In Ramadan, when Dhofaris are focused on family and religion, I don’t want to bother informants, so I focus on images. Here are five small collections showing everyday sights in Dhofar.
Prepared Food – Salwa Hubais
Plants on a Mountain Farm
Last Ramadan I gathered food images, but with the virus, people are having fewer large Iftar gatherings and, as the weather is hot, there are fewer picnics. Many of the images circulating now are created in order to educate and warn people. I think the government is doing an excellent job of being very clear about the dangers of corona and supplying fast, accurate information. Below are a few examples:
My research into foodways in Dhofar has been hampered by the corona virus, but when you work in the field of ethnography, any object or event is a way to gain insights so I have been focusing on: what food-related events can I notice/ interpret during this stay-at-home time?
First, the Omani government is doing a fantastic job of disseminating information to all citizens and residents. There are regular news bulletins (in Arabic and English) with not only clear instructions (how to properly wash hands, what are the symptoms of corona, etc. – example below), but also the rational for the government’s actions. There are daily updates of the number of cases in the Sultanate and where to go for medical help, including explicit statements that 1) health care is free to everyone and 2) expats will not be asked for a labor card, allowing people in the country without a valid visa to get help (example below).
Two small actions which I appreciate are that all official government notices are in same design/ font/ color so it’s easy to know it’s an official message. Also hypermarkets have the housewares, clothes, computer, appliance sections cordoned off/ lights turned off to prevent people from browsing for fun, but if you need a particular item, you can ask permission to enter and get one item. This reduces the stress of worrying about getting a replacement if something breaks but means that people aren’t congregating in large stores to pass the time.
Related to food issues, the government has done its best to stop hording with regular announcements that there is sufficient food (example below) and announcements/ photos of fresh fruits and vegetables purchased from India. There are announcements of the illegality of price-gouging in stores and that all delivery services must follow safety regulations (example below). All customers must have their temperature checked before entering a grocery store and all grocery stores must ensure all carts are sanitized before each use, all customers wear gloves, and free hand sanitizer is available (example below).
Grocery stores (during my once a week shopping trip!) are well-stocked with all the basics: vegetable oil, rice, meat, fish, basic fruits and vegetables such as onions, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, apples, oranges, bananas, etc. There are all kinds of cleaners/ sanitizers; masks sell out quickly, but new supplies arrive every week. However, there are fewer types of fruits and vegetables (especially frozen ones) and some non-Omani, non-essential foods are not being restocked (cheddar cheese, types of noodles, sauces, chips).
In terms of my research, before corona, it was almost exclusively women who used Instagram and Whatsapp to advertise home catering businesses, but now men are starting to use social media to sell fish (cleaned, cut and delivered) and lobster (during the time it is in season) because the fish markets are closed. These ads explicitly state that safe hand-over procedures will be followed. The government has also created an on-line fish market to help buyers and sellers find each other (see below).
As it is Ramadan and I can’t check in with my informants (it would be impolite to bother them with research questions during the holy month), I am assuming, but can’t prove, that family/ neighbor supply lines are being used to share cow and camel milk, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. What I have heard anecdotally is that some Dhofaris whose workplaces are closed are using their free time to bring in extra food supplies by working/ supervising on their farms, fishing etc. During every Ramadan, Dhofaris buy and make food to give to others, especially those in need, but during this Ramadan in particular, people are extending extra efforts to make sure everyone has sufficient fresh food.
example of official testing message:
example of government message about food supplies
example of government message about food supplies, particularly fish
government rules for food shopping
government rules for safe food delivery
As I am interested in foodways, Ramadan greetings with images of food always catch my eye. The usual symbols of Ramadan are the Holy Qur’an, mosques, a crescent moon, candles/ lights and lanterns, but some images include the ubiquitous drink: Vimto.
and in this time of the virus, this photo encapsulates the mecessity of sharing safely:
I am so pleased to announce a new website dedicated to the Arabic alphabet by my dear friend and Arabic scholar, Dr. Michael Beard
Foodways in Southern Oman project; Dr. Marielle Risse
(photo by Salwa Hubais)
This list is in no way definitive and I will update it periodically. I had hoped to have Dhofari informants type in the local (not MSA) Arabic, but this spring has brought both the death of the much-loved and much-respected Sultan Qaboos and the corona virus. It is not the time to bother people with academic inquiries. I will wait for better days.
I include some food-related words such as animals, locations, weather, etc.
‘A’ means the word is Arabic, ‘G’ means the word is Gibali/ Jebbali/ Shahri. As there are always issues in transliterating Arabic vowels, I have arranged the words alphabetically in English, e.g. raqeeq/ roqaq
Abalone – sufela, regulated season for a few weeks at the end of November/ December, depending on quantity, some years the season is canceled
Appetizers – usually baba ghanoush, fattoush, hummus, stuffed grape leaves etc., with pita bread (khubz lebnani)
Asida/ Asseda – cooked wheat with samn [clarified butter] and sometimes sugar
Baisa – smaller currency in Oman, there are 100 baisa in 1 Omani Riyal, which is worth about 1.9 British pounds (fluctuates) and 2.6 American dollars (steady)
Basbousa – semolina cake usually flavored with coconut in Dhofar
Bread – khubz A, types: kak kaek [qaleeb, tanoor (oven) or thakheen (thick) A/ dofdof or godom G], lebnani, luhuh, raqeeq/ roqaq or rekal, roti, qalib/ qibqab
Biscuits – used in the United Kingdom sense of sweet, crunchy baked goods eaten as snacks, not the American sense a type of roll (usually made of flour, baking powder, salt, butter/ shortening, and milk) usually with eaten warm with butter and jam or gravy
“Box” – local term for fish trap, flat-bottomed, metal trap with a rounded top and funnel opening. These are tied to buoys (usually empty plastic containers such as laundry soap jugs) and dropped in the sea. The color/ type of containers, color/ type of rope and knots mark an individual owner.
Branding – wasm, term for both animal and medicinal branding
Briyani – rice dish
Caracal – washq
Chai – see tea
Chutney – a condiment, in India this is usually fruit cooked with spices. In Dhofar the composition varies from family to family but usually made from blended spices with uncooked vegetables. A common one is made from pureed tomatoes, onions and spices and is similar to salsa. A more traditional one is made from pureed garlic and ginger with vinegar
Coffee – four main kinds: 1) qahwa (in Arabic) or “Omani coffee” 2) instant coffee, sometimes called Nescafe although there are other brands of instant coffee for sale, usually served with canned milk and sugar 3) espresso-based drink, American-style drip/ filter coffee is never served 4) drink from one of the several kinds of recently introduced coffee-capsule machines. Like tea, all coffee is served very hot and in cups that are much smaller than typical American mugs.
Coconut – nakhla
Curry – refers to a stew or vegetables and meat, chicken or fish, not necessarily made with curry powder, which is poured onto a platter to be eaten by being scooped up with bread
Dal – Indian, cooked legumes with onions and spices such as curry leaves, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, dried red chilies, etc.
Date – tamr A
Desserts: baklava, basbousa, cakes, cheese-cakes, crème caramel, custards, halwa, halawiyat, kanafeh/ kunafa, luqaymat/ loukoumades, Swiss Roll, “traditional sweet” (pita bread soaked in milk with sugar and cardamom), Umm/ Om Ali
Dhara – corn
Drinks – coffee (qahwa/ Arabic or Nescafe/ instant), tea (with sugar, with sugar and milk or with sugar, milk and spices), juice (fresh or bottled), soda, laban, and bottled water
Dugar – cowpeas, aka thareet
Eid – holy day in Islam, Eid al Fitr (see Ramadan) and Eid al Adha after the haj (pilgrimage)
Fatayer A – pie/ pastry, can also be used to mean “pancake,” 1) a thick pastry (with dough similar to but lighter than pizza dough) that is rolled out into an oblong shape with the dough pinched into two pointed ends usually 8-12 inches long and 4 to 6 inches wide, topped with savory (e.g. processed cheese spread and chopped hotdogs) or sweet toppings, usually honey. It is baked open-face and then covered in tin foil. Usually cooked upon order, they are available throughout the day and are sometimes served as part of a meal, especially picnics as they are easy to transport. 2) a very thin batter, similar to a crepe, which is spread on a flat, heated, round, oiled cooking surface. When the bottom is cooked, a filling (usually processed cheese) is spread over the surface. The sides are then turned in until it is rectangular-shaped, then it is flipped over. When cooked, it is transferred to a paper plate and cut into 12 square pieces and usually drizzled with honey. They should be eaten immediately as the dough becomes rubbery and gummy when cold.
Fig – teen A
Fil-fil A – spicy, hot, can mean either hot sauce or hot peppers
Fish – (there is a much longer list that I am working on, I hope to update this soon) common types: hamour – grouper, sardine, tamkari – Malabar Jack, tuna
Fruit – most commonly grown in Dhofar: banana, coconut, fig, guava, jackfruit, lemon/ lime, mango, melon, mustafar (custard apple. soursop), papaya, pomegranate. Less common: almond, cherry, chikoo (aka sapodilla), coffee, jamun (black plum), orange, olive, prickly pear, strawberries. Wild: doum (fruit of the spina-christi tree), fig
Halal – permissible in Islam, specifically here, food that is allowed to be eaten such as animals killed according to Islamic precepts
Halwa – sweet A – most popular Omani dessert made with sugar, water, clarified butter, and cornstarch, with various additions (sesame seeds, almonds, cashews, etc.) and flavorings (cardamom, saffron, smoked rose water, etc.). It is slow cooked in large batches and then poured into various-sized plastic trays and bowls. The color varies from a light blond to reddish to almost black depending on ingredients. The consistency is like a tough Jell-O. To eat, one scoops out a teaspoon- to tablespoon-sized piece with a spoon and eats it plain or plops the piece on of a small piece of a thin, plain cracker-like bread (qibqab) and eats both together. You usually take some mouthful by mouthful. It is necessary for special events such as Eid and weddings, but some people have a covered bowl on a tray in the majlis at all times.
Halawiyat A – sweets, fried dough or filo dough with various fillings and flavorings such as honey, nuts, rosewater, cardamom, cinnamon, etc.
Haleeb A – milk
Haram – forbidden in Islam specifically here, food that may not be eaten, including any part of a pig, an animal that was not specifically killed to be eaten (i.e. found dead)/ not killed following Islamic precepts, carnivorous animals, birds of prey, blood or any food with blood and alcohol
Herbs – commonly grown mint, parsley; less commonly grown: cilantro, lemongrass, thyme; rayhan (basil) is grown for the smell, not for eating; sage is used for tea but not usually grown
Honey – ‘asl
Hyrax (rock) – wubar
Ibex – wael
Iftar – meal served at sunset in Ramadan, laban and dates are almost always taken as soon as the call for the sunset prayer is heard. Some families will break the fast, then the men will go to the mosque to do the sunset prayer, then return home for everyone to eat iftar together. Others will eat a variety of foods, then pray. Whereas a usual dinner consists of one main dish (rice or pasta with protein, vegetables and spices), an iftar should have a large variety of different savory and sweet dishes. There should be a variety of food such as shorba, thareed, stuffed grape leaves, salads, sandwiches and sambusas; there should be fruit such as a fruit bowl (bananas, grapes, oranges), cut fruit and/ or fruit salad with oranges, watermelon, apples, etc. Sweets include custards, dumplings, Jell-O, kanafeh/ kunafa, luqaymat/ loukoumades “traditional sweet” (pita bread soaked in milk with sugar and cardamom), saffron/ coconut/ chocolate cake, etc. The prized drink of iftar is Vimto, a cordial of fruits and spices that is diluted with water.
Jarbaeb G – flat plain in the area around and behind (to the north of) Salalah
Jebel A – mountain, surrounding Salalah: Jebel Samhan to the west of Salalah, the highest at over 2000 meters, Jebel al Qara behind Salalah, and Jebel al Qara behind Salalah, it continues to the east to the Hadhramaut region in Yemen
Juice – lemon and mint is favorite; melon, usually served freshly blended; widely available: fresh mango, orange, pomegranate
Kabsa/ kebsa – rice dish, also called maqboos, or mandi/ mehndi
Kak/ kaek, qaleeb, tanoor (oven) or thakheen (thick) A/ dofdof or godom G – bread about 6 inches across, ¾ of an inch thick with hebba sowda (black seeds) and marked with pressed fork tines on top. It can be cooked in wood-fired or gas ovens and can be eaten warm or kept for several days.
Kalhta – mixture, a sour/ spicy dip for cooked meat (usually on skweres) made from viniger, lemon/ lime and spices
Karak – loose tea with spices (cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, etc.) and canned milk
Kanafeh/ kunafa – shredded filo pastry or semolina dough that is baked in sugar-based syrup usually with a layer of cheese, sometimes served with cream or nuts
Khabisah – flour or semolina cooked with milk and/ or butter with honey, dates, nuts, and/ or coconut and flavored with molasses, cardamom powder and/ or saffron, more usual in the northern parts of Oman than Dhofar
Keema/ Qeema – originally a Hindustani word meaning minced meat, usually beef. In Dhofar it means a warm sandwich filling of minced meat, vegetables (most notably tomatoes, onions and peas) and spices similar to an American “Sloppy Joe” except it is served in a rolled up paratha instead of on a hamburger bun
Khaliyat al nahla A – bee cells, small yeast rolls with processed cheese in the middle and a sugar/ honey syrup poured on top when still warm
Khareef A – autumn, in Dhofar this refers to the monsoon season, June-September
Khubz – bread A, types: kak kaek [qaleeb, tanoor (oven) or thakheen (thick) A/ dofdof or godom G], lebnani, luhuh, raqeeq/ roqaq/ raqeeq or rekal, roti, qalib/ qibqab
Khubz lebnani A – “Lebanese bread,” pita bread
Laban/ labneh/ leben – fermented milk
Lemon – pronounced lee-mon, not lem-on, used to refer to small, round, green, “Key West” limes
Lobster – shaarkha, regulated season from March to end of the April
Luban -frankincense (Boswellia sacra), the most important plant in Dhofar. Most women perfume their houses (and sometimes work places) with the fragrant smoke from the burning pieces of resin every day. It is not a food product per se, put high-quality pieces can chewed or put in warm water as medicine for stomach pains.
Luhuh – bread made from a dough with baking powder that is cooked in a skillet with a size/ consistency between an American pancake and a French crepe.
Luqaymat/ loukoumades A – round fried balls of dough, coated with a sweet topping such as sugar syrup, Nutella or sweetened coconut, need to be eaten soon after making
Mageen – meat that is cut into strips, air-dried for a few hours, then cooked in the animals’ fat
Madhbi – meat cooked on heated rocks
Maha – oryx
Majlis – male/ visitor’s sitting room, can be used by women if there are no male visitors
Mandi/ mehndi – rice dish
Maqboos – rice dish, also called kabsa/ kebsa
Meat – lahm A
Milk – haleeb A
Mishkak – grilled pieces of meat, usually on a skewer
Monsoon – khareef, June-September
Mukuskus/ muqasqis – bread with a yeast dough a little lighter and sweeter than pizza dough which is deep fried into pillow shapes about 2 to 3 inches across. These can be kept up to 2 or 3 days after frying and are eaten with tea or milk.
Munj – peas
Nakhla – coconut
Nejd – rocky, mostly flat and barren area on the far side of the mountains as they slope down to the desert (to the north and north-east of Salalah)
“Oil” – clarified butter, samn
Oryx – maha
Paratha – Indian flatbread cooked in ghee or oil) served plain, with eggs or with dal
Ramadan – he lunar month in which Muslims abstain from food, drink, sex and smoking from sunrise to sunset. It is a time to focus on prayers, charitable giving, reading the Holy Qur’an and family so Muslims should avoid worldly concerns such as getting angry or secular music. Ramadan starts when the new moon is sighted (hence the symbol of Ramadan is a crescent moon) and ends when the next moon is seen and the celebration of Eid al Fitr.
Rice – most common dishes with rice, meat, vegetables and spices: briyani, kebsa/ kabsa/ maqboos, or mandi/ mehndi, qabooli/ qabuli
Riyal – paper currency in Oman, there are 100 baisa in 1 Omani Riyal, which is worth about 1.9 British pounds (fluctuates) and 2.6 American dollars (steady)
Ruman – pomegranate
Qabooli/ qabuli – rice dish
Qahwa A – coffee, also called “Omani coffee”, made from roasted coffee beans that are ground, then boiled (plain or with spices), then other spices and flavors such as cardamom, ginger, rose water, etc. are added. In the northern parts of Oman, it is required to serve this with dates; this is also offered in Dhofar, but tea with cakes or qahwa with halwa (see below) can also be served.
Qatil al-hanash – (“kill the snake,” i.e. hunger), a party with family, friends, or work colleagues in the week before Ramadan to ‘fatten up’ before fasting
Qibqab/ qalib A – ‘put in a mold’ or ‘turned’ or “thin kak” – bread about 12 inches round and baked by slapping the dough onto the side of a sunken round oven with coals at the bottom. It is usually eaten with Omani halwa
Raqeeq/ roqaqr or rekal – bread, round, about 24 inches across and very light. The dough is dabbed by hand onto a convex, oiled, heated surface and taken off (not flipped), most often used in Ramadan to make thareed/ threed/ farid, sometimes eaten with processed cheese, rolled up like a long cigar.
Roti – bread, in Indian restaurants it means a flatbread made with stoneground wheat and water (healthier than a paratha because it is not cooked in oil); in fast-food stands, roti means any kind of soft, white flour bun that is cut in half with a filling such as friend egg and cheese
Salona – a thin soup with chicken, meat or fish, usually with purred tomatoes as a base which makes it dark red. It is served in bowls or tin-foil containers
Salle – women’s sitting room, used for female guests and men who live in the house
Sambusas (samosas) – baked or fried pastry with a savory filling such as spiced vegetables, cheese or meat
Samn – clarified butter, called “oil” in English
Schwarma – a sandwich of shaved slices of chicken or meat on a pita bread with various condiments including pickled vegetables (beets, carrots, tubers, etc.), French fries, garlic spread, tahini sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise and hot sauce.
Sardines – freshly caught are served grilled, air dried in open air are used for animal fodder
Shaarkha – lobster, regulated season from March to end of the April
Shorba – soup served in Ramadan with beef, vegetables and oats, sometimes with lemon
Shuwa – lamb, goat or camel meat, marinated with spices, wrapped in banana leaves, placed in a pit with coals and covered, usually made in the north of Oman
Souq – market, also spelled souk
Siwiya – vermicelli with honey/ sugar/ molasses and milk, more usual in the northern parts of Oman than Dhofar
Subar – the bitter fruit of the tamarind (tamer hind) tree
Sufela – abalone, regulated season for a few weeks at the end of November/ December, depending on quantity, some years the season is canceled
Suhoor – meal served before sunrise in Ramadan, not eaten by all Dhofaris as some go to bed late and sleep until mid-morning, but every household has food put out. It’s a fast meal with simple, filling food as people are eating in the time between waking up and the sunrise call to prayer, common foods include asseda/ asida, shorba, thareed or rice with meat or chicken and samn,
Sulhafa – turtle
Sweets, see Desserts
Tawa – unleavened bread usually served at breakfast, similar to naan, but often square shaped and cooked on a flat heated metal cooking surface, also called saj
Tea – served as “red” tea [chai ahmar, black tea with only sugar added], “milk” tea [chai haleeb, black tea with fresh goat, cow or camel milk/ canned milk and sugar], or karak [loose tea with spices (cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, etc.) and canned milk]. Green tea is available but usually not offered to guests, the same with canned iced tea. Tea must be served very hot and usually in cups which to Americans appear tiny (holding perhaps 1/3 cup) and drunk in a few sips.
Thareed – dish made with khubz roqaq soaked in a beef or chicken stock with spices
Tuna – same term used in Dhofar, unregulated season from the end of January/ beginning of February until end of May, best times are March and April, depending on ocean temperature
Turtle – sulhafa
Umm/ Om Ali – a pudding of bread or pastry baked with sugar, milk or cream, spices (usually cinnamon), perhaps with pistachios, almonds and/ or raisins
Vegetables – commonly grown: cowpeas, cucumber, eggplant, findal (sweet potatoes), peas; eaten but not commonly grown: carrots, chili peppers, garlic, green onions, green/ red/ yellow peppers, lettuce, okra, onions, potatoes, tomatoes – zucchini and gourds/ squash for sale
Vimto – commercially made cordial of fruits and spices that is diluted with water. Some people hate it but it’s ubiquitous in Ramadan. It can also be jazzed up, for example, as a ‘Vimto Mojito’ which has Vimto mixed with slices of lemon or other fruit, sprigs of mint, ice and 7-Up or Sprite.
Wadi – dry river bed, used interchangeably with dry, rocky valley, often with steep, vertical sides
Wael – ibex
Washq – caracal
Wasm – animal branding, also the term used for medicinal branding
Wubar – rock hyrax
Selected Bibliography of Works on Omani/ Arabian Peninsula Foodways
(for a more complete bibliography, please see Updated bibliography from my research on Foodways in Southern Oman
Al-Hamad, Sarah. 2016. Cardamom and Lime: Flavors of the Arabian Gulf, the Cuisine of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the U.A.E. Singapore: IMM Lifestyle Books.
Baiso, May. 2005. The Arab Table: Recipes and Culinary Traditions. New York: William Morrow.
Campbell, Felicia. 2015. The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia. London: Andrew McMeel.
Kanafani, Aida Sami. 1979. Aesthetics and Ritual in the United Arab Emirates. Unpublished dissertation, University of Texas at Austin.
Maclagan, Ianthe. 1994. “Food and Gender in a Yemeni Community,” in A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East. Sami Zubaida and Richard Tapper, eds. New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers. 159-72
Miller, Anthony, Miranda Morris, and Susanna Stuart-Smith. (1988). Plants of Dhofar, the Southern Region of Oman: Traditional, Economic, and Medicinal Uses. Muscat: Office of the Adviser for Conservation of the Environment, Diwan of Royal Court.
Morris, Miranda. 2012. “The Aloe and the Frankincense Tree in Southern Arabia: Different Approaches to Their Use,” in Herbal Medicines in Yemen: Traditional Knowledge and Practice, and Their Value for Today’s World. Ingrid Hehmeyer and Hanne Schönig, eds. Brill: Boston. 103-26.
—. (1997). The Harvesting of Frankincense in Dhofar, Oman. In Alessandra Avanzini, ed. Profumi d’Arabia. Rome: L’Erma Bretschneider: 231-250.
Rodionov, Mikhail. 2012. “Honey, Coffee, and Tea in Cultural Practices of Ḥaḍramawt,” in Herbal Medicines in Yemen: Traditional Knowledge and Practice, and Their Value for Today’s World. Ingrid Hehmeyer and Hanne Schönig, eds. Brill: Boston. 143-152.
Vileisis, Ann. (2010) Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get it Back.
(photo by Salwa Hubais)
I have updated this bibliography.
Salalah had its first confirmed case yesterday and the local government is trying to find everyone who was in contact with the person who is reported to have delivered pizza for I-Pizza. The government is working to keep everyone healthy with many restrictions on travel and gathering.
(photo by Salwa Huabis)
The Dhofar region of Oman is famous for picnics in khareef (the monsoon season) when everyone goes to the verdant mountains to enjoy the cool, misty weather. But Dhofaris enjoy eating outside all year, bringing a simple cup of coffee and toast to eat in the garden next to the house, setting up a table to eat dinner al fresco or taking a picnic to the mountains which are gorgeous even in dry weather. (photos by Salwa Hubais)