If you are in the Middle East, it is almost impossible for you not to fall in love with the most prized fruit in the region: the dates. Known for its succulent taste and sweetness, dates are a staple of the Arabian diet and are an integral part of the food culture of Oman.
Packed with dietary fibre, which helps to reduce cholesterol; potassium, an electrolyte that helps control your heart rate and blood pressure; vitamins that protect the eyes, promote healthy skin, and even help prevent the lungs and mouth cancer; as well as antioxidants that fight infection and inflammation, dates are a powerhouse of nutrition.
In the ancient times, bedouins could survive on nothing but dates and camel’s milk, because the dried fruit contained enough fat, protein, sugar, and nutrients to sustain the body. The fact that dried dates last up to a year made them even more prized in the harsh, arid desert climate where they could be transported without fear of spoilage.
Even in times of plenty, the date remained an essential and beloved snack, and today, it is unlikely that you would find a single Omani home in which dates are not on offer.
While traditionally dates have been eaten in their natural state, either fresh or dried, people are now finding creative new ways to celebrate them.
At the recently opened Meshan Dates and Sweets in Masa Mall, the Al Jabri sisters, specialises in modern twists, serving Omani coffee and unique date desserts.
The sisters strongly felt that Omani dates could be better presented in the market in a modern, international way, so in 2011 they started producing inventive new desserts with local dates and selling them under their aptly named company Meshan, which is the Omani word for the palm frond baskets that Omani farmers use to store the dates until they are ready to sell or consume.
The flavoured date desserts were a hit, so in 2015 the Al Jabri sisters launched Meshan Café. The café is a wonderful blend of traditional and modern styles, from the contemporary décor peppered with traditional items and an oversized image on one wall of village women during the date harvest.
The celebration of Omani heritage is prominent, but subtle, with touches like the use of the royal colours for the walls of the café, antique dallahs displayed on the walls, photographs of meshans and different varieties of Omani dates and a small library of suggested works by Omani writers. All of these elements come together in a sophisticated way, giving the café a hip, youthful air.
The menu is equally playful, featuring items like flaky date croissants, moist date cake, and their specialty, a unique confection of local dates mashed with flavours like cappuccino, rose, frankincense and lemon, ginger and more, and then shaped into artful, bite-sized treats.
The flavour of the date itself always shines through, and they are a perfect pairing for the strong, cardamom-heavy Omani coffee served by the dallah urn. Cappuccino and espressos are also on offer to enjoy alongside the European-style date twists.
Al Masa Mall, Muscat
+968 9779 2463