Note: Most writing and visuals about food in the Middle East concentrate on one of four topics: food memories connected to loss (e.g. cookbook memoir of displaced people), food scarcity (areas of war/ poverty), elite food (extravagant meals, gourmet cuisine, social media photos) and sharing food at Ramadan (photos of giving away food and communal Iftar at mosques). I am interested the often not-seen, not-discussed topic of everyday food: what is procured, produced, cooked, eaten, shared and disposed of by Omanis who have neither an insufficiency nor a super-abundance of food. These short essays on cooking/ food in Dhofar are not meant to be exhaustive or prescriptive. From sharing food with and asking questions about food for over ten years, I am attempting to build up a general picture of Dhofari foodways, with the understanding that there are elements I am missing and that there is a wide variety of practices between house-holds. Lastly, when I talk of “Dhofari” I am referring to Omanis who live in Dhofar, although there are many people from different countries who live in Dhofar with their own food traditions.
Drinks – offered by waitresses/ groom’s relatives
- Coffee (qahwa/ Arabic or Nescafe/ instant)
- Juice, fresh or bottled
- Tea (“red” [chai ahmar] black tea with only sugar added, “milk” [chai haleeb] black tea with canned milk and sugar, or karak is loose tea with spices and canned milk)
Snacks offered before dinner
- Finger food such as mini-pizzas, spring rolls (filled with vegetables or cheese)
- Fruit – Bananas, Grapes, Oranges, Watermelon or chopped as a salad
- “Sweets” – see below
Meals – at a rented house or hall, usually served 8pm – 2am, after the bride has arrived
- appetizer selections: hummus, fattoush, baba ghanoush, etc., with pita bread
- rice and meat – usually qabooli, rarely/ never chicken or fish
Meal – at the bride’s house if she will be taken directly to the groom’s house or a hotel, usually served anytime from 5pm – 11pm
- rice and meat – usually qabooli, rarely/ never chicken or fish – served with side salad and sauce, extra rice and meta is distributed to neighbors and relatives
- Basbousa (usually flavored with coconut)
- Cheesecake (either slices or mini individual ones)
- Creme Caramel
- Custard مهلبية
- Dumplings (stuffed with cheese, soaked in lemon and sugar syrup with cinnamon)
- Halwa (the Arabic word for sweet), Omani specialty made with sugar, water, clarified butter, cornstarch and flavorings such as cardamom, saffron, sesame seeds, almonds and cashews. Served with a thin, plain cracker-like bread (khoubz raqaq/ raqeeq or kak)
- Kanafeh/ Kunafa
- Luqaymat/ Loqeemat/ Loukoumades لقيمات/ لقمة القاضي (sweet dumplings dipped in sugar syrup)
- Pancakeخبز حوح
- Swiss Roll
- “Traditional Sweet” (pita bread soaked in milk and sugar and cardamom).
- Dream Whip
Typical Foodways at Wedding Celebrations
The party for men is usually held on a Saturday (second day of the weekend) morning; it is best if the date is close to the end of the month, after the salary has arrived. The groom’s family will usually arrange a marquee near their house, near a mosque or at a space outside of town. The marquee will be rented for the day and be furnished with rugs and chairs, arranged in a circle. Sometimes there is a secondary tent to the side where the food is prepared. In many Dhofari tribes, the brothers, close friends and cousins of the groom will usually butcher the camels/ cows the night before, or very early in the morning; some meat is then distributed to close relatives and the rest given to restaurant workers to cook. The quantity of food shows the respect for the guests. No one is expecting (or would like) a new recipe or dishes. The two most important components are tea and meat with rice; Omani coffee, Omani sweet (halwa), fruit, soft drinks, water, salad are also served. Brothers and close friends come and go but there is always a core group next to the groom, i.e. he is never without a good friend and a brother or cousin to keep him company and help with the guests. The event ends at the ‘asr (mid afternoon) prayer when all the guests and the groom leave.
Sometimes the bride’s party will be quite simple. The bride’s friends and sisters help her get ready at home and serve dinner to female relatives and friends, while male relatives sit with her brothers and father outside the house or in a nearby relative’s house.
Then the bride is brought to the groom’s house by her relatives in a procession of cars. The groom’s sisters and her sisters take her to her new room. Her sisters help arrange her; then the bride’s female relatives come in to see the room and the groom’s female relatives come in to see the bride. She usually does not speak, and never smiles in keeping with the expected cultural ideal that she is “shy,” sad to leave her parents. Sometimes items bought with the mahar and gifts, especially of gold and perfume from friends and relatives, are put on display in the room.
The groom’s family gives the bride’s relatives dinner in the salle and majlis or in an open space near the house, then the bride’s family leaves except for the bride’s mother and/ or a close (older/ already married) sister or aunt. Then the groom, usually carrying a gun as a symbol of his ability to protect her, and his father will come into the room where her mom and (perhaps) sisters are sitting with her. After a short ice-breaker sort of conversation (the bride does not speak), everyone leaves the bride and groom alone.
A more elaborate wedding will be celebrated at a hotel or “hall,” basically an big empty enclosed space. Sometimes this is an issue of wealth but it also happens when there is more than one wedding (e.g. two brothers marrying), or if the bride and groom are from different tribes. In this kind of wedding, the women are invited by phone and sometimes given a ‘card’ for entrance by the groom’s family (who are paying for the event).
Close female relatives of the bride and of the groom show up in finery – often shimmering dresses they have designed themselves. They start to gather about 7 or 8pm; finger-food, sweets and drinks are passed around by waitresses. There is usually water, fruit and maybe snacks laid out on the tables, but no name cards – people sit where they like. The bride makes a triumphal entrance (think the fan fare from 2001: A Space Odyssey) late in the evening, perhaps 12 or even 1am. The main meal is usually served after the bride arrives. Then, with the bride seated on a sofa on the elevated stage, various women dance for her in an open space in front of her or on the elevated stage. At the end of the event, the bride will be brought in a procession of cars to the groom’s house, or the groom might actually come into the room (a very new innovation) and escort her out.