Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Responsible Eating

I've read a lot recently about the environmental effects of the production of our food, in particular meat. I thought this might be as good a time as any to mention the subject, it being Ramadan. This is a month we can dedicate to our conscience and a time when fasting should give us a more frugal attitude towards food.
The global consumption of meat has become a topic of concern among environmentalists and is something for us to think about here in Oman, which is a population of fervent meat-eaters. This will be brought further into context soon with Eid al-Adha on its way (the defining feature of this holiday being the slaughter of animals). Even on regular days red meat, which once would have been considered a luxury, and still is in many parts of the globe, is eaten frequently. For many families it would be considered bad hospitality not to serve such an excessive amount of meat to guests that they would barely be able to make an impression in it (forgive me for generalising, I'm sure its not universally the case).
Besides the well-known health risks of consuming too much read meat, there are some really startling environmental factors. Meat production requires vast amounts of water and grain and the animals' waste is pollutant (cow manure emits methane and nitrous oxide). For the grain alone,huge areas of the world's rain forests have had to be destroyed. The production of beef produces 24 times the amount of greenhouse gases as vegetables. Apparently, 12,000 gallons of water is required to produce one pound of beef, compared with 60 for the same weight in potatoes. And its not just industrial-sized confined factories; free-range meat has the same requirements but also needs substantial amounts of space.
I may seem like some ranting vegetarian but I'm not, I just believe in valuing moderation, not excess. The world's population is bursting along with its consumption, and a little moderation would definitely go a long way. I think the shocking stats are a deterrent enough (although if that doesn't do it the talk about methane certainly does).

Its not looking so tasty now is it?!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Iftar at the Chedi

Since coming to Oman I have become somewhat of a connoisseur of restaurants and cafes (well perhaps connoisseur is stretching it a bit). The variety of cuisines available around Muscat means you will never be bored...or hungry. For someone who does most of the cooking at home, there is not much more appealing than dinner outside. During Ramadan particularly, a lot of time and the little energy one has is spent in the kitchen preparing for Iftar and then cleaning up afterwards. The thought of just once in a while having all of this done for you is quite wonderful.

One of my new favourite places to have a treat in Muscat has to be The Chedi, where I spent Iftar recently. For those who haven't been, The Chedi is a modestly luxurious hotel along the beachfront in Boushar. I say modest because the drive leading up to the hotel would not convince you that there is a multi-award winning hotel at the end of it. Anyone who has seen the traditional Omani-inspired architecture and interior of the hotel will agree that it is beautiful.

The restaurant itself is so attractive and has so many interesting features we found ourselves spotting new things we liked about it all night. The service was one of the highlights of the night. And that's not to say the food was bad, just that the service was exceptionally good. Our waiter was attentive to the point where he escorted us to the lobby after our meal and brought us coffee.

The food itself was delicious (well not much isn't after a day of fasting), well presented and well timed. The Iftar set menu included five courses, including a selection of juices at the start. The jallab was my favorite which was a mixture of peach and rose-water. In line with tradition, dates and laban were already on the table ready for the moment of breaking fast. This was followed by a light lentil soup and cold and hot mezze. A much needed pause....then the main. Mixed grill (nice and charcoaled) and hammour fillets. The fish was so good we asked for extra, which of course the waiter happily obliged. Followed by another pause and a breather outside, and then fresh fruit and Arabic sweets for dessert. All of this with the accompaniment of a pianist.

If there was one thing I had to find fault in its the dessert, which seemed a little unimaginative. But to be honest I was so full at that point I couldn't have eaten much anyway.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadan Kareem

Ramadan Kareem everyone!

This is a particularly special Ramadan for me because it is my first in Oman. And whilst I have some reservations about how I will cope with the unfamiliar heat while fasting, I am looking forward to it. The idea of observing Ramadan along with my (Omani) family, and even the whole country, is a great feeling and I'm keen to see all of the Ramadan conventions that for those who have lived here a long time are just routine. For example, I was pleased to learn that restaurants and many shops comply with fasting hours by closing during the day so that even those not observing Ramadan will give it some thought.

In my experience non-Muslims have often expressed their aversion to the idea of fasting for a whole month. But what they are not grasping is the fact that Ramadan represents so much more than just not eating. It is a time for spiritual reflection, attentiveness to faith and charity, and for paying tribute to Allah's grace, from which we have so much, though it doesn't have to be so. Of course it would be ideal to apply this all year round but I'm certain that for most people, life just becomes overwhelming. This is the purpose of this special month.

I hope this Ramadan is peaceful, productive, and painless for everyone!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Impressive Dresses

I am going to use this post to honour a new love of mine...the Dhofari thobe. The Dhofari Thobe is, to those that don't know, a very loose-fitting dress with the back trailing and the front being approximately shin-height. It is teamed with a lossi (a big rectangle of fabric worn over the head) and sometimes a pair of leggings, called Sarwal. I'm sure other styles of Omani thobe are just as nice but as my family is Dhofari, Dhofari thobes are what I wear.

There are many reasons why this ensemble is so amazing. It's very feminine and elegant being so flowy and trailing. It is available in any material you like, for every single occasion. For example, wedding thobes are usually in velvet with intricate embroidery and crystals on. Beautiful silk thobes are often worn for occasions and my favourite for everyday is cotton or this stretchy heavy fabric (I'm not sure what it's called so maybe someone else can tell me).

With thobes you don't have to worry whether you are a size 10 or a size 18 because they are very loose fitting and don't display all your lumps and bumps. They are also nice and cool to wear. But their most economical feature is that they are cheap (I'm mostly talking about the everyday ones now). It's refreshing to see that those who are wealthy go to the same shops and buy the same 3 Rial thobe and lossi set that those who are poorer do. Ideally, you can just have a small selection of thobes in different colours and then just keep buying different lossi's...for 1 Rial each! My first shopping trip to the street in Salalah where all the thobe shops are (I know it as Al Gharbiya) was heaven!

I must just mention one drawback...the Dhofari thobe doesn't appear to be intended for those who are particularly active. I have struggled to achieve household chores while wearing one, constantly sucking up a corner in the vacuum cleaner or tripping over the tail. And I have nightmares about setting myself on fire while cooking. But they are so very pretty....

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cultural Convictions

I don't want to sound grumpy, having just moaned about attitudes to women drivers, but I do have another matter of irritation that I would like to mention. I have noticed more in Oman than elsewhere the habit of making generalisations about groups of people. It isn't a thought I observe because I like to give humans the credit that each is individual, or at least has the ability to be. Also, in today's globalized world people are less inclined to conform to stereotypes of race, religion or culture, if they ever did.
In particular I will mention people's comments about "the West". I've heard a few comments but the last straw was an article I read in a newspaper (I would quote it but unfortunately I can't remember which one it was) where someone was writing about the merits of family in Oman in comparison to the West.
Now believe me, I am the first to criticise my own country for its social flaws but I like to think, having lived there all my life I have the knowledge and experience which allows me to do so. I'm not, like some, making sweeping judgements which are loosely based on some image I have gathered from TV or from hearsay.
I also don't group all the countries in the West together and make assumptions about the lot. Just as I wouldn't make generalisations on the "Middle East" as I'm aware that the cultures of say, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia are very different.
Some people obviously just like to use blanket phrases such as "the West" as a tool to elevate their own culture. Denouncing aspects of another culture is a good way of validating aspects of your own. And I am well aware that this is also relevent when applied vice versa (from West to East).
Well, I say each should look at their own flawed culture before condemning others, because if I may make one generalisation, it's that they are all flawed.