinced my mom to give it a try. She loved the idea of having many options and sauces to choose from that come with the fish and her liking fish from that moment forward made it promising,” Saad said.
Convinced that he stumbled on something with great potential, Saad came back to Oman ready to put an idea into action. He wanted to bring the concept of Manhattan Fish Market to Oman and give the Sultanate’s residents an even better way to enjoy seafood.
Rich in sea life
A quick visit to Muttrah Fish Market is like taking an educational tour to Oman’s underwater treasure. In a report released by the Ministry of Fisheries in 2011, they discovered that there were forty-four new species of fish identified living in Omani waters. These were on top of 986 other new species believed to have existed, but no scientific record found.
Despite the thousand species of fish, people exactly know the kinds they like. Local favourites include hamour, shaari, the Sultan Ibrahim fish, and the red snapper.
It is this rich marine life that Saad built his business upon depending quite substantially on the fresh catch of the day brought to his Manhattan Fish Market branch along November 18 street.
“We are in contact with local distributors. Whatever their catch of the day was, they bring to us. We established this business in 2014, and we bring this foreign concept to Oman so people can enjoy a different way of how their seafood is prepared,” he said.
He added, “In Oman, mostly you’d find places offering seafood just prepared by grilling. We love the idea of having different ways of preparing them and that they can enjoy a good mix of Asian, American, Mediterranean, and Arabic flavours.”
While Saad and his team still import frozen items and also offer food items like pasta and chicken to keep up with their franchise brand, they also introduced Fresh Fish which put on spotlight some of the local favourites to cater to conservative diners who love their freshly grilled seafood.
“I always have a vision of giving people great food at great prices. We wanted people to remember that they have a place they can go if they wanted great Oman seafood experience. Seafood — that’s our speciality,” he said.