Considering Cartoons/ Graphic Art about Foodways

I started to look at cartoons (sent by Omani friends or posted on Instagram) because I wanted to see how buying, making, eating and sharing food was portrayed in graphic art. The cartoons are fascinating because they give personal insights into many aspects of Arab/ Muslim/ Gulf cultures, not just what food is eaten (when, where and why) but what is said (and the subtext), who is talking,  what clothes are worn (and what do the clothes signal?), body issues (how close do people stand to each other? do they face each other directly? how much can you tell about body size/ shape? can you see hair?), background (how is the place drawn? is it in the home or in public?), even how the words are spelled (are the people speaking formal Arabic?) and grammar choices mark the characters vis a vis status, nationality, sub-culture, etc.

For example in this cartoon – the woman on the left is drawn as less traditional with hair piled up under her sheila, hair showing, shaped eyebrows, prominent eyes (eyeliner? mascara? colored lens?), open-mouth smile (lipstick?), open abayah, colored dress and purse, showing more of her forearm showing (is her lighter skin tone deliberate?) but also because she is carrying a coffee clearly drawn with a green round label like Starbucks. The coffee is grey and in a larger cup; while the other woman is carrying a small cup filled with a light brown liquid that looks like tea with milk. The woman with the less conservative look goes to the expensive and foreign coffee company – the woman with the more conservative appearance drinks tea in the (traditional) smaller cup.

2 women.jpg

Not all of the cartoons below have food but all give important insights into cultural issues.

ramadan love

Vimto/ laban signal Ramadan because they are usually drunk at Iftar but henna is not usually worn during Ramadan so this image points towards Eid, especially with the moon design of the henna, the lights and the creme carmel.

looking at woman

new baby

argue man and woman



share ramadan






Relationship Cartoons – Worthy of Study

shopping with manIt’s not my area of expertise, but I find relationship cartoons posted on social media fascinating. There is so much cultural information to be unpacked for example, many have women with uncovered hair in settings with other women, whereas Dhofari women keep their hair covered even if sitting in the salle with other women. Here are a few I find particularly interesting. I hope someone from or living on the Arabian Peninsula does some kind of systematic study by country, topic, etc.

emmy - brother asking


dano - legal look


emmy - girl guy apart


emmy - hair


emmy - fight

Food Terminology: Life is not Life, Curry is not Curry, Chutney is not Chutney

As Al-Hamad (2016) states, “The Arabic for rice is riz/ruz, but in the Gulf it is ‘aish,” the Arabic word for living or life. In other countries such as Egypt, bread is called ‘aish but in Oman, rice is the most important staple.

In Dhofar, almost everyone has rice for lunch. The rice might be plain white and served with dates and fried or grilled fish; biryani with fish, meat* or chicken placed on top; a “curry”; a salona; or one of the dishes seen as traditional including qabooli, kebsa, maqboos, and mandi. “Curry” is used locally to mean a stew of 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. Salona is usually locally to mean 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. People either simply dip bread in the soup or position bread between thumb and two forefingers and, using a pincher action, tear off a piece of meat. Qabooli, kebsa, maqboos, and mandi are considered traditional, local rice dishes in several Middle Eastern countries. It is beyond the power of the author to adjudicate origin, ingredients or recipes.

The main dish is served with one or more condiments called “chutney.” “Chutney” is not the same as chutney from India which is usually cooked with fruit. It is a condiment whose exact 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. When I showed several Dhofari men from my research group a small dish of Indian-style mango chutney and asked “Is this chutney?” all of them said no.

* Meat means cow, camel or goat, rarely sheep.

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.

I will be presenting “Foodways and Society in Southern Oman” at the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies Annual Conference, University of Leeds, June 24-26, 2019.

add mrr

“Foodways and Society in Southern Oman.” British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Leeds, June 24-26, 2019.

This paper combines research from the fields of anthropology and food studies to examine the connections between food and culture in Dhofar, the southern region of Oman.  Mauss famously said that discussing gifts affords insight into “all the threads of which social fabric is composed.” Similarly, food connects “all the threads” of a society, particularly religion, family, wealth, traditions, self-worth and culture.

I will discuss the practices and perceptions of buying, making, presenting, sharing, eating and disposing of food among one group of Dhofaris. The presentation will cover details of food preparation (who makes what kind of food in which location), as well as when, where and how food is eaten. I will also compare Dhofari food traditions with anthropological accounts from Yemen and explain recent changes in food culture including expanding selection of foods, hiring people to help with cooking, dieting, monetizing food and cooking methods. I am particularly interested in how people make food choices to be generous, while attempting to deny any personal generosity. The information discussed has been gathered from formal interviews and countless social events with Dhofari informants and friends over the past 12 years.


Snack is ready!

Fatayer (فطير) is the Arabic word for “pie/ pastry” and can also be used to mean “pancake.” In southern Oman it is used primarily in two contexts. One as a thick pastry (with dough similar to but lighter than pizza dough) that is rolled out into a oblong shape with the dough pinched into two pointed ends usually 8-12 inches long and 4 to 6 inches wide. This is topped with processed cheese spread and a variety of savory toppings, such as chopped hotdogs, and sweet toppings, usually honey. It is baked open-face and then covered in tin foil. They are sold in many Arabic restaurants and by a few stores (some belonging to a chain) that specializes in them. Usually cooked upon order, they are available throughout the day and seen as a perfect between-meal snack or as part of a meal, especially picnics as they are easy to transport.

The second fatayer is very different – it is a very thin batter, similar to a crepe, which is spread on a 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. They are usually for sale at small stalls at festivals or road-side stands and since they are not readily available or transportable they are seen as a ‘treat.’ People buy them and eat them quickly, usually with tea or fruit juice, either standing by the stall or sitting at a table or in their car.



Lunch is ready!


Lunch is the main meal of the day and usually eaten between 1:30 and 2:30pm after kids return from school and adults return from work. In almost every Dhofari household rice is served. The rice might be plain white and served with dates and fried or grilled fish; biryani with fish, meat or chicken placed on top; or one of the dishes seen as traditional including qabooli, kebsa, maqboos, and mandi. The main dish is served with one or more condiments called “chutney” and a chopped salad, often made with fresh vegetables such as onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, green peppers and (sometimes) lettuce; the salad is served without a dressing. Quartered limes and small plates of chili peppers are often set out; some families use bottled hot sauces such as Tabasco.

Although not all families eat with all house members at one time, it is usually to eat at home. As lunch is after work and before the nap/ relaxation time of late afternoon, lunch is generally eaten quickly without the social time that usually precedes and succeeds dinner. When the Dhofaris say “lunch” they mean “rice with meat, fish or chicken,” however sometimes lunch is eaten on the fly – at work or while driving.

A favorite for a fast lunch is to spread processed cheese on pita or white bread; open a bag of Chips Oman (spicy), crush them and sprinkle on the bread, splash on some hot sauce and bon appetit! A variation is spread processed cheese on a warm partata, add a fried egg and a bag of crushed Chips Oman, with hot sauce if you need more heat.

In case it’s not clear how important processed cheese is….



(first image from social media, unknown photographer; second and third photos by author)

Breakfast is ready!



This is not a typical breakfast – breakfast is usually a light meal eaten at home and is just for family and overnight visitors, almost always family. Any Dhofari man or woman is welcome to eat any meal at the house of any close relative, but usually they only share breakfast if they are staying in the house.

The timing varies from after the dawn (fajr) prayer to 11am on weekends and holidays. School children are fed before they leave the house, with the mother(s) eating before or after feeding younger children when they wake up and perhaps sharing tea and bread with a neighbor in the mid-morning. Eggs (scrambled, fried or boiled) are often set out and children often eat cereal and sometimes pancakes.

Almost everyone drinks tea, either plain, with a lot of sugar, with milk and/ or spices. In houses, thermoses are made by or under the direction of senior women and set out throughout the day. Some Dhofaris simply have tea or tea with toast (sliced bread from a loaf); pita bread (khbus lebnani) with butter, jam, honey and/ or processed cheese; round, thick traditional bread (called variously tanoor or kak in Arabic or godom or thakin in Gibali/ Shahri); store bought biscuits; a parata (plain or with dal or eggs inside) bought from a small, road-side restaurant or brought to the office by the “messenger,” a man who brings tea, light food, newspapers and runs errands.

The photo above shows a picnic breakfast with prepared omelettes, boiled eggs, cereal, bread, cheese, fruit, a thermos of tea and various condiments including hummus.  This would be eaten on a holiday or weekend morning with the eggs prepared in the house and all the food packed into the car, then the family driving to a scenic spot to enjoy a leisurely breakfast.