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

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.

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

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)

 

 

 

Examples of Picnic Cooking – Dhofar

On beach picnics, ocean water is often used to cook seafood, for example abalone (seen in photos above and below). Fish is cooked depending on type and how quickly people want to eat. For example, if there are several medium-size fish, they will often be cut into pieces of fish heads, fish tails and fish ‘steaks.’ The bigger pieces of meat are set aside; the heads and tails are boiled in sea water until cooked.

Fish steaks and lobster are usually cooked by simply putting them in coals. Lobsters, with the heads twisted off, are nestled into ashes near coals, sometimes wrapped in aluminum foil and sometimes covered with processed cheese. Fish steaks are doused with salt and/or fish masala powder, wrapped in aluminum foil and baked on the hot coals.

Sometimes fish or meat are cooked on small ‘hibachi’ style grills. Fish can also be grilled by setting a whole, gutted fish into a two-piece, hinged grill which is closed and set on rocks over a low fire. Although it is time consuming and labor intensive, meat can be cooked in the traditional method of being placed directly on heated rocks.

Meat and fish as discussed above are usually eaten with white rice. If the food is boiled, the cooked food is taken out of the pot and set on a metal plate. The pot is rinsed, then filled with bottled water and white rice with a few handfuls of salt. After it is cooked, the rice is transferred to a large round metal plate and “oil” (samn, clarified butter) or margarine is usually added. The fish or meat is put on top of the rice, with bottles of hot sauce and/ or limes placed next to the platter. If there is no rice and the people are picnicking near a town, someone will usually go to buy bread, either paratha or pita (khbus lebnani).

Another type of picnic meal is called a “curry.” One simple recipe is to put chopped potatoes and carrots with a little olive oil in pot which is balanced on three rocks over fire. They are stirred for a while, maybe with water added, then chopped tomatoes, onions, chili peppers, okra, eggplant are added; this is stirred until tomatoes break down, then covered and kept at a simmer. Chopped pieces of meat (cow, camel or goat) or chicken with the bone still attached are added, then salt and, possibly, spices but not necessary curry powder. This is cooked, then poured onto a platter with high sides and eaten with bread.

When the food is ready and the person in charge of the meal has decided it is time to eat, instructions are given to lay the “table” (thin sheets of plastic) and people will clear the area, brushing sand off the mat. The cook puts the food on a platter and brings it to the eating place; everyone else grabs whatever is necessary such as Kleenex, limes, bottles of hot sauce or drinks and washes their hands. Guests have no role beyond perhaps getting up to wash their hands if there is a rice dish. When everything is in place, someone, usually the cook, will say bismallah [in the name of God]; everyone else will repeat bismallah and dig in.

These examples also obtain for mountain picnics, but there meat is usually eaten, not chicken or seafood.

abalone 1

Abalone, a delicacy in Dhofar (which I think tastes like tire rubber, but don’t tell anyone!)

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.  http://www.brismes.ac.uk/conference/

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!

IMG_1190

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….

kiri

cheese-2.jpg

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