Being an expat in Oman, I have enjoyed meeting people from all over the world, and in the process, my curiosity about diverse cultures and lifestyles has grown with every encounter.
Lately my curiosity, verging on obsession, has not been focused on architecture, or traditional dress, or even the languages of the diverse communities in the capital city, but on something a bit more ordinary, some might even say, humble —Breakfast.
As I started searching, I came to realise that what people eat as their first meal of the day varies tremendously from country to country. Some communities follow the “Breakfast like a king-lunch like a soldier -dinner like a beggar” rule of thumb, while others prefer eating light in the morning. Some like protein-packed eggs, meat, and beans, while others favour a more delicate spread of fresh vegetables, cheese, and bread. Some like it sweet, some like it savoury, some even like to start the day with a kick of spice. While eating a traditional breakfast might not teach me everything I need to know about my fellow expatriate’s cultures, it certainly was a delicious place to start. —[email protected]
My initial idea was to understand what people from different cultures eat at home in the morning, and I lucked out when I found a small, quaint little restaurant serving Omani home-style breakfast in pure Omani-style. Habboh, which means “grandmother” in Omani Arabic, is a petite restaurant in a quiet corner of Al Amerat. Doing complete justice to its name, the place exudes the warmth and hospitality you might receive from your doting, eastern grandma.
One of the four siblings who run the restaurant, brought out a tray filled with colourful bowls and dishes, which she explained were the same breakfast foods served in her home every morning growing up, especially when her grandma (who she misses a lot) was alive. Mardhoof, a flaky date chapatti; lightly scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions; balaleet, a dish of syrup-sweetened vermicelli noodles; a bowl of beans stewed with Omani spices; and, of course, milky, sweet karak tea were placed on the table. The young woman explained that members of an Omani family, which is generally pretty big, prefer to have a light breakfast together in the morning, usually consisting of one of these dishes along with tea or coffee. At Habboh, they serve all the dishes together.
Mardhoof was served with cute little bottles of jam and honey. The soft pieces of the bread tore effortlessly and melted in my mouth. However, the best combination I tried was thick mouthfuls of the flavoursome stewed beans, scooped up with the semi-sweet mardhoof bread. The vermicelli pasta was a nice and light morning eat without many spices or masala, exactly how I’d like my breakfast to be. The karak tea did its magic and helped me wake up, the sugar-rush energising me. Before leaving, my gracious host ran over with one last dish, a household favourite that had to be tasted: khubz muhala, a delicate, sweet Omani pancake, a whisper of a dish that was a dreamy ending to my local breakfast feast.
Habboh, Al Amerat
+968 9616 9191
Hours: 6.00am-11.00am, Saturday to Thursday
The Habboh Breakfast, OMR 2.750
Prior to 1947, India and Pakistan was one massive, diverse nation. The North, South, East, and West (and every village within these regions) each had its own culture, traditions, and foods that were unique and distinct. It follows that what people ate for breakfast in each of these states, varied drastically. As Pakistan was once part of Northern India, many of the foods, especially in the Punjab regions, are quite similar in their richness thanks to an opulent, royal Mughal past.
With this in mind, I knew that my Pakistani breakfast at Meerath, which served breakfast only on Saturdays, would be heavy and masaledaar. I made sure not to eat anything in the morning, waiting to make my visit until I was good and hungry.
As expected, bowls and bowls of calorie-filled deliciousness was served alongside sweet taftan or sheermal, a saffron flavoured flatbread; puri, a deep-fried bread, or tandoor-baked naan, with which the main dishes were meant to be eaten.
The chana and aloo tarkari, chickpeas or potatoes cooked with a whole lot of Pakistani spices, vegetables, garlic, and tamarind paste were perfect atop airy, crisp puri, and just as good wrapped in bites of sweet bread. The rich liquid of nihari, a famous slow cooked stew made with meaty broth thickened with a ghee and flour roux, topped with coriander and matchsticks of fresh ginger, was divine sopped up with fluffy naan. Sweet, milky carrot halwa finished the meal. It was hard to keep myself from losing my manners and licking my fingers, the taste was so addictive, but harder still was getting up from my seat after one of the heartiest breakfasts on earth.
Meerath Restaurant, Al Khuwair
+968 9594 6500
Hours: 9.00am to 3.30pm, saturdays
Breads: Sheermal/Tafta OMR0.300, Naan OMR0.200
Mains: Aloo or Chana Tarkari OMR0.800, Nihari OMR1.700
Sweet Finish: Halwa OMR0.500
The full English breakfast, also known as a “fry-up”, is another hearty, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast feast, which dates back centuries to the working class days of Great Britain. The standard breakfast platter consists of fried eggs, sausages (often blood sausage, though that is not available here), sautéed mushrooms, charred tomatoes, bacon, hash browned potatoes, and baked beans, along with toast and fruit juice. The historical context helps to explain this seemingly absurd amount of food. A few centuries ago, people only ate two meals a day in England—breakfast and dinner. Breakfast was never a hurried affair, as people took their time to finish their meal, which was substantial enough to get one through the workday. People began to see it as a proper meal that could be enjoyed not just in the morning, but throughout the day, leading to the birth of the all-day-breakfast menu.
Unlike the Omani tradition of dining with the family, it is completely alright to have an English breakfast in solitude, preferably with a newspaper, or as times have changed, with news updates scrolling across the screen of your Smartphone. Duke’s Bar in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Qurum offers the perfect venue for such a morning, serving an all-day full English breakfast in their dark, wood-panelled restaurant and on the wide terrace overlooking the sea at Shatti beach. No need to hurry, any time can be breakfast time for this British classic.
Duke’s Bar, Crowne Plaza
+968 2466 0660
Hours: 12pm - 3pm, & 6pm onwards, daily
All Day Breakfast, OMR 9.300
Filipinos are by far the most polite and hospitable people I’ve ever met. They also usually have considerably smaller body frames than I do. But, don’t let their delicate size deceive you, because these are people who can eat. Rice is not just a dietary staple, to Filipinos it is something of an obsession (I have a Filipino friend who prefers KFC over the other fast food joints only because of the availability of rice there).
So, when I heard that the ideal Filipino breakfast is something called Tapsilog, derived from the words tapa or fried meat, itlog, meaning egg, and sinangag, i.e. rice, I was not terribly surprised, but I was delighted.
At Palayok, beef and chicken variations of Tapsilog are available. The meat is chewy and juicy, the egg is perfectly fried to wobbly, sunny side up perfection, and, needless to say, the rice is prepared with utmost love and dedication, which is clearly reflected in the tender, flavourful grains. The elements of tapsilog are lightly pan fried and served along with dried garlic and vinegar for a filling, but not overly heavy morning meal that I sure could get used to waking up to.
Palayok, Panorama Mall
+968 2458 7370
Hours: 11.00am-1.30pm, Daily
Tapsilog, OMR2.800 including water/soft drinks
The main dishes of South Indian are believed to have been invented in the temple streets of Udupi in Karnataka. Most of these breakfast dishes are made out of rice, but not the simple steamed variety. Fine pastes of uncooked rice are made into a fermented batter, which is then added with other mixtures, such as beans or spices, and prepared in different ways depending on the dish. Since most South Indians enjoy having a heavy lunch, morning meals are lighter affairs, typically consisting of a fermented-dough bread, either as puffy idlis, soft, round white cakes that are prepared by steaming in idli trays; as a paper-thin dosa, crispy pancake made of fermented rice and urad beans, preferably eaten with sambar or coconut chutney; or as a deep-fried vada doughnut made of urad dal or legumes, served with spicy sambar and various coconut chutneys. Alternatively, the fluffy semolina-flour and fried vegetable dish known as upma can be found. One will find a different variation of each dish in each of the different South Indian states, but one is sure to find fermented dough, chutney, and local staples like lentils, chillies, coconut, and native fruits and vegetables, used to prepare these relatively mild Indian meals.
Saravana Bhavan, Al Khuwair
+968 2448 7873
Hours: 8.00am-11.30am, Daily
Breakfast is a la carte and ranges from OMR1.500 to OMR2.500
I always thought that Turkish food means shawarma. Always. So, when I went to Twin’s Fish & Chips to try their authentic Turkish breakfast I was expecting a lighter variation of shawarma to be served (or, given the name, fish of some kind). I sat enjoying the view over beautiful Shatti Beach, swaying to the sounds of beachy Hawaiian/Goan songs as I waited for my shawarma to be served. The waiter returned with a curvy glass of strong Turkish tea, known as cay. Out of all the teas and chais and karak’s I’ve had, that cay is by far the best black tea I’ve ever consumed. Though I might also have liked it so much because it was exactly what I needed to wake me up that morning.
I sipped my tea, and suddenly, a colourful surprise appeared — a big white plate filled with two different kinds of cheese, black and green olives, fresh preserves, honey, butter, cucumbers, tomatoes, a red pepper paste, and sigara böreği, cheese spring rolls. The waiter announced, “Turkish breakfast,” before rushing away. He returned shortly with a basket of warm, fresh-baked Turkish bread and a small clay pot of menemen, scrambled eggs cooked with tomatoes and green peppers. Not a shawarma in sight. The delicious, healthy breakfast was an epiphany for me, so far from what I expected. As it filled my stomach, it also set my mind alight with a whole new wave of delicious cultural and culinary questions to explore. But not until after breakfast.
Twin’s Fish & Chips, Shatti Al Qurum
+968 2234 4341
Hours: 10.00am to 11.30am, Daily
Turkish Breakfast, OMR5