The Sultanate of Oman, located in the Middle East near Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is becoming a popular destination for travel. Many people do not realize how safe the country is and how beautiful the country is.
Having lived here for four years, I can attest that this should be on every traveler’s list. When coming to Oman, make sure not to miss trying some of the best Omani food, sometimes mixed with a blend of Arabic and Indian spices. Some spices include cardamom and cumin.
I always like eating local food and trying new food. I have been lucky to have been invited to people’s homes to share these experiences, and I have found various restaurants around Oman that offer these dishes.
Do try eating with your right hand. Restaurants will have silverware, just in case. Usually, people share their food, so it’s good to know that the portion sizes are generous, so it is easy to share one dish with two or three people, depending on hunger levels. Some restaurants offer seating on the floor, and all restaurants have a family section for men and women.
Do not be surprised if you walk around and someone offers to invite you to have snacks or a meal with them. Take them up on the offer because the hospitality in Oman is fantastic. To know more about Omani food, see the list below of fifteen dishes to try, including a few desserts.
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Breakfast varies from restaurant to restaurant, but most come with olives, labneh – like creamy cream cheese, foul- beans, and Arabic bread. Some places also serve manakish with it, similar to a round thin pizza with cheese and zaatar. It is filling and very satisfying.
Dukanah Cafe and French Bakery in Muscat serve a great Arabic breakfast. Have a good breakfast in Sur; try Phenuq cafe, Shakshouka, and More. I recommend sharing with at least one person.
Omani Bread And Cheese
Omani bread and cheese are good for breakfast or as a snack. The bread is similar to a thin and crispy crepe. There are various choices, including bread and cheese, cheese and honey, and chips and cheese. Give the chips and cheese a try because it may sound different, but the crunchy taste of the chips mixed with cheese makes it a good one.
Most small tea and coffee shops sell it. It goes well with Karak – black tea with milk and sugar. The bread is very thin, so it is easy to order two for one person depending on hunger levels. Believe me, this will become your favorite Omani food.
This goat meat is cooked under the ground and marinated in Arabic spices, cumin, and other flavors. This dish is special during Eid Al Adha, with some families cooking it for twelve hours while others cook it for twenty-four hours. It depends on the region. Usually, the meat is marinated and wrapped in banana leaves and then placed in a wicker bag. The bag goes into a shared community fire pit.
Some restaurants also sell Shuwa. In Muscat, order it at Rozna and Bait Al Luban. Bait Al Luban also sells a delicious shuwa lasagna. Raidan and Zaki in Sur make Shuwa, which comes with rice and salad.
This dish is eaten during Eid Al Adha from the same goat meat as the Shuwa. It is barbecue skewers with hints of cumin and Arabic spices. During Eid, some families will eat Mishkek on the first day.
Many food trucks have opened around Oman, so it is possible to order the skewers at night alongside the road. It is possible to eat the skewers alone, but some people eat them with Arabic bread. This is definitely my favorite Omani food.
The rice dish comes with chicken or meat. Typically the vegetables and meat are mixed with the rice, but sometimes the meat is served separately. Some families add carrots, nuts, and potato slices.
I have only had Qabouli at friends’ homes, but one restaurant in Sur called Suri Diwanaya Restaurant, next to TMRN gym in the souq, sells it at lunch. Other restaurants may sell it, so ask when you order.
Mackboos is similar to Qabouli in that it is usually chicken and rice. Friends say that the difference is the preparation of this dish. Usually, chicken is cooked independently and added to the rice and vegetables. Restaurants will also bring yogurt and tomato salsa to add to the rice, which I recommend trying.
People make this for lunch or dinner, while other regions cook it during Eid. Meat or chicken is cooked with a grain, resembling barley, mixed with cardamom and pepper. Some add a sauce called Tersha, a combination of raisins, cinnamon, and garlic.
Some restaurants in Muscat sell Harees, and sometimes you will find people on the roadside selling them. Harees remind me of a thick porridge. The Tersha sauce adds to the flavor.
This dish takes all night because rice and meat are cooked together. It boils until the meat has dissolved from the bones. Once the bones are removed, it is time to pound on the rice and meat. My friend said it takes a long time to do this process because they make it thick.
People will eat Arsea at weddings and during Eid. Many will say that Jalan has the best Arsea because they add a lot of meat and pound the meat with palm tree branches, adding more flavor to the dish.
This is a local dish found in Sur. Sometimes you can find people selling it on the streets in the afternoon around 5 pm. It is common to eat this during Ramadan at Iftar. It reminds me of a stew with chicken, tomatoes, and potatoes inside with Arabic spices and cardamom.
Omani dates go well with Omani coffee. The Nizwa Souq has a date section; one can find a variety here. Try the dates with sesame paste or dates with cumin. In May and June, Wadi Tiwi also has tons of dates. Sometimes the locals will offer visitors dates and coffee.
If someone offers coffee to you and you want more coffee, shake the cup. Or, return the mug or put it in the bowl of water that is left out.
This triangular-shaped fried bread goes well with Karak tea. Many people eat Mandazi in the morning for breakfast or as a snack in the afternoon. It is easy to find this at small tea and coffee shops. Some places call it Gus Gus, so if they say they do not have Mandazi, try asking for gus gus.
During Ramadan, some eat this during Iftar, the food eaten after breaking the fast. I sometimes buy Mandazi for an afternoon snack when my friends and I go to the beach. It is easy to eat three or four pieces in one go. Some places will drizzle honey on top.
These donut-like fried small balls come in a few ways. In some places, they are plain with date syrup poured on top. Other shops sell them with cheese inside. I like the ones with cheese inside because they aren’t as sweet.
Most small corner tea and coffee shops sell them. They are very addictive, so it is easy to eat a lot. You can buy how much you want. 200 baisa will get you six pieces at some shops. Most shops sell them in the afternoon and evening.
This sweet dessert, made with a phyllo-like dough, is stuffed with cheese and cooked in an oven or on the stove. Usually, pistachio nuts go on top. Some places also sell Konofa with cream inside. Make sure to eat it while it’s hot.
Ravenna in Muscat is supposed to have the best Konofa, but if you come to Sur, go to Knafeh Nabulseyeh @knafeh_nabulseyeh1. For those wanting to try a small piece, it is possible to order one small one and share it with two or three people.
This sweet goes well with Omani coffee. The ingredients include ghee, cornstarch, sugar, and water. Sometimes Halwa has saffron or cardamom mixed inside. It’s pretty sweet, so taking a few small bites is best. Most supermarkets sell halwa, and there are also halwa shops. The Nizwa souq has an area with several shops selling it, and in Sur, try Al Hosni Omani sweets. I have seen hikers bring Halwa for extra energy halfway through a hike.
This dessert reminds me of a bread pudding. It is made with a puff pastry, raisins, milk, and almonds. One can find this at Rozna restaurant in Muscat, and some hotels, such as Millenium in Salalah, sell Um Ali. Personally speaking, my friend makes the best Um Ali, but I am biased.
Conclusion: Omani Food
The dishes above are so tasty, and the desserts always hit the spot. Personally speaking, Shuwa and Qabooli are two of my favorites. The smoky flavor of the Shuwa after being cooked underground hits the spot. Qabooli is also good, especially when nuts and caramelized onions are added to the rice.
The Nizwa and Mutrah souqs sell small packets of spices for those wanting to take some home. Lulu and Carrefour also have a spice section. Enjoy the food when coming to Oman. Try at least one or two of the above dishes and desserts. The flavors are full of surprises, and you will be happy to have tasted these items.
Visiting other destinations in the Middle East? Check out our other guide:
Traveling with friends, solo and in group tours, Erin has explored South America, Southeast Asia, Oceania, Europe, the Middle East, and South Africa. She is currently a freelance travel writer living in Sur, Oman. She taught English in a foundation program at a university in Sur for four years. Previously, she taught English at a university in Nanchang, China for five years. Erin is a travel writers university member, from Travel Writers Cafe, and is always planning her next trip.