Oman defies expectations; it shouldn’t, according to the cruel logic of the world, exist. But it does, and it’s incredible.
Anthony Bourdain visited Oman once, to film season 9 (episode 7) of Parts Unknown; it was his only visit to the Sultanate of Oman – and one of the few visits he made to the Middle East as a whole. Across the seemingly endless sea of sand, its contours whipped and sculpted by the winds, where meat roasts on an open fire under an obsidian sky, Bourdain discovers Oman to be “a beautiful place, and the type I look for more and more these days.”
If you’re planning a trip to Oman or just curious about what the culture and cuisine of this country is like, you’ve come to the right place. Below, you’ll discover a guide to the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Oman (primarily in its capital, Muscat), as well as the dishes he ate and local dining experiences he had.
Ready to discover a new destination “surrounded by some of the trickiest and most contentious powers in the region, and yet…, welcoming to outsiders, peaceful, and stunningly beautiful?” Let Uncle Tony be your guide.
Bait Al Luban (Muscat)
Before the stark, clean sand of the Empty Quarter, Bourdain first travels to the city of Muscat. Here, accompanied by local Ph.D. student Aisha Stoby, Hassan Meer, a celebrated Omani artist, and Muzna Almusafer, an Omani filmmaker. he visits Bait Al Luban for an introduction to the staples of Omani cuisine.
Oman Food is a mix of flavors, ingredients, and tastes of Arabia and Oman’s former empire. Traditional Indian pakora (fritters), kachori (a lentil pastry), and chapati bread are served as a precursor to the main course of shuwa.
An Omani specialty, shuwa is goat meat slathered with a spicy paste of cumin, coriander, red pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. The meat is then wrapped in palm leaves and buried in a hole for one or two days where it slowly bakes over hot coals. The result is a sumptuous dish, the spiced meat literally falling off the bone.
Feeney’s Restaurant & Bar (Muscat)
Tony next visits Feeney’s bar in Muscat, to meet with former soldier Ian Gardiner of the British Special Air Service. Here the two discuss the strategic importance of the Dhofar Rebellion over a glass or two of Guinness.
Local Dining Experiences Tony Had
From this point, Anthony Bourdain then heads out for a series of local dining experiences. While these aren’t ones you’ll easily be able to replicate during your own time in Amman, you might discover some of these dishes on the menus of restaurants in Muscat and smaller towns, and could certainly give them a try.
Here’s a recap of the rest of the episode, and the local meals and dishes Tony tried.
- Traveling next to the town of Al Hamra southwest of the capital, Tony visits the home of Zahara as-Awfi and her family and is treated to a delicious home-cooked meal of more Omani dishes. Amongst the dishes served are kabuli laham, slow-cooked goat in a rich rice pilaf scented with star anise, musanif djaj, a local specialty of pan-seared dumplings stuffed with chicken, pepper, ginger, turmeric and onions, and freshly baked Omani bread with honey.
- Moving through the country and into the Jebel Akhdar mountain region, Bourdain finds a labyrinth of wadis, lined with terraced orchards known for their pomegranates, nuts, apricots, and dates. Dining with Hamdan al-Saqrian, an engineering student from Muscat who was born and raised in Jebel Akhdar to a long line of farmers, Tony is served the Omani version of biriyani, this time served with potato, and roasted lamb served with a harissa yogurt sauce.
- A land of contrasts, Oman is home to not only deserts and mountains but a coastline and a vibrant fishing industry. Tagging along with a group of freedivers to experience firsthand the variety of seafood found in the region, Tony is served freshly grilled sardines and prawns, cuttlefish masala, local slipper lobsters, and an Omani cookout staple called mashakeek. This dish consists of cubed beef on skewers rubbed with cumin, garlic, and cardamom then grilled over hot coals, BBQ style.
- No stranger to the Empty Quarter, Bourdain finishes his trip by returning to the place where the sand seems to stretch forever. Here he meets Amer al Wahibi, a Bedouin man, and Mark Evan, a British explorer. Seated around a Bedouin campfire as the sun dips below the horizon, a variation of lamb ouzi is prepared. This time, the freshly butchered lamb is placed in a pot with water, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, and buried in a hole in the sand under hot coals. Being the guest of honor, Tony is given the task of cracking the head of the animal to remove the soft cheek meat and eyeballs. The rest of the meat is then picked from the bones, as Bedouin music plays and the campfire flickers, casting a tableau of serenity across the desert’s vast and desolate space.
Have any other questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Oman? Let me know in the comments.