Throughout history a land of travel and trade, mentioned in “The Travels of Marco Polo”, Oman is a fascinating country, starting with its lively and colorful capital Muscat, with its museums, the old houses in the ancient walled city, its port swarming with traditional dhow sailing boats, and its Royal Opera House.
Outside the capital, Oman’s landscape is full of picturesque beauties: little mountain villages, Bedouin settlements, spectacular fortresses guarding the ancient incense routes, the natural swimming pools of the wadis (deep valleys scoured out by the rains in the mountains, usually rich with palm trees), unspoilt beaches and diving areas with turtles and dolphins.
The country’s climate is strongly conditioned by the Khareef, the summer monsoon which sweeps in from the Indian Ocean and fills the Dhofari Desert with luxuriant foliage. This makes it possible for the Boswellia trees to grow, with their perfumed incense and frankincense resins, and feeds the Aflaj, the ancient irrigation system made up of canals and dams constructed over 2,000 years ago and included by UNESCO in its World Heritage list.
The Sablat: the essence of hospitality
The heart of Oman’s hospitable culinary practices lies in the ritual of coffee and dates, and the sharing of highly spiced dishes. This takes place in the Sablat, the room in typical Omani homes where the family welcomes guests during traditional festivities.
In Oman meat and fish are frequently prepared in the tandoori, masala or tikka styles: the country’s cuisine is extremely influenced by Indian cookery, to the point where biryani (the Indian dish with aromatized rice with pieces of chicken, lamb or fish) is considered a national dish, as are kabsa or makbous (where the rice comes with a tomato sauce).
Naturally, Middle Eastern influences are strongly felt, but then again, so is African cuisine, with some restaurants serving Swahili and Dhofari dishes, where coconut is widely used.
One of the ideal times to visit Oman is at the end of Ramadan, known as Eid-al Fitr. This features a week of traditional festivities: broadly speaking the equivalent of the Christmas festivities in the West, this is a wonderful period for typical cuisine, communal feasts in villages and cities, and colorful traditional singing and dancing.
At Expo Milano 2015, Oman from four points of view
Oman’s Pavilion is subdivided into four areas, representing respectively its water, its oases, its sea and its traditions. The first area is focused above all on the management of water resources. The second concentrates on the country’s main cultivations, from the honey of the oases to hazelnuts and even the rose harvests in the mountainous region of Jebel Akhdar. Date palms represent the center of Oman’s traditions and are therefore at the center of this section, featuring the “one million palms” project, which is foreseen to be completed by 2025. In the third area the visitor explores the treasures of the country’s coastal waters and its flourishing fishing industry, still based on traditional techniques.
Oman has set itself the goal of redoubling its fishing yields over the next 30 years, and is currently implementing a series of new laws for safeguarding certain marine areas and encouraging the fishing of native fish species. The fourth area focuses on Oman’s legendary hospitality, reproducing among other things a traditional Omani kitchen, with all the utensils and ingredients necessary to prepare its delicious traditional dishes.