Oman dining: How to make Swahili barbecue
December 13, 2017 | 5:38 PM
by Salem Afifi

It’s that time of the year where planning a family gathering and hosting a backyard cookout is on your list of things to do. Yes, winter has come, and we are all set and ready for bonfires and some fire-kissed grills, out in the open air, amid the smoky aromas of mishkak. Though in our household, we love our meats spiced up with hints from the Swahili coast, and as you’d guess, it’s as delicious as barbecues get. This week I’m inviting you to my kitchen to show you the way we marinate, grill, and have our barbecue cuts.

I cannot help but get creative with the spices whenever I’m in close proximity to a dish, I can easily mix ketchup, honey, and a whole load of other things into the marinade for the sake of experimenting with flavours. So to be fair with you all, I have invited two of my absolute favourite cooks who know how to put on a food show and entertain your taste buds. Meet Swahili food blogger Vanessa Mehri and foodie-at-heart Samiya Saud, two lovely ladies who know how to cook up a storm and serve you lip-smacking delicacies from East Africa and the region.

After meeting the ladies, I got to find out great tips on Swahili-style barbecue to take my cookout party to the next level. So, without further ado, let’s get this party started.

The Marinade

In the Swahili culture, marination is key; how you soak and mix your meats is what sets the Swahili mishkak apart from that of locals. Vanessa likes to keep it simple with a barbecue staple tamarind sauce and a generous pinch of salt and pepper, keeping the taste more meaty and full of juicy flavours. Samiya loves to add a bit of yoghurt to the mixture, as it tenderises the meat. Ingredients such as garlic cloves, chopped green peppers, onion, lime or lemon juice, and African chilli (also known as Pili Pili) can be found in the list of ingredients. After the mixing, let the meat mingle with the spices for a bit before grilling. Some food-lovers keep their meat in the marinade for a whole day, others like to have it fresh. It’s best to try both methods to see which one suits your taste buds.

The Proteins

When it comes to the meat, locals love their beefy escapades, but in the Swahili coast the barbecue game has quite a bit of variety. Though beef or lamb remains the king of chargrilled sessions, chicken, prawns, squid, and fish can be found in the list of items to barbecue, too.

Omani-style mishkak that’s sold by the road is usually served on a skewer, by itself. For me, that’s a treat; I get to taste the juiciness of the meat in all its fatty glory. Vanessa on the other hand, likes to bedazzle her skewer and add flavour to the mishkak. There’s either bell peppers, tomatoes, or onions tucked between the meat. The taste is impeccable.

The Sides

Now, for those who like to have their mishkak with something a little extra on the side, we got you covered. In Oman, we enjoy having it with crispy Omani flat bread (which reminds me of Eid), but at our household we kick it Swahili-style all the way with staple sides. The first is the most important, which is Kachumbari, a spicy onion and tomato salad mixed with cubes of cucumber, garden-fresh coriander leaves, red chilli, and a dash of salt, served with a lime wedge. This is the pinnacle of all salads in East Africa, it works with rice-based dishes, as well as sandwiches, but savouring it with mishkak is a match made in heaven.

For bread lovers, you can enjoy the meat with chapati flat breads, which are massive in size, and rougher in texture compared to parathas. Or, you can even have it with a loaf of bread. Alternatively, you can indulge a homemade ugali, a simple starch made from cornmeal, corn flour, or cassava flour. It’s a doughy delicacy that looks like cream of wheat. Just like breads in West, it’s a filler treat that accompanies almost any main dish. Having it with mishkak is a tradition that Swahili food lovers enjoy. It’s a must-try.

The Condiment

To balance out the barbecue crispiness that comes with the meats, you need a proper condiment, and I am not talking ketchup and mayonnaise kind of dips. In this culture we love our tamarind sauce a bit too much. It’s a popular option for a condiment when having barbecue, but there are varieties to how it’s served. Vanessa likes to have it blended with dates and chilli, which has an interesting zing to it. The sweet taste of dates mingle well with the mildly spicy chilli. The taste reminds me of Omani traditional dish of Orsiya (or as it’s called in Swahili, Boko Boko). Just perfect. Samiya is another hardcore fan of tamarind sauces. Her take on the sauce involves a bunch of garlic, black pepper, a hint of Nando’s mild Peri Peri sauce, and a splash of jalapeño Tabasco sauce. This is a killer dip, an absolute favourite of mine; the jalapeño mixed with the Nando’s sauce adds a tonne of character to the dip, making it the bomb of all mishkak sauces, literally. Others like to play around with their dips and experiment with different ingredients as well. In short, tamarind has to be on your shopping list before anything else. Now, go ahead and give it a try this weekend; you’ll thank me later. — [email protected]

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