I will be presenting “Ethical Eating in Southern Oman” at the annual convention of the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition, June 2021.

I am pleased to announce that I will be presenting “Ethical Eating in Southern Oman” at Just Food, virtual conference of the Association for the Study of Food and Society; Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society; Canadian Association for Food Studies and the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition, hosted by the Culinary Institute of America and New York University. June 9-15, 2021.

(photo from social media)

y - good morning 1

https://foodanthro.com/2020/12/01/just-food-because-it-is-never-just-food/

https://www.food-culture.org/2021-conference/

Foodways and Living Expat

One of the issues I have run into doing research about food is trying to stay neutral when describing unfamiliar foodways. It’s easy to fall into finger-pointing about “bad food” such as Omanis discussing my oatmeal cookies (to them, they taste like sand) and my declining to try their dried, salted shark filet.

The men in my research group are disgusted at my eating “old” food (cold, leftover pizza) and it took me a long time to accept that a toasted white bread sandwich with processed cheese spread, crushed Chips Oman, a sliced boiled egg and hot sauce is a good snack.

They tease me because I can’t cook rice; I have yet to eat a decent muffin in Oman (and don’t get me started on the hollandaise sauce!) Even food metaphors fall apart cross-culturally: one store had a large sign: “if life doesn’t give you lemons, we deliver.” I think I have enough ‘lemons’ at the moment, I do not want any delivered!

Like at home, my friends know each other’s favorite restaurants, but since food appears and disappears in the grocery stores, we are all on the look-out for basics. You slowly learn what others crave and preform the basic kindness of standing in grocery aisles and calling/ sending messages: “they have blueberry yoghurt,” “molasses is here,” “vanilla powder is in” and “I see Dr. Pepper!”

Shopping is more stressful to me than at home – there’s a lot of hide and seek. Pasta sauce is in three different aisles, and often the salsa is mixed in. Salt has its own section not near the spices (and don’t even dream of finding tarragon or rosemary), sugar is with the coffee not the flour, muffin cups are on the other side of the store from the muffin mix, the few times cranberry sauce appears it is next to the golden syrup, croutons are next to dried soup mixes and crackers are in the cereal aisle.

Then, when you have found something – there is always the debate: is this going to be worth the money? The joy of seeing Ben and Jerry’s was canceled by the fact that the three times I have ventured to try it, the ice cream had freezer-burn. Many delicious-looking cakes and tortes have tasted liked wood shavings. I have bought many items because I was afraid the store would never have it again (green salsa), to encourage the store to keep it in stock (dried tortellini) or that I will never eat (Lindt bears as holiday decorations, cookies and 7-Up for workers).

Once covid hit, friends and I tag-teamed shopping so I learned to find all sorts of things I never knew existed: sprouted rice, coconut flour, beetroot powder and pea pasta.

There a lot of rabbit holes to fall down, especially in reading menus. There are misspellings: “frut” for “fruit, “pommel grenade” for “pomegranate,” “mashromme” for “mushroom,” and “pasilic” for “basil.” Some words are just transliterated so you can get quickly lost with “rocka,” “arais,” “pine” and “akkawi.”

Just as a person needs to learn that “Florentine” means “with spinach,” there are place adjectives in Middle Eastern cooking; for example, “hummus Beiruti” means “with garlic.” When I try to get a pizza the way I want it, I need to use all three ways to describe one thing: green peppers, capsicum, and fil-fil bard (“cold peppers”). And you can’t order a cheese pizza, you need to say “margarita,” but that word is often confused with “fajita” so you end up with a spicy chicken pizza instead of plain cheese. 

In addition to food, it took me awhile to get used to how to eat – I still spill a lot of rice when eating with my hands. And, after a few years, I am finally accustomed to the eat-then-talk-for-hours routine in Dhofar. When a non-Omani friend invited me for dinner (sitting outside!), we arrived at 7:30, were done eating by 9 and as I was expecting that we were going to settle in to talk, she asked for the bill. I was amazed – weren’t we going to “visit”? I had forgotten my previous understanding that dinner in a restaurant took 1 ½ to 2 hours, 3 or 4 hours is normal to me now.

(photo from social media)

IMG_4560

Foodways – Perceptions of “Old”/ “Fresh” Food

(photo by Salwa Hubais)

It is always interesting to have cross-cultural discussions of timing words such as “late” and “early.” If you say that you ate dinner “late,” do you mean 9pm or 2am? If you had breakfast “early,” did you eat at 5am or 8am?

In the same way, perceptions of when food is “fresh” varies widely between cultures. For example in Dhofar a meal of rice and meat, fish or chicken should be eaten right away. After 1 to 3 hours, it is seen as “old,” i.e. not edible/ not suitable to be given away to others and should be put out for animals.

However during Ramadan, the food cooked for iftar is usually left out for snacking for several hours. It is often covered with plastic wrap and placed on a side table but could also be simply left on the ‘table’ (thin plastic drop-cloth) on the ground for a few hours. For example, set out before the sunset call to prayer then people would eat, pray, perhaps eat again, relatives/ friends might stop by to eat, and the food is finally cleaned up/ thrown out/ given away at 10 or 11pm.

How is one meal “old” and another not “old” after several hours? This difference is partially because of method of serving and food choices. A rice and protein for lunch is usually served on a platter with a few sides dishes/ condiments, but iftars should have a much wider variety of food but with fewer portions, thus there is not usually one platter, but many plates (holding, for example, samosas) and small, glass open-proof dishes which are easy to cover.

Rice with protein on a platter is eaten with hands, but iftar choices are usually spooned out of a container or finger food so that when a person takes something, nothing else on the plate is touched. Examples of typical food served at an iftar – spooned out of baking dish: mashed potatoes spread on top of tuna with tomatoes and spices, baked macaroni with white sauce, shredded chicken with tomato and spices, baked compilation of vegetables (pieces of potatoes, onion, carrots, green peppers);  by hand: samosas, baked potatoes wedges, pieces of watermelon and melon.

The same idea obtains for water. On a picnic, water and drinks are usually give out of a coolbox (cooler) or a plastic bag, signaling that they were just bought and hence “fresh.” Since my friends know I always carry water in my car, if I offer anyone a bottle of water that they have not seen me take out of a bag from a store, they will ask, “How long was it in your car?” If I say, “a few days,” they will decline as they don’t want “old” water.

A related cultural construct is what happens when people finish eating? When I have dinner with Italian friends, we talk while eating and then sit at the dinner table for at least an hour after we are done. Dhofaris usually refrain from long conversations while eating and so soon as everyone is finished, the food is taken back to the kitchen or, on a picnic, covered and set aside. One doesn’t talk over the remains of a meal.

meat rice and solona

(photo by Salwa Hubais)

 

I am pleased to announce that my book, Foodways in Southern Oman, is now available for pre-order.

Foodways in Southern Oman. Routledge, ISBN: 978-0-367-85955-8

Foodways in Southern Oman examines the objects, practices and beliefs relating to producing, obtaining, cooking, eating and disposing of food in the Dhofar region of southern Oman. The chapters consider food preparation, who makes what kind of food, and how and when meals are eaten. Marielle Risse connects what is consumed to themes such as land usage, gender, age, purity, privacy and generosity. She also discusses how foodways are related to issues of morality, safety, religion, and tourism. The volume is a result of fourteen years of collecting data and insights in Dhofar, covering topics such as catching fish, herding camels, growing fruits, designing kitchens, cooking meals and setting leftovers out for animals. It will be of interest to scholars from a range of disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, food studies, Middle Eastern studies and Islamic studies.

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/foodways-in-southern-oman-marielle-risse/1137456632?ean=97803678595587

‘Foodways in Southern Oman’ at the AAA annual conference

I recently spoke about my ‘Foodways in Southern Oman’ project at the session: “Uncovering Truths, Building Responsibility in a Pandemic: Insights from Emerging Monographs at the Nexus of Culture, Food, and Agriculture” at the American Anthropological Association on-line conference. November 9, 2020.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344707985_Foodways_in_Southern_Oman_session_Uncovering_Truths_Building_Responsibility_in_a_Pandemic_Insights_from_Emerging_Monographs_at_the_Nexus_of_Culture_Food_and_Agriculture

(photo by Salwa Hubais)

I am pleased to announce that I will be presenting about my ‘Foodways in Southern Oman’ project at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting

I will be presenting about my ‘Foodways in Southern Oman’ project at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in November in the session: “Uncovering Truths, Building Responsibility in A Pandemic: Insights from Emerging Monographs at the Nexus of Culture, Food, and Agriculture.”

Dreaming of Dhofari Picnics

I am very happy that my Dhofari friends are being careful about corona and not having social events and at the same time… I miss picnics! It’s almost time to go back to work but, even with all the lovely khareef drizzle, it doesn’t feel like there was a vacation as there were no picnics this summer.

“Picnic,” like all food terms, has different meanings as you move between cultures. Visiting family and friends at home, picnics mean making or buying food and then eating it on blankets in a scenic place. I miss deviled eggs, potato salad, coleslaw, and most of all: pie! Sometimes we grill hamburgers or hotdogs, but picnics usually do not mean cooking, especially a picnic with my mom. Her idea of a picnic is getting sandwiches or little containers of chicken salad, tangerine sodas and one bag of chips for me (because of course she doesn’t want any), then driving to a little cove near her house, sitting on a bench and watching the ocean. Pretty perfect except for her relentless chip-stealing.  

Picnics here usually involve cooking and a lot of communal work. One person will bring meat and vegetables, others will help cut everything, someone will cook and we will all eat off one plate. Really wonderful in normal times, but dangers abounding in the time of corona as most items are passed hand to hand, such as knives, plates, Tabasco, bottles of water, Kleenex, limes, etc.

I sometimes wish dinner was severed at a less than thermonuclear level of spiciness, but other than that, picnics in Dhofar are delightful and I am looking forward to the winter in which, I hope, corona goes away and I am back on a beach with good food and good friends.

Corona, Curfew and Dinner (and good graphics)

Oman now has a curfew – all stores/ restaurants closed and everyone inside from 7pm until 6am which is perfect timing because it is roughly sundown to sunrise. You don’t have look at your watch – just look for the sun. If you see the sun, it’s ok to be outside. If you don’t see the sun, stay in! 🙂

I am very interested in how the curfew might be changing planning for/ cooking dinner, which is usually eaten after 8pm, sometimes as late at midnight or 1am. With the curfew, one can’t order delivery or run to the store for anything. Some restaurants which previously closed mid-day, are now open straight until closing at 6pm (to do cleaning and give staff time to get home). This means no last-minute decisions or going for a schwarma-run at 2am!

When things quiet down, I would like to ask informants how the curfew changed eating habits. A few restaurants are advertising ‘buy at 5pm and reheat later’ – but reheating/ eating ‘old’ food is not often done here.

Restaurant delivery was common, so when the virus hit and restaurants were not allowed to have inside service, the loss of dine-in/ rise of delivery-only did not create a large change in eating patterns. Families could order delivery and then sit together at home, on a beach or in the flat open area to the north of Salalah. But to not have delivery or the chance to buy food after 7pm is a big change and I wonder how families are adjusting to it.

empty roads!

curfew - road

When the virus is beaten, I hope the graphic designers working with the Omani government get medals of appreciation! The government has, since day 1, been clear and unified about the risks of disease and has put out easy-to-understand public safety messages.

my favorite:

curfew - eyes

Eid Mubarak

With best wishes for a blessed Eid (and the Omani government emphasizing safety at this joyous time)

 

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/CDRhdJQj29s/?igshid=1c36nifgcjt4a

 

eid - food