Photos for my presentation “The Costs and Benefits of Fishing in Southern Oman,” Sept. 1, ‘Fish as Food’ conference, International Comm. on the Anthro. of Food and Nutrition

“The Costs and Benefits of Fishing in Southern Oman,” Dr. M. Risse

Fish as Food: Lifestyle and a Sustainable Future, International Commission on the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

hosted at the University of Liverpool, Sept 1-3, 2021, http://www.icaf2021.uk/

(photo by Onaiza Shaikh)

Below are a collection of photos to help document the types of boats used and the coastal areas. I am very grateful to Onaiza Shaikh, Hussein BaOmar, M. A. Al Awaid and S. B. for kindly giving me permission to use their photos to help illustrate cultural issues in Dhofar.

Fishing boats and dhows, photos by Onaiza Shaikh

Fishing boats and fish by Hussein BaOmar

Catching sardines and drying abalone by M. A. Al Awaid

Sardine catch and coastal areas by S. B

Data for my presentation “The Costs and Benefits of Fishing in Southern Oman,” Sept. 1, ‘Fish as Food’ conference, International Comm. on the Anthro. of Food and Nutrition

“The Costs and Benefits of Fishing in Southern Oman,” Dr. M. Risse

Fish as Food: Lifestyle and a Sustainable Future, International Commission on the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

hosted at the University of Liverpool, Sept 1-3, 2021, http://www.icaf2021.uk/

(photo by S. B.)

This post contains:

  • the abstract
  • data set discussed in the presentation
  • selected bibliography
  • list of seafood

Abstract

My presentation discusses two important questions about fishing economics: how much does it cost to catch fish and how does that expense create a social benefit for fishermen, regardless of the money earned from the catch? My research is based in Dhofar, the southern region of Oman, where I have been looking at the theme of generosity, including sharing food, for more than ten years. In this presentation I will explain how much a typical day and season of fishing costs a fisherman, as well as how giving away part of every catch creates a benefit that is more than monetary. Using interviews and personal experiences, I will explain how the cash outlay for gas, nets, bait, etc. is transformed into social, in addition to economic, capital for fishermen.

Data Set

To give an overview of the fishing industry from data collected by the Omani National Center for Statistics and Information (ONCSI), latest available yearly data is 2019, latest monthly data is April 2021:

  • renewed fishing licenses in Dhofar – 2,424 (33%, out of 7,266 for all of Oman)
  • new in Dhofar – 324 (20%, out of 1,607 for all of Oman)
  • renewed boat licenses in Dhofar – 998 (11%, out of 8,847 for all of Oman)
  • new boats in Dhofar – 57 (10%, out of 547 for all of Oman)
  • tons landed by traditional fishermen in Dhofar – 74,400 (14%, out of 550, 210 tons for all of Oman)

In other words, in 2019 in Dhofar 2,748 licensed fishermen using 1,055 boats caught 74,400 tons

Two other data points. First there is a wide seasonal variation because of the monsoon season: approximately 7,794 tons in October 2020 – 10,653 tons in December 2020 – 5,447 tons in February 2021

Secondly, at the last monthly data set available: April 2021: 8,401 tons were landed in Dhofar by traditional fishermen and the same month 1,392 tons landed by all commercial fishermen

information from the ONCSI at:

Selected References about Fish/ Fishing in Dhofar/ Oman (including cooking and historical texts)

In brief, there has been work done on the types of fish along the Omani coast (e.g. Al-Jufaili, Hermosa, Al-Shuaily and Al Mujaini 2010; Choudri, Baawain and Mustaque 2016, Harrison 1980; McKoy, Bagley, Gauthier and Devine 2009) and how fish are sold (e.g. Al-Marshudi and Kotagama 2006; Al Rashdi and Mclean 2014; William and Fidelity Lancaster 1995; “National Aquaculture Sector Overview-Oman” 2019; Omezzine 1998, Omezzine, Zaibet and Al-Oufi 1996; Siddeek, Fouda and Hermosa 1999).

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.

Al-Jufaili, Saud, Greg Hermosa, Sulaiman S. Al-Shuaily and Amal Al Mujaini. 2010. “Oman Fish Biodiversity.” Journal of King Abdulaziz University 21.1: 3-51.

Al-Marshudi, Ahmed Salim and Hemesiri Kotagama. 2006. “Socio-Economic Structure and Performance of Traditional Fishermen in the Sultanate of Oman.” Marine Resource Economics 21: 221-30.

Al Maskiry, Fawziya Ali Khalifa. 2004. A Taste to Remember, 3rd edition. Muscat: Al Nahda Press

Al Rashdi, K. and E. Mclean. 2014. “Contribution of Small-Scale Fisheries to the Livelihoods of Omani Women: A Case Study of the Al Wusta Governorate.” Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries: Navigating Change – Asian Fisheries Science Special Issue 27S: 135-149.

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

Carter, Henry. 1846. “The Ruins of El Balad.” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 16: 187-99.

—. 1845. “Notes on the Gara Tribe.” Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society: 195-201.

Choudri, B., Mahad Baawain, and Mustaque Ahmed. 2016. “An Overview of Coastal and Marine Resources and their Management in Sultanate of Oman.” Journal of Environmental Management and Tourism 7.1: 21-32.

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.

Cruttenden, Charles. 1838. “Journal of an Excursion from Morbat to Dyreez, the Principal Town of Dhofar.” Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society 1: 184-88.

Ghazanfar, Shahina. 1998. “Status of the Flora and Plant Conservation in the Sultanate of Oman.” Biological Conservation 85: 287-295. 

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

Haines, Stafford. 1939. “Memoir to Accompany a Chart of the South Coast of Arabia from the Entrance of the Red Sea to Misenat, in 50, 43, 25 E. Part I.” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 9: 125-56.

—. 1845. “Memoir of the South and East Coasts of Arabia: Part II.” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 15: 104-60.

Harrison, David. 1980. The Journal of Oman Studies: Special Report 2: The Oman Flora and Fauna Survey 1975. Muscat: Diwan of H. M. for Protocol.

Higgins, Andrew. 2011. With the S.A.S. and Other Animals: A Vet’s Experiences during the Dhofar War 1974. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Publishing.

Ibn al-Mujāwir. 2008. A Traveler in Thirteenth-Century Arabia: Ibn al-Mujāwir’s Tarikh al-Mustabir 19, Third Series, G. R. Smith, trans. London: Ashgate for the Hakluyt Society.

Ibn Battuta. 1929. Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354. H.A.R. Gibb, trans. London: Rutledge.

Janzen, Jorg. 2000. “The Destruction of Resources among the Mountain Nomads of Dhofar,” in The Transformation of Nomadic Society in the Arab East, University of Cambridge Oriental publications 58. Martha Mundy and Basim Musallam, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 160-75.

—. 1986. Nomads in the Sultanate of Oman: Tradition and Development in Dhofar. London: Westview Press.

The Journal of Oman Studies: Special Report 2: The Oman Flora and Fauna Survey 1975. Muscat: Diwan of H. M. for Protocol.

Kanafani, Aida Sami. 1979. Aesthetics and Ritual in the United Arab Emirates. unpublished dissertation, University of Texas at Austin.

Lancaster, William and Fidelity Lancaster.  1995. “Nomadic Fishermen of Ja’alân, Oman.” Nomadic Peoples 36/37: 227-244.

McKoy, John, Neil Bagley, Stéphane Gauthier, and Jennifer Devine. 2009. Fish Resources Assessment Survey of the Arabian Sea Coast of Oman – Technical Report 1. Auckland: Bruce Shallard and Associates and the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

Mendonca, Vanda, Barry Jupp, Musallam Al Jabri, Thuraya Al Sariri and Mohamed Al Muzaini. 2003. National Report on the State of the Marine Environment. Muscat: Ministry of Regional Municipalities, Environment & Water Resources, Marine Pollution and Coastal Zone Management Section.

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, Jan. 2008/ 1957. Sultan in Oman. London: Eland.

Morris, Miranda. 1987. “Dhofar – What Made it Different’,” in Oman: Economic, Social and Strategic Development. B.R. Pridham, ed. London: Croom Helm. 51-78.

“National Aquaculture Sector Overview-Oman.”  2019.  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations-Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. http://www.fao.org/fishery/countrysector/naso_oman/en

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 in the Sultanate of Oman.” Marine Resources Economics 11: 203-210.

Patzelt, Annette. 2015. “Synopsis of the Flora and Vegetation of Oman, with Special Emphasis on Patterns of Plant Endemism.” Braunschweigische Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft. 282-317. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281240453_Synopsis_of_the_Flora_and_Vegetation of_Oman_with_Special_Emphasis_on_Patterns_of_Plant_Endemism

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

Saunders, J. P. 1846. “A Short Memoir of the Proceedings of the Honorable Company’s Surveying Brig ‘Palinurus,’ during Her Late Examination of the Coast between Ras Morbat and Ras Seger, and between Ras Fartak and the Ruins of Mesinah.” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 16: 169-86.

Serjeant, R. B. 1995. Farmers and Fishermen in Arabia: Studies in Customary Law and Practice. G. Rex Smith, ed. Aldershot, Variorum.

Siddeek, M., M. Fouda and G. Hermosa. 1999. “Demersal Fisheries of the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf.” Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 49.1: 87-97.

Tabook, Salim Bakhit. 1997. Tribal Practices and Folklore of Dhofar, Sultanate of Oman. Unpublished PhD thesis, Faculty of Arts, Exeter University.

Thesiger, Wilfred. 1991/ 1959. Arabian Sands. New York: Penguin.

Thomas, Bertram. 1932, reprint. Arabia Felix: Across the Empty Quarter of Arabia. London: Jonathan Cape.

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.

Wilkinson, J. C. 2013. Water & Tribal Settlement in South-East Arabia (Studies on Ibadism and Oman). New York: Georg Olms Verlag.

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.

topic – fish types

Al-Jufaili, Saud Greg Hermosa, Sulaiman S. Al-Shuaily and Amal Al Mujaini. 2010. “Oman Fish Biodiversity.” Journal of King Abdulaziz University 21.1: 3-51.

Choudri, B., Mahad Baawain, and Mustaque Ahmed. 2016. “An Overview of Coastal and Marine Resources and their Management in Sultanate of Oman.” Journal of Environmental Management and Tourism 7.1: 21-32.

Harrison, David. 1980. The Journal of Oman Studies: Special Report 2: The Oman Flora and Fauna Survey 1975. Muscat: Diwan of H. M. for Protocol.

The Journal of Oman Studies: Special Report 2: The Oman Flora and Fauna Survey 1975. Muscat: Diwan of H. M. for Protocol.

McKoy, John, Neil Bagley, Stéphane Gauthier, and Jennifer Devine. 2009. Fish Resources Assessment Survey of the Arabian Sea Coast of Oman – Technical Report 1. Auckland: Bruce Shallard and Associates and the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

topic – catching fish

Al-Marshudi, Ahmed Salim and Hemesiri Kotagama. 2006. “Socio-Economic Structure and Performance of Traditional Fishermen in the Sultanate of Oman.” Marine Resource Economics 21: 221-30.

Al Rashdi, K. and E. Mclean. 2014. “Contribution of Small-Scale Fisheries to the Livelihoods of Omani Women: A Case Study of the Al Wusta Governorate.” Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries: Navigating Change – Asian Fisheries Science Special Issue 27S: 135-149.

Lancaster, William and Fidelity Lancaster.  1995. “Nomadic Fishermen of Ja’alân, Oman.” Nomadic Peoples 36/37: 227-244.

Mendonca, Vanda, Barry Jupp, Musallam Al Jabri, Thuraya Al Sariri and Mohamed Al Muzaini. 2003. National Report on the State of the Marine Environment. Muscat: Ministry of Regional Municipalities, Environment & Water Resources, Marine Pollution and Coastal Zone Management Section.

“National Aquaculture Sector Overview-Oman.”  2019.  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations-Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. http://www.fao.org/fishery/countrysector/naso_oman/en

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 in the Sultanate of Oman.” Marine Resources Economics 11: 203-210.

Siddeek, M., M. Fouda and G. Hermosa. 1999. “Demersal Fisheries of the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf.” Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 49.1: 87-97.

List of seafood

This is a short list of types of seafood eaten in Dhofar. It is not comprehensive and rough translations are given in italics, A – Arabic, G – Gibali.

abalone – sufela, regulated season for a few weeks at the end of November/ December, depending on quantity, some years the season is canceled

amberjack – A shathruch, G shatrach

barracuda –  A akama/ G ‘eqmat (not perceived as dangerous for swimmers close to shore but possibly dangerous for men diving for abalone as fish is attracted to anything sparkling, might bite hand, for example, if person is wearing something silvery)

belt fish – G sasul

black tip trevally – A thumkeri (thum-ker-ri), G thumkiri (thum-kir-ri)

cuttlefish – A habaar, G tarbha, common, usually used for BBQ (not seen as delicacy)

farsh – A gazelle/ G batemeera (only caught with ‘live’ bait, e.g. cut sardines)

grouper –  andak/ andaka/ G. anthka (usually in deepwater @ 200 meters, comes closer to shore in khareef when it can be caught by line)

hagmam – A shatruck/ G shatraq (2rd or 3rd most expensive fish after kingfish, only caught in boxes)

hamour – G difn (2nd or 3rd most expensive fish after kingfish, caught in boxes or by live, usually favorite fish to eat

king fish – A kanud/ G tharnak (most expensive fish at 3 or 4 OR per kilo, caught by line and net, now protected by a winter ‘season’ [allowed to be caught and publicly sold only at certain times], fairly rare in Dhorfar because it prefers flat, sandy seabeds and Dhofar coast/ seabed is usually rocky except the straight, flat beach between Raysut and Taqa)

lobster – shaarkha, regulated season from March to end of the April

mahi-mahi – A anfluss, G bathubon (caught by line)

mussells – A zukka, G zikt (gathered by women at low-tide, often cooked with pasta, usually found along coast north of Salalah)

red mullet – A and G zajajee (only in deep water, caught in boxes)

red seabream – A  fraha/ G farhat (usually in deepwater @ 200 meters, comes closer to shore in khareef when it can be caught by line)

saafi – A seesan, G seedhob (used to be a very important fish for trading, was dried and shipped to other countries, still eaten but not dried and shipped, usually in 2 – 3m water)

salted fish – A marakh malah – salt and raw fish layered in a bucket, covered and kept for 1 to 4 weeks

sardines – freshly caught are served grilled; air-dried (usually on a beach) are used for animal fodder

sea catfish – A khann/ G gamm – least expensive kind of fish, often 200 or 300 baisa per kilo

shark – not often caught/ eaten, owaal – dried shark (sliced open, cleaned and, with skin still attached, the meat is sliced into thin sections, this is dried in the sun for 2 to 10 days, fewer days with lower humidity)

sheri – A shari/ G hamshk

squid – A habaar, G atharaya – usually caught only in khareef, and further north along the coast than Salalah – often 2-4 kilo, better tasting than cuttlefish

sultan Ibrahim – G. ali br dughun (caught in boxes, not by line)

tuna – unregulated season from the end of January/ beginning of February until end of May, best times are March and April, depending on ocean temperature

trevally – A/ G minaya

I will be presenting about Dhofari Fishermen at the ‘Fish as Food’ conference organized by the ICAF, hosted by the Univ. of Liverpool

Fish as Food: Lifestyle and a Sustainable Future

International Commission on the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition, hosted at the University of Liverpool

ICAF Conference 2021

Sept 1-3, 2021

 

The Costs and Benefits of Fishing in Southern Oman

Dr. Marielle Risse

My presentation discusses two important questions about fishing economics in the Dhofar region of Oman: how much does it cost to catch fish and how does that expense create a social benefit for fishermen, regardless of the money earned from the catch?  I have been looking at the theme of generosity, including sharing food, for more than ten years and in this presentation I discuss how much a typical day and season of fishing costs a fisherman, as well as how giving away part of every catch creates a benefit that is more than monetary. Using interviews and personal experiences, I explain how the cash outlay for gas, nets, bait, etc. is transformed into social, in addition to economic, capital for Dhofari fishermen.

 

 

Today I will be presenting my talk “Ethical Eating in Southern Oman” for the Just Food conference, hosted by the Culinary Institute of America and New York University.

 

“Ethical Eating in Southern Oman.” 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. 

 

My presentation combines research from the fields of anthropology and food studies to examine the connections between food and morality in Dhofar, the southern region of Oman. Much has been written about Arab hospitality in terms of generosity to guests, but this presentation focuses on two other aspects of food-related behaviors: the ethical way to eat and to dispose of food.

 “Ethical eating” refers to two common behaviors in Dhofar. One is the social pressure to eat in such a way that the left-over food is “clean,” meaning suitable to give to others because it is not touched by people’s hands. A second issue is that the remaining food must be given away, as quickly as possible, following the culturally-accepted sharing hierarchy of friends/ family, other humans, then animals.

 The information discussed has been gathered from formal interviews during 2019-2020 and countless social events with Dhofari informants and friends over the past 14 years.

This work is part of my Foodways in Southern Oman project.

Foodways in Southern Oman (Routledge) 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.

 

https://www.routledge.com/Foodways-in-Southern-Oman/Risse/p/book/9780367859558

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

 

Foodways – Thoughts on Iftars, Food and Cultures

One aspect of living in Dhofar that can be hard to explain is that people are often judged on the intention, not on the rightness (or wrongness) of the action. I have been the happy recipient of this characteristic as I muddle along trying to do what is appropriate.

A few days into Ramadan my doorbell rang about half an hour before the maghreb (sunset) call to prayer which ends the day’s fast. It was an Omani neighbor who had moved in a few months before. We had waved ‘hello’ but didn’t know each other. He had set a covered paper plate, a small packet of dates and a small packet of figs down on the table next to my front door. I smiled and said, “thank you! Ramadan kareem.” He waved at me and walked back down the stairs.

The plate had 2 pieces of grilled bread with cheese, 2 quarters of a toasted sandwich with sliced hotdogs and cheese, 2 samosas with a hash of meat and potatoes and 3 spicy, breaded, fried mashed-potato rounds. YUM! Neighbors, relatives and friends often give each other plates of prepared food for Iftar, the meal at sunset that breaks the fast. This was a kind gesture and the way it was packaged meant there was no dishes that I had to return.

I knew I should reciprocate, but not the next day (which could lead to a ‘food war’). In Dhofar, with family and close friends, it doesn’t matter if or when you give a return gift, but for people you don’t know well, it’s best to wait a few days and keep the energy causal, not frantically trying to quickly repay.

So I waited a few days and then started to think what I should give. First, I should not give something that I had made as there is often a worry that I might have accidentally added something haram (forbidden). Second, I decided to give items that would keep for a few hours, so if the family already had a plan for Iftar, what I gave could be kept for a later meal or suhoor, the meal eaten before dawn.

As only a husband, wife and small child lived in the house, I went to a well-known Lebanese restaurant and bought a plate of falafels with cut tomatoes, lettuce and pickles, a container of hummus, a container of tabouli, two packets of fresh Lebanese bread and a plate of mixed, fried sweets.

Then, I went to the front of their house and was surprised to see two doorbells on the outside gate, and a low wall dividing the interior courtyard. Because of the relative position of our houses, I had only seen one side of the house, with the kitchen door through which I had seen the three occupants enter and leave. But two doorbells meant the house was subdivided, probably two close relatives and their families, which meant they would be having Iftar together and my food gift was going to be wildly inadequate.

Which is what happened. The people I knew didn’t answer, but a woman from the other side of the house opened a window and as I tried to explain what I was doing there, she said that the woman who I knew was her sister. So I handed over the bags, feeling rather stupid, and went home. Then I realized that I had mis-read the time. It wasn’t 40 minutes to Iftar (a time when most people are up and awake); it was 1 hour and 40 minutes to Iftar, often a time for napping.

But the normal Dhofari kindness won through and about five days later, my neighbor stopped by again with a plate of pakoras, vegetable samosas, triangles of tuna salad on white bread and arays [Lebanese bread sliced open, spread with spiced meat (kafta), grilled flat and cut into triangles]. And their Eid present from me? A very large box of chocolates!

***********

My favorite Ramadan treat is triangle cheese samosas: the perfect food. Delicious hot or cold and they pair with condiments from any culture: cranberry sauce, mango chutney, onion marmalade, or coconut/ green chili sauce. They are only sold in Ramadan, usually from a road-side stand set up in front of a bakery about two or three hours before the maghreb (sunset) call to prayer, earlier now because of the curfew.

These samosas are a good example of food can get connected and unconnected to religious holidays. I wonder if there are Omanis in the States who mark Christmas time by the arrival of peppermint-mocha coffees or Omanis in the UK who mark Easter by the appearance of Cadbury eggs.

The samosas are also an example of how foods which represent cultures can be very idiosyncratic. “Amazing Italian food” to me doesn’t mean pasta, it means the little stands with a cascading fountain of cool water with small pieces of fresh coconut that I first saw in Florence when I was a teenager. It seemed to me the most perfect snack and I begged my father for cash to buy pieces every time I saw one.

“German food” makes me think of my absolute terror of ordering bread in a German bakery when I lived there. Counter-people and other customers expected you to have your order ready and be able to answer the quick, sharp questions hurled at you. Hesitation or confusion resulted in many baleful glances. I would stand outside and practice saying my order to myself for a few moments before I ventured into bakeries.

(photo of a family Iftar by an informant, shared with permission to use on this website)

iftar - g

***********

an interesting ad campaign about not wasting food during Ramadan

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Foodways – Iftars in Ramadan

Ramadan started on Tuesday night in Oman. Given the circumstances of fighting Covid-19 there are fewer advertisements showing large gatherings/ family iftars (the meal eaten at sunset to break the fast). Families are highly encouraged to only share meals with those who live in the same household.

Photos such as these (above and below) are usually shared just within family members (usually with a ‘wish you were here’ kind of greeting). I asked X, who has helped me with my food research, if X might take a photo that I could use on this webpage to show a typical Dhofari iftar.

A few things to note:

  • Every-day family dinners usually have one large dish (fish or meat [cow, camel, goat] with rice or pasta) accompanied by salad and condiments, For rice dishes, plates are not needed as everyone shares from the platter. But for iftars, there is often soup (requiring bowls) and various choices, never only one dish. This means that everyone has a plate to take a little from the numerous dishes, including dates (the most important element), stuffed grape leaves, salads, sandwiches, a fruit bowl (bananas, grapes, oranges), cut fruit and/ or fruit salad with oranges, watermelon, apples, etc.
  • Three typical iftar dishes are 1) sambusas (aka samosas, a baked or fried pastry with a savory filling such as spiced vegetables, cheese or meat). Meat and vegetable sambusas are available all year, but cheese ones are usually only available during Ramadan. Sambusas are sometimes made at home but are usually bought at little covered stalls which are set up outside most bakeries from 4pm-6pm; they are sold by the kilo in brown paper bags. 2) shorba, a soup made with beef, vegetables and oats (sometimes with lemon) and 3) thareed, a dish made with khubz roqaq (raqeeq/ roqaqr, a round bread about 24 inches across and very thin) soaked in a beef or chicken stock with spices. Sweets include custards, 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), luqaymat/ loukoumades (sweet fried dumplings dipped in sugar syrup), saffron/ coconut/ chocolate cake, etc. The most important drink is laban/ labneh/ leben (fermented milk, known in America as buttermilk) which is usually taken with dates to break the fast. The second most common iftar drink is Vimto, a cordial of fruits and spices that is diluted with water. (I think of it as the Omani equivalent of eggnog, a pumpkin spice latte, or a peppermint-mocha coffee, a drink that it is ubiquitous during a holiday season; even the people who hate it admit it is part of the atmosphere.)
  • Another difference between every-day family dinners and an iftar is that normally the food is not served close to prayer times and everyone eats at the same time. There is little conversation while eating and the food is cleared away as soon as everyone is done. For iftars, as seen below, most of the food is kept in a covered containers as it has to be prepared and set out before the call to prayer. After the sunset prayer, family members will sit together for a longer time, eating slowly as they have been fasting all day. Some will eat a little, wait for some time, then eat again. Thus the iftar meal can be left out for hours and the food choices need to either be palatable at room temperature or kept in covered containers.
  • School-age children eat lunch at home, not at school, and most adults are also home for lunch which is the main meal of the day. Dhofaris who work will rarely eat a packed lunch at their desk. This means that kitchen are usually not equipped with the accoutrements for household members taking meals from the house like lunch boxes, mini ice-packs and single-serving size plastic containers. But most households share many-portion amounts of food with neighbors and relatives so there are usually inexpensive duplicates of items such as coffee carafes and glass or plastic serving dishes, and single-use thin metal containers with cardboard covers. For example the dish below with the green cover will hold a rice or pasta dish. This would be used as shown below, with the cover on to keep the food warm until the call for prayer has sounded, or filled with food and given away. A typical kitchen will have several of these so that there is no need to worry if/ when it will be returned if one is given away.

iftar k - 2

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 on the Arabian Peninsula – part 2

(photo by Salwa Hubais)

I love those moments in which foodways and culture interact in ways that take me by surprise. When I lived in Cyrus, a friend from India kept trying to find “Indian Chinese,” Chinese food spiced the way it is in India. I didn’t really understand what she meant until I moved to the Arabian Peninsula and realized that what I had thought of a “Chinese” was really “American Chinese”; there is no General Tso’s chicken outside of North America!

A non-American friend asked me why all American breakfast foods are spiced with cinnamon in the same way I wonder why people in the UK insist on putting raisins in every dish.

It’s always impossible to say what foods you will miss most when you move abroad. When I lived in Europe, I asked my mom to send me crab seasoning, a spice I never liked before and never used, but that little tin sat on my bookshelf proudly for a year.

Moving overseas always means culinary adjustments. One friend is vegetarian by choice, but when he tried to be vegetarian on the Arabian Peninsula, what he ate became the main topic of every meal. After many conversations centered around his food choices, he decided that when he was in the Middle East, he would eat vegetarian when he could (which meant, when he was alone) and ate sparingly of what was offered when he was eating with friends.

When I used to do cultural orientations for new teachers, I would tell them that everyone has unspoken/ unacknowledged expectations about foreign cultures in that they will think, “I know that X will be different but of course Y will be the same.” And when they see their “of course Y will be the same…” start to fall apart, it is painful. Especially when it comes to basics such as grocery stores (no pastrami, scone mix, turkey, toasted onions, salad-in-a-bag or soft pretzels); potato flakes are shelved next to pancake mix and every Cheeto is ‘flaming hot’ here.

You are faced with “Party fever” spray deodorant, hokey-pokey (ask someone from New Zealand), Jaggery (isn’t that a Dickens’s character?), angel delight (?), Tim-Tams (ask someone from Australia), “Chicago Sauce,” fish maw soup, and jungle oats with a recipe on the side for “fish cakes” which begins with “one tin of sardines in tomato sauce.”

The oil aisle is a pure delight. Of course you have your basics: almond oil, sunflower, coconut oil, pure ghee, Mazola, grape seed, and peanut oil, then the flights of fancy take off: olive oil from Spain and Italy, toasted sesame oil, gingelly oil, olive pomace oil, ground nut, walnut oil from France, basil, lemon, soy bean, avocado oil. The spice aisle has “Zeal” (aka MSG), “Spice for Mince,” “Zulu Fine,” “Spice for Rice,” “Spice for Mince,” “Veggie Season,” juniper berries, and my favorite: bits of raw sugar and cinnamon sticks in a grinder.

Many texts about the Middle East talk about guests being forced to over-eat or the horrors of being given camel eyes to eat. I have not seen that – my issues are with the jalapenos lurking under the cheese on pizzas, never being able to drink filter coffee (it’s always hot water added to an espresso), being invited for dinner at 8pm and having the food actually served at midnight, discovering that the dessert is sweetened shredded carrots, being invited over to chat and given a glass of tap-water and nothing else… Salads don’t have dressings, bread is not served with butter, drinks are brought out after the meal is finished – it’s different. Not better, not worse – just different.

good words

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 – a few remarks about cows and goats

Cows

After camels, cows are the most important herd animal. Cow owners will argue that they are more useful than camels because they produce more milk and have more babies. They are also said to have sweeter temperaments, but that is an argument I am not getting into, nor will I discuss which animal is smarter.

Cows are usually kept in at night, especially calves, and let out to graze freely in the day like camels. Cows roaming free are a rarity on the Arabian Peninsula, so Gulf Arab tourists often stop to take photos of them as an exotic creature. During the khareef (monsoon season, June – August) they stay in the mountains but are usually kept in during the day, because of the numerous flies, and let out to graze at night. Owners will sometimes lit smoky fires to help get rid of flies.

The local type are small (shoulder-height), often with great curving horns, and are usually placid. In the mid- and late-1970s, new breeds were brought in to increase size and milk output [see Andrew Higgins (2011) and Janzen (1986)].

Like camels, cows stick together in groups and walk in line along the sides of roads but unlike camels, cows will often lie down or stand in the middle of roads as dark tarmac roads hold the warmth of the day.

Cows and camels don’t get along well and you seldom see them feeding near each other and very rarely intermixed in the same area. Most people have one or the other, a division which is partially based on tribes or family-clans within tribes. Some tribes are known for having a preference for one or the other; friends who have different animals will occasionally argue about the relative intelligence/ worth/ temperament of the two types of animals.

As with camels, cows are usually milked by men but a woman can do it if there are no men around. Cow’s milk is often turned into samn (clarified butter) which is kept in an urn-shaped metal container. This is seen as more valuable than milk and in the past was a primary exchange item in a system of barter with townsfolk.

The same customs for herding camels obtains for cows; either a man or an expat supervised by a local man will be responsible for a herd of around 20 to 50 cows which might be all owned by one person or several family members.

Goats

The third most important herd animal is the goat. Goats don’t have the prestige of cows or camels but are also named and looked after carefully. They are herded by Dhofari women or men, or an expat laborer. A herder usually stays with the goats all day. Both men and women milk goats.

Families in town will sometimes buy a goat and keep it in the yard of their house for a few hours or days, especially before the two Eids. I was reading in my garden one evening and felt something tugging and chewing on my shirt. I looked down to find two goats snacking on my L.L. Bean oxford. Turns out my neighbor had bought three goats to fatten up for the Eid. He let them out of his garden every day at 5 pm to let them forage and they would come over and snack on my flowers.

Goats with herder (from social media)

IMG_4640

Cows on the road!

cows on road