Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Akal: Food

Here’s a little bit on the food related aspects of living here:

-We eat with our hands. Always. Especially rice which we eat a lot of in Oman. You collect it in your hand into a little ball and push it into your mouth with your thumb. It’s actually really fun, but it becomes necessary to watch your hands both before AND after eating. 

-We eat on the floor. Unless I'm in a restaurant, I have not eaten at a table the entire time I have been here. We’ll lay out a little rug meant for eating and then a plastic sheet over top with food placed above that. We’ll all sit in a circle around the food, legs crossed. I’m starting to get pressure sores on my ankles.

-Plates and cups. Sometimes we have our own, but it’s completely normal to share plates and cups. Plates more so. Especially rice when guests are over. We’ll put it on a big serving tray and everyone will eat from it, grabbing little bits as we go. With dips like hummus, dal, or fasulia (beans), sometimes we have our own plates, but many times, it’ll be together share with at least one other person, using bread to pick it up.

-Tea. We make tea every morning and every night with milk. After lunch, it’s always with just sugar (no milk). Lunchtime tea is only made sometimes in our house but always with guests. My family really likes to have it with bread. Crunchy bread especially. Chapati and spread cheese is also a favorite. Sometimes they’ll fill a bowl with really thin, Omani bread like tissue paper and fill it with tea. Eat it that way. I'm not usually a fan, but it is what it is. 

-Spread cheese and jam sandwiches are a must.

-Pita bread (khubaz lebnani here) and spread cheese with “Omani” chips (taste like barbecue chips) is practically a national food. Like peanut butter and jelly national except the people I've met are more vocal about it. Maybe it's more like mac and cheese. My family told me to take Omani chips back with me. J

-Rice is for lunch every day without fail. There is no question. In my house at least, but I've been told it’s common elsewhere throughout Oman.

-Yogurt is used everywhere. It’s not like the yogurt we eat most in the US. That’s considered a dessert in Oman and elsewhere I've been in the Middle East. They have yogurt without sugar but with salt instead. I personally like it mixed with rice; that’s really good. It's so popular to drink here, though. For my birthday, my family made me "ice cream" popsicles with this yogurt. It was so kind and much appreciated, but still very difficult for me to resist refusing. 

-Here there is a huge influence from both East Africa and India, so there’s a lot of food from each. The background of the family speaks to what's eaten in the home, but many restaurants are either Zanzibari or Indian. My family is Indian/Omani, so food is more oriented that way. It wouldn’t be likely to have Zanzibari food. It’s really interesting about East Africa, though. Oman used to be a mini empire stretching from Oman all the way to the coast of East Africa. It didn’t stop until the British came and said otherwise.

-Lunch is the main meal of the day. Sometimes the only meal of the day. 

-Spending time with family is really important. On the weekends, weather permitting (it’s been raining for two weeks now, so it hasn’t been possible), we’ll go out with our food and meet the family at the park for picnics. We usually go at night after the sun has gone down and the park is always so full of people.

-They don’t have much kanafeh, a personal favorite I found in Jordan/Palestine. I would recommend looking it up. It's definitely worth a search and even a trip to Dearborn. Shaami (the northern region of the Middle East) food just generally isn't found in Oman. Stuffed vegetables like Kuseh. Shwarma. Things just aren’t the same as they are in the north. So many things are different. It should have been easy to guess before I came, but if there is one thing I've realized in being here, it is that different parts of the Middle East vary in many many ways. In food, in dress, in custom. 

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