Traditional Omani halwa passes the test of time
July 9, 2015 | 11:19 AM
by Salim Joseph

A staple of the Omani dessert table, Omani halwa is especially popular during Ramadan. Both traditional and new styles of the national sweet are flying off the shelves of shops and factories around Muscat this month, while the secret recipes remain safely guarded by each halwa-making family.

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More than six decades have passed since Abdulrahim Abdulrahman Al Balushi opened a small halwa shop in the Barka Souq. Established in 1951, the Barka Factory for Omani Halwa shifted to a newer, bigger place in 1983, and later expanded to open outlets in Sohar, Seeb, Ghubrah, and Muttrah. Today the 80-year-old man›s sons help him run the family business. Much has changed in the decades since Abdulrahim sold his first bowl of halwa, but the famous taste of his halwa has remained the same. Some other shops have made futile attempts to replicate this taste but failed because they did not have the knowledge of his traditional method or access to the original recipe.

“Omani halwa is a symbol of Omani culture and heritage and we have to take extremely good care to preserve it. Here, officials from various departments including the Ministry of Health and the municipality conduct regular inspections to ensure the quality,” says Younis Abdulrahim Al Balushi, the eldest son of Abdulrahim. Of course, he has added some diversity to his range of sweets, including special halwas that use a range of ingredients including dry fruits and nuts.

At the Barka Factory for Omani Halwa, they have halwa in three colours – white, black, and yellow –in five types numbered (No.1 to No.5) as per the quality and cost.

“Number One is priced high (OMR10 per kg) and has a larger quantity of ingredients like saffron, rosewater, dates and various nuts and dry fruits,” points out Younis. The prices range from OMR1.700 to OMR10, and the factory on an average makes around 200 to 300 kilogrammes of halwa daily.

“Our customers are mainly local Omanis, people from other GCC countries, various government and private institutions and Omani embassies in other countries, where we supply halwa during national holidays. Besides, the company caters to orders from countries across the globe,” he adds.

Murshid Ali Al Hosni, the owner of Al Hosni Omani Sweets in Mawaleh, is another halwa maker who is proud to have inherited the secret recipe from his forefathers, and equally pleased to have added new range to the traditional sweet.

“Many people in Oman and outside have tried to prepare Omani halwa and have failed. The taste has been preserved over one thousand years, the recipe passed on through generations, and it is a secret which we do not reveal,” says Murshid.

Al Hosni Omani Sweets, currently located in Mawaleh, was started in 1960 by Murshid’s grandfather Ali Sulaiman Al Hosni and later run by his son Salim Ali Suleiman Al Hosni, Murshid’s father.

“Initially we had a small shop and a factory in Seeb area but now we have this big property. We also have 12 branches in the United Arab Emirates and one in Qatar. In Oman, we will have a new outlet in Al Khuwair by the end of August,” says Murshid.

Now making ten varieties of Omani halwa, Murshid says he ensures the use of the best saffron, which comes from Iran.

“Besides, the rosewater we use is either from Jebel Akhdhar or from Iran. You can buy cheap varieties of rosewater, but these do not effuse an authentic taste and may not last long. Our halwa can last for three months without losing its original taste and flavour,” he claims.

Murshid’s halwa factory also produces a variety of sugar-free halwa for diabetics, made of milk, dates, and figs, apart from sesame and nuts. On a normal day, they make between 50 and 70 kgs of four to five types of halwa.

“Our halwa moves fast and one can get fresh supply every day,” he adds.

Murshid has also undertaken a novel venture. He makes a combination of Omani halwa and other sweets like Swiss chocolates and various biscuits. His company has partnered with a Swiss chocolate manufacturer, and the new fusion products have been selling briskly.

“It is about experiencing Omani halwa in a new way and it has been a hit among people, especially among those outside Oman. We are now receiving orders for this combination of Omani halwa with Swiss chocolates from many five-star hotels here,” he adds.

At Murshid’s shop, the halwa can be purchased in attractive bowls and boxes with traditional Omani designs, which makes it a perfect gift item. The price ranges from OMR2 to OMR6 when the halwa comes in normal plates, but there will be an additional cost if someone asks for special gift boxes. One kilogram of halwa in a Khanjar-shaped box with cups and spoons will cost OMR35, but there are smaller gift boxes as well that start at OMR12.

Though Al Hosni’s main customers are still Omanis, their halwa shops cater to orders from across the globe, from other GCC countries, from places like Florida and California in the United States, and the United Kingdom.

“Though saffron halwa is the most famous one, halwa made with Omani honey, which is quite expensive, is the new trend. And it has to be cooked for about three hours, while other varieties take only 90 minutes to two hours,” adds Murshid.

Naturally, the halwa makers in and around Muscat are very proud of the traditional recipes they inherited and enjoy good business throughout the year, though the two Eids and national holidays mark their best seasons.

“Usually, in summer Omani homes keep fresh dates as an alternative, but from October and through the entire winter untill May and June, they depend on halwa. And we have the two Eids in between, besides the national holidays, so it is in demand almost throughout the year,” says Haitham Al Hosni, Murshid’s cousin who helps him to run the business. Halwa makers in Muscat are maintaining the authentic Omani flavour of this key element of Omani hospitality, while adding excitement with new variations that will ensure these deserts remain a popular treat for generations to come. As Haitham said, “It is a symbol of hospitality and tradition and is an integral part of any celebration.”

Popular Omani Halwas

Honey halwa: Made with Omani honey or other varieties available in the market

Saffron halwa: Made with saffron (high quality saffron comes from places like Iran)

Rosewater halwa: Quality rosewater including Iranian rosewater and the smokey rosewater produced locally in Jebel Akhdhar

Taste the Tradition

Barka Factory for Omani Halwa

Halwa: In three colours – White, black, yellow, Types 5 - Number 1-5 priced at OMR1.700, OMR2.500, OMR3, OMR5 & OMR10 respectively

Outlets at: Barka (26882081), Sohar (26840678), Seeb (24421063), Al Ghubrah (24492452), Muttrah and Saham

Opening hours: 7a.m. to 9 p.m.

Al Hosni Omani Sweets

Mainly 10 types of Halwa including Ameeri halwa and saffron halwa

Halwa made with Omani honey is most special and is priced at OMR6 per kg in a normal plate

Comes in attractive and traditional bowls/ boxes (with additional cost) – perfect gifts

Shop and factory at Mawaleh, new shop coming up in Al Khuwair

Contact: 99886608, 99202332

Al Amri Omani Halwa

15 types of Halwa in two colours, black and brown

Special honey halwa is priced at OMR8 per kg

Special box containing sample cups all different varieties priced at OMR3

Seven outlets - at Al Seeb (97662667), Al Khuwair (95706714), Ruwi (95902596), Quriyat (94060211), Al Amerat (95722723), Al Rumais (26893700), Suwaiq (96223646)

To get in touch with the reporter [email protected]

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