‘Little c’ Culture: Flooded Roads and Cheese Triangles

I am interested in ‘little c’ culture – everyday life examples of the values and principles of a culture, not the grand statements. For example, I love this ‘good morning’ greeting. It looks odd at first: “Good morning! the road is flooded and you can’t drive!” In some cultures it might be seen as sarcastic, but here it is heartfelt. Water is a blessing and it’s wonderful to have the wadis full. On the other hand, flooding can be dangerous and both the central government and civic entities work to limit damage by installing flood markers along roads; giving frequent forecasts and warnings; sending military personal to make sure no one attempts to go into flooded areas; and maintaining and training rescue teams, including helicopters.

Two keys to the image (which is don’t think is from Dhofar) are the trees and the clouds. The trees give the reason that the flood is good – periodic inundation means healthy plants and abundant crops. In Western cultures, clouds are a negative symbol, meaning something unclear, blighted, disappointing, but on the Arabian Peninsula clouds are positive. These clouds (which might be a little photoshopped) bring joy, not just for the rain but a respite from the sun. It’s telling that Arab cultures celebrate the moon (the nicest compliment for a woman is that she looks like the moon) while Western songs and poems celebrate the sun (“You are My Sunshine,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose” by Emily Dickinson, “The Sun Rising” by John Donne and “Solar” by Philip Larkin:

Suspended lion face
Spilling at the centre
Of an unfurnished sky
How still you stand,
And how unaided
Single stalkless flower
You pour unrecompensed.

The eye sees you
Simplified by distance
Into an origin,
Your petalled head of flames
Continuously exploding.
Heat is the echo of your

Coined there among
Lonely horizontals
You exist openly.
Our needs hourly
Climb and return like angels.
Unclosing like a hand,
You give for ever.

Another examples of  “little c” culture is the cheese sambosas that are a common Iftar treat in Dhofar. My first year here, I attended an all expat women’s Iftar and someone brought cheese sambosas. I was in heaven! Fried cheese pastries, what more could I want? I asked where they came from and was told a bakery. A few days later, I went to a bakery to buy some but none were available. I checked several more places and no luck.

I asked a Dhofari and was told that they usually made at home. Only a few places sold them and then only during Ramadan, which by now had ended. So I waited until the next Ramadan and went searching again, no luck. WHERE ARE THEY HIDING? I asked Dhofari friends and finally learned that they are usually only sold in the 2 hours before Iftar, and only in bakeries with special outdoor stands. I had been walking into bakeries during the morning when I should gone looking at 5pm for bakeries with sloping glass-front display cases set up outside the store.The clues had been there – but I hadn’t read them correctly. Now I am an expert at buying cheese sambosas, but I will never ever tell a Dhofari how I eat them (cold for breakfast with English-style chutney).

My article “An Ethnographic Discussion of Fairy Tales and Folktales from Southern Oman” will be published in Fabula

I am pleased to announce that my article “An Ethnographic Discussion of Fairy Tales and Folktales from Southern Oman” will be published in Fabula [https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/fabl]

This article discusses a collection of fairy and folktales from southern Oman to explain how some of the physical and cultural markers described in the texts which are still extant today. The tales, most of which were recorded in the 1970s, were originally spoken in Gibali (also known as Jibbali or Shahri, a non-written, Modern South Arabian language) and are published in Rubin’s The Jibbali Language of Oman: Grammar and Texts (2014). This paper does not place these texts within established codices; rather, the exegesis turns inward, examining how these stories, recorded at the beginning of modernization in the Dhofar region, reflect many traditional elements of Gibali cultures. Further, the article compares the texts to other Dhofari/ Omani fairy and folktales from Al Thahab’s Stories of My Grandmother: Folk Tales from Dhofar (2012), Al Taie and Pickersgill’s Omani Folk Tales (2008), and Todino-Gonguet’s Halimah and the Snake and other Omani Folk Tales (2008) to highlight how the Johnstone/ Al Mahri/ Rubin texts show Dhofari beliefs about oath-taking and the importance of teaching morality in written, but not oral, texts.



Foodways Images – Humor, Disseminating Information, and the Instagram Food/ Money Connection

Since Ramadan is the time for religious devotion, reflection and family, I have not been able to meet with my research groups so I have spent a lot of time over the last 4 weeks looking for images connected to food. These posts are a kind of rough draft of research as the first step is to gather data, then comes the comparisons and analysis. I have had a lot of fun, some of the images (like the sheep cake) are amusing, But I am also gathering insights into how social media is connected to foodways in Oman. One thread that has become clear is that varies entities use images to help spread useful information (halal Oreos, raising food prices, etc.) A second thread is that people use social media to monetize food (catering ads and fish prices, etc.).  This will be the last ‘images’ post for awhile and I hope you enjoyed the brief excursion from words to pictures.

Getting creative with cakes:

funny cake

Joke – “the proper treatment for hands after making sambosas,” i.e. buy gold for the women who worked hard to make good Iftars


Notices about food price increases

Warnings about food

Advertisements for home-based catering companies

Food images from home-based catering companies

Announcing fish prices:


Research questions – this image caught my eye because, during more than ten years in Oman, I have never seen fish presented like this. When I looked closely, it was was ad for a Kuwaiti restaurant so I wonder if this is, in fact, a difference of presentation or if I have simply not had the chance to see Omanis serve fish in this manner.


Food Perceptions – Honey

honey - wooden bowl!

The role of a food product often changes between cultures and sometimes even within a culture. A friend from India once complained to me about how many American desserts and breakfast products and were flavored with cinnamon, explaining that cinnamon is, “not for sweets!”

In Dhofar, local honey is mainly a medicinal product, taken straight by the spoonful for coughs, upper respiratory and stomach ailments. Honey from hives in the mountains is usually bottled into glass bottles (often Vimto) and given to family, friends and neighbors; sometimes a few bottles are sold. This honey is taken in small amounts daily or when a person is sick.

There are also stores and booths at local festivals staffed by Yemenis and selling Yemeni honey. Rodionov has an excellent article discussing the cultural practices with respect to honey in Hadramawt (see below). The Yemeni dish, bint al Sahn, is not served as dessert normally in Dhofar, but it can be found in Yemeni restaurants.

On the other hand, commercially produced honey is bought at a grocery store and drizzled liberally as a sweetener on bread at breakfast. It is not expensive, for example if non-local honey is brought on a camping trip, whatever is not used is often poured out and the container thrown away.

Thus honey inhabits two separate spheres with a huge difference in the cultural importance  and function. Honey from Yemen or Dhofar is valuable, not just in price but in worth. A bottle of local honey is a treasured gift, consumed slowly and entirely over weeks or months. The tall glass bottles are kept out in a safe place, out of reach of children. Honey bought at the grocery store usually comes in plastic squeeze bottles and if it is spilled or wasted, it is not perceived as a great loss.

The Omani government supports bee-keeping both in terms of honey production and protecting/ increasing the bee population.



Rodionov, Mikhail. “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, 2012, 143-152.

Images of Food during Ramadan – Iftar Humor and Iftar in Beautiful Places

Humor is a good way to get insight into cultures – what’s funny shows what’s important. Here are a few jokes circulating through Oman social media pertaining to food issues during Ramadan. I should be clear that there are no jokes about Ramadan itself, but about, for example, food for Iftar and who to have Iftar with. At the end are are few typical images of Iftar in a scenic place.

Joke about the differences in choices between Iftar on the first day of Ramadan and the last day.

ramadan joke

Joke about the difference between Iftar alone (in a strange place) and with your mom

ramadan - iftar

Stills from a video which makes fun of how prepared food is sold in front of shops for Iftar. Many bakeries and restaurants set up small tables with tents to sell samosas/ sambosas (fried triangles of filo dough filled with cheese, meat or vegetables; or a thicker, pyramid shaped dough filled with spiced mixed vegetables, meat or potatoes and fried) and sweets, but in this video a tailoring shop and a tire store have also set up tables to sell food.

Stills from a video making fun of issues of hospitality – people who insist on someone having Iftar/ a meal/ tea with them – this is one of several with the same theme. It opens with a man (A) inviting another man who refuses (B). The video them cuts to a movie scene in which a man who resembles B is trying to get away from a man who resembles A, the two fight and A eventually wins. The last scene is A and B eating in A’s house.  (Note the headscarves show that these are not Omanis, but there are Omani videos with the same theme of forced hospitality)

Iftar in a scenic place – the top left image is from Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat


Ramadan and Foodways – Images of food in connection to greetings and good behavior, Vimto and selling food

Marieke Brandt (2017) and John Postill (2016) have written about using social media to do anthropological research in places that are difficult to reach; it is also valuable when you are living in the same area. Scanning social media in Dhofar helps me to understand how food is conceptualized during the holy month of Ramadan. The analysis of the images comes next, but for now I am trying to discover the range of images and sorting through to see what kind of categories are found (and not found). In this post are some examples of food images in Ramadan greetings, different type of images with Vimto (a drink that has become associated with Ramadan), efforts by the government/ official channels to encourage good eating and generous behavior and an example of how prepared food is sold.

Food as a part of typical Ramadan greetings


The importance of Vimto!


Vimto at McDonald’s and Baskin-Robbins


Vimto as decoration


Fun with Vimto

vimto - moon

Efforts by government and private entities to improve eating habits during Ramadan

ramadan - nuts

This slideshow is stills from an ad which makes fun of people who have too much of something as a way to caution people against making too much (and then wasting) food at Iftar: a man who has several watches, a woman who has several TVs, a man wearing several hats, then the message.


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Stills from a short video reminding people to not embarrass (judge) others during Ramadan. The video starts with 2 women preparing iftar, one is seen by a man as she eats a samosa. Then you see the family sitting at the table and enjoying iftar. The man pretends to ask the girl if she is enjoying the food, then humiliates for breaking her fast. As she looks sad, his wife pulls his dishdash and explains that she has a lawful reason not to fast.


There are many photos to children helping to prepare Iftar/ handing out food

iftar help

Selling prepared food for Iftar:


The photos of the woman selling food are taken from an ad on social media which shows close-ups of several types of food and an description of the exact location of her tent.


Bibliographies: Research on Dhofar, Food & Anthropology, and Teaching Literature

(photo by M. A. Al Awaid)

Bibliography of Works Consulted for Research on Dhofar, Oman

Annotated Bibliography of Texts Pertaining to the Dhofar Region of Oman

Selected References for Research on Foodways and Society in Dhofar, Oman  – primarily texts relating to food/ cooking/ cuisine and anthropology

Selected Bibliography: Primary and Secondary Texts for Literature Teachers on the Arabian Peninsula


What I’ve Been Reading: Food, Cooking, Cuisine, Culture, Anthropology, & History

(image from Instagram account of Tiny Spoon, tiny_spoon, full image below)

Food Practices in Southern Oman – My current research focuses on food practices in the Dhofar region, specifically how food is used to show personal generosity and how eating together defines and enhances social relationships.

[this post reflects my current reading – the permanent link for my updates food/ culture bibliography is: Selected References for Research on Foodways and Society in Dhofar] 

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.

Avieli, Nir and Rafi Grosglik. (2013). Food and Power in the Middle East and the Mediterranean: Practical Concerns, Theoretical Considerations. Food, Culture and Society 16.2: 181-195.

Appaduari, Arjun. (1985). Gratitude as a Social Mode in South India. Ethos 13.3: 236-245.

Boxhall, P. G. 1966. Socotra: ‘Island of Bliss’. The Geographical Journal 132.2: 213-222.

Brown, Victoria. (2014). Language: A Taste of Reality. One Dish Closer. http://www.onedishcloser.com/food-anthropology/2014/3/19/language-a-taste-of-reality.html

Campbell, Felicia. (2015). The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia. London: Andrew McMeel.

Clements, Frank. (1977). The Islands of Kuria Muria: A Civil Aid Project in the Sultanate of Oman Administered from Salalah, Regional Capital of Dhofar. Bulletin (British Society for Middle Eastern Studies) 4.1: 37-39.

Cleveland, Ray. (1960). The 1960 American Archaeological Expedition to Dhofar. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 159: 14-26.

Ciezadlo, Annia. (2011, April 25). Eat, Drink, Protest: Stories of the Middle East’s Hungry Rumblings: Buying Peace, One Feast at a Time. Foreign Policy 186. https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/04/25/eat-drink-protest/

—.  (2011, March 15). Eating My Way Through the Cedar Revolution (excerpt). Foreign Policy. http://foreignpolicy.com/2011/03/15/eating-my-way-through-the-cedar-revolution-2/

Coleman, Leo, ed. (2012). Food: Ethnographic Encounters (Encounters: Experience and Anthropological Knowledge). Oxford: Berg.

Counihan, Carole and Penny van Esterik, eds. (2012). Food and Culture: A Reader. London: Routledge.

Crowther, Gillian. (2018). Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food. Toronto Press: University of Toronto Press.

De Regt, Marina. (2010). Ways to Come, Ways to Leave: Gender, Mobility, and Il/legality among Ethiopian Domestic Workers in Yemen. Gender and Society 24.2: 237-260.

—.  (2009). Preferences and Prejudices: Employers’ Views on Domestic Workers in the Republic of Yemen. Signs 34.3: 559-581.

Deeb, Lara and Jessica Winegar. (2012). Anthropologies of Arab-Majority Societies. Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 537-558.

Elie, Serge. (2006). Soqotra: South Arabia’s Strategic Gateway and Symbolic Playground. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 33.2: 131-160.

Ferguson, Priscilla. (2011). The Senses of Taste. American Historical Review 116.2:  371-384.

Fieldhouse, Paul. (1998). Food and Nutrition: Customs and Culture. Cheltenham, UK: Stanley Thomas.

Fisher, Jennifer. (2003-2004). “Arabian Coffee” in the Land of Sweets. Dance Research Journal 35.2: 146-163.

Fox, Robin. (2018). Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective. Social Issues Research Centre. http://www.sirc.org/publik/foxfood.pdf

Gilette, Maris. (2019). Muslim Foodways, in The Handbook of Food and Anthropology. Jakob Klein and James Watson, eds. London: Bloomsbury Academic. 48-73.

Goody, Jack. Cooking, Cuisine and Class. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Julier, Alice. (2013). Eating Together: Food, Friendship, and Inequality. Chicago: University of Illinois, 2013.

—. (2013). Meals: ‘Eating In’ and ‘Eating Out’ in The Handbook of Food Research. Anne Murcott, Warren Belasco and Peter Jackson, eds. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Julier, Alice and Lindenfeld. (2005). Mapping Men onto the Menu: Masculinities and Food. Food & Foodways, 13:1–16.

Jurafsky, Dan. (2014). The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu. New York: W. W. Norton.

Klein, Jakob and James Watson, eds. (2019). The Handbook of Food and Anthropology. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Lichfield, Gideon. (2010, January 15). A Look Inside the Middle East’s New Weapons of Mass Consumption. Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2010/01/15/food-fight-4/

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

Mauss, Marcel. (2011/ 1924). The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. Mansfield Centre, CA: Martino Publishing.

Mbaga, Msafiri Daudi. (2015). The Prospects of Sustainable Desert Agriculture to Improve Food Security in Oman. Consilience 13: 114-128. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26427275

Meneley, Anne. (2007). Fashions and Fundamentalisms in Fin-De-Siecle Yemen: Chador Barbie and Islamic Socks. Cultural Anthropology 22.2: 214–243.

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.

Mintz, Sidney. (1996). Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions into Eating, Culture, and the Past. Boston: Beacon Press.

Mintz, Sidney, and Du Bois, Christine. (2002). The Anthropology of Food and Eating. Annual Review of Anthropology 31:99-119.

Morris, Miranda. (1997). The Harvesting of Frankincense in Dhofar, Oman. In Alessandra Avanzini, ed.  Profumi d’Arabia. Rome: L’Erma Bretschneider: 231-250.

—. (1987). ‘Dhofar – What Made it Different’ in Oman: Economic, Social and Strategic Development. B.R. Pridham, ed. London: Croom Helm. 51-78.

Nagy, Sharon. (2000). Dressing up Downtown: Urban Development and Government Public Image in Qatar. City and Society 12(1): 125-47.

—. (1998). “This Time I think I’ll try a Filipina”: Global and Local Influences on Relations between Foreign Household Workers and their Employers in Doha, Qatar. City and Society 10(1): 83-103.

Omezzine, Abdallah. (1998). On-shore Fresh Fish Markets in Oman. Journal of International Food and Agribusiness Marketing 10(1): 53-69.

Omezzine, Abdallah, Lokman Zaibet and Hamad Al-Oufi. (1996). The Marketing System of Fresh Fish Products on the Masirah Island ion the Sultanate of Oman. Marine Resources Economics 11: 203-210.

Popp, Georg. (2018). Notes on the Omani Kitchen Eating with Tradition. Just Landed. https://www.justlanded.com/english/Oman/Articles/Culture/Notes-on-the-Omani-Kitchen

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.

Roseberry, William. (1996). The Rise of Yuppie Coffees and the Reimagination of Class in the United States. American Anthropologist, New Series, 98.4: 762-775.

Rubin, Aaron. (2015). Recent Developments in Jibbali. Journal of Semitic Studies 60: 431–441.

Sadeghin, Farideh. (2015, Oct. 27). The Food of Oman is Too Good to Ignore: Recipe-testing a Middle Eastern Cookbook Gives our Test Kitchen Director a New Love for an Under-appreciated Cuisine. Saveur. https://www.saveur.com/food-of-oman-cookbook-cuisine-felicia-campbell

Stoller, Paul and Cheryl Olkes. (1986). Bad Sauce, Good Ethnography. Cultural Anthropology 1.3: 336-352.

Stork, Joe. (1973, March). Socialist Revolution in Arabia: A Report from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. MERIP Reports 15: 1-25.

Swift, Candice Lowe, ed. (2015). Teaching Food and Culture. London: Routledge.

vom Bruck, Gabriele. (2005). The Imagined ‘Consumer Democracy’ and Elite Re-Production in Yemen. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11.2: 255-275.

van Esterik, Penny, Alice Julier and Carole Counihan, eds. (2018). Food and Culture: A Reader. London: Routledge.

Watson, Janet C.E. (2013). Travel to Mecca in the Pre-motorized Period in The Hajj: Collected Essays. Venetia Porter and Liana Saif, eds. London: The British Museum. 96–99.

Watson, Janet C.E. & Abdullah al-Mahri. (2017). Language and Nature in Dhofar, in  RiCOGNIZIONI. Rivisti di Lingue e Letterature straniere e Culture moderne.  Simone Bettega and Fabio Gasparini, eds. Turin: University of Turin. 87–103.

Webster, Roger. (1991, October). Notes on the Dialect and Way of Life of the Āl Wahība Bedouin of Oman. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 54.3: 473-485.

Weir, Shelagh. (2007). A Tribal Order: Politics and Law in the Mountains of Yemen. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Yamani, Mai. (2000). You Are What You Cook” Cuisine and Class in Mecca 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.

Blogs – Omani Food

Mariya. Omani Food. https://omanifood24.blogspot.com/

Omani Recipes. (2015). Arabic Recipeshttp://www.encyclopediacooking.com/recipes_in_english/omani-recipes-53-1.html

Traditional Omani Food. (2008, March 1). https://ward-traditionalomanifood.blogspot.com/

Yasmeen. (2018). Omani Cuisine. http://www.omanicuisine.com/

Websites – Expat, Tourist and Commercial

The Delicious Cuisine of Oman! (n. d.). Holidify. https://www.holidify.com/pages/omani-food-230.html

Food and Drink – About Oman. (2018). Rough Guides. https://www.roughguides.com/destinations/middle-east/oman/food-drink/

Guide to Omani Cuisine. (2017, June 14). Expat Woman.com. https://www.expatwoman.com/oman/guide/guide-to-omani-cuisine

Medhat, Gehad. (2017, Dec, 27). The 10 Best Coffee and Tea Shops in Salalah, Oman. Culture Trip. https://theculturetrip.com/middle-east/oman/salalah/food-misc/

Medhat, Gehad. (2017, Dec, 27). The Top Restaurants in Salalah, Oman. Culture Trip. https://theculturetrip.com/middle-east/oman/articles/the-top-restaurants-in-salalah-oman/

Oman. (2018). Countries and Their Cultures.  http://www.everyculture.com/No-Sa/Oman.html

Omani Food. (2015). Best Country. http://www.best-country.com/asia/oman/food

Omani recipes and cuisine. (2018). Nestle.  http://www.nestle-family.com/english/omani-recipes.aspx

Popp, Georg. (2018). Notes on the Omani Kitchen Eating with Tradition. Just Landed. https://www.justlanded.com/english/Oman/Articles/Culture/Notes-on-the-Omani-Kitchen


mini truck

(image from Instagram account: Tiny Spoon)