No truly authentic Omani experience is ever complete without sampling the shuwa, as it forms the cornerstone of the Sultanate’s culture. While dates and kahwa do stand out as traditional symbols of welcome from Omani hosts to their guests, when your local hosts invite you to share with them a meal of shuwa, do accept. For you are truly in for an unforgettable treat.
Consisting of tender, finger-licking, melt-in-your-mouth cuts of meat that have been slow cooked over a burning bed of coals after being rubbed with a traditional blend of herbs and spices that varies from town to town, family to family, shuwa is a delicacy that is not to be missed, with its preparation just as memorable as its consumption.
The time taken to make the finest shuwa is often more than a day. Often a specialty during Eid al-Adha, shuwa is normally eaten at family celebrations and feasts. A sacrificial goat is first skinned, and its choicest cuts are cleaned and rubbed with a spice mix.
While the women of the household prepare the goat for the shuwa, outdoors, the men are hard at work, digging a pit into which hot coals are first poured. The meat is then placed in a dish and set above the coals. To allow the heat to stay in, this 'pit' is covered with aluminium foil and banana leaves.
The entire preparation is then allowed to cook for several hours at least, and a day at most. It is, understandably, hard to wait long enough to taste the shuwa, with its delicious meaty smell often pervading the surroundings in the smaller towns and villages of the country. This aroma is powerful enough to make anyone salivate, and feasting and celebration among festivities often lasts late into the night.
Shuwa is often eaten with rice, and is traditionally consumed with hands. It is, in part, because this has always been the way the Omanis have eaten rice and meat, and because the meat is indeed so tender that it falls off the bone, making it very easy to pull apart before eating it. Doing so only adds another layer of appreciation and enjoyment while eating shuwa.
The dish is often served on a large platter, designed to both serve the entire family, and uphold the traditions of community and tribe that Omanis value so dearly. To be invited to share in the family meal is far more than just eating food. It is a symbol of the Omani family welcoming you into their home as one of their own, and it is truly an honour to be invited to do so.
Such traditional, communal meals form the cornerstone of the famed Omani hospitality and warm friendliness that has spread the good qualities of the Sultanate across the world, by those who have previously experienced them.