When in...

A few days ago I went with a girlfriend to a Persian rug showroom*.  We inspected nap and asked cotton or wool.  Afterwards we walked across the street to the Muscat Bakery and were overwhelmed with sugary treats formed into shapes and painted bright colors, pastries and breads I'd never seen and what I can now identify as a Panipuri station.  We made our way around the pastry displays and ended up in front of a cart loaded with hollow ball shaped crisps, a hole punched in the top and at least a dozen sauces and toppings arranged like a salad bar.  One of the two men behind the counter plucked a crisp from the pile and filled it with spicy potatoes before layering green flavored broth, plain yogurt, pomegranate seeds and tamarind chutney.  He handed over a small plate with two panipuri and my eyes met my friend's for just a moment before lifting my eyebrows and popping one into my mouth.

When in Rome  I thought.  Or Oman....Or India...or Pakistan...or...Sri Lanka...or...Iran...

I've had several moments like this over the past few weeks.  Moments when my nose expected the tangy lemon and thyme of Za'atar, a common spice in the Middle East, and smelled, instead, Curry, Masala and Ginger.  Times when we ate Chapati instead of Flatbread and passed by grocery store isles stacked temporarily with decorations for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.  When the local English radio station made the drive to work seem like a jaunt through the commonwealth instead of a dash along freeways cut into Arabian dunes.  We went out to dinner with some friends the other night and among the four couples, five nationalities were represented.  

I did not expect to find such a diversity of people and cultures here in Oman.  Perhaps I should have anticipated it considering Oman's 30-40% expat population, but anyway it's been a delightful surprise.  Indians, Philippinos, Pakistanis, Americans, Kiwis, Iranians, Turks, Malaysians, Thai, Australians, South Africans, Arabs from the Gulf and beyond, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis - they are all here eating their traditional foods and reconstructing their local culture.

Lately I have been finding it difficult to get a hold of what this place IS.  What it sounds like or looks like or feels like.  Of course the response to that is - it is what it is, duh - but it's sometimes hard for my librarian brain to resist the urge to catalog, to put things in boxes that make knowing easier.  But that's what I love about new places - it shakes up my catalog and makes me figure out new labels or toss them out entirely.  It reminds me that people, places and cultures can't be put in boxes - they are too complex and multifaceted to be penned in by my limited perspective.  Even though accessibility and consumption and are  my constant professional pursuit; they are horrible ways to greet the world and its people.    

The other day I caught a whiff of curry and inhaled deeply with a smile instead of making a puzzled face.  I've eaten Panipuri and learned to say Thank You in Hindi and Bangla but that doesn't quite seem like enough.  I guess we've got quite a bit more time to dig in.  

*And didn't buy a THING I'll have you know


  1. So good to read of your adventures, Brooke! What remarkable experiences (and I don't doubt, remarkably hard too at times). You rock!

  2. We loved the diversity living in Oman too. If you ever get to Ruwi, I recommend the Sigiriya 'restaurant'. Turn right after the huge neon ice cream cone sign, follow along and park in the lot across from a huge department type store. Walk through the main floor and out the back. Turn right on that little street and walk up, just past the dumpsters on the right will be the place before the road/lane moves left. It looks like a one star establishment, but has Sri Lankan home village cooking and is a Sri Lankan hangout for tea. Order recommendation: string hoppers, pol sambol (shredded coconut with spices, cukulmas curry (chicken), and parrippu (dahl curry). Seeni Sambol is another dish (sweetened onions) to compliment. All goes on the plate and you eat with your right hand, mashing the string hoppers (rice noodle nest) into a ball and pulling in parts of all the sides into it then popping it in your mouth. Soft drinks will help if the spice level gets too much. Tea at the end is a perfect touch. My mouth is watering just remembering this place. Don't let the aesthetics of the place deter you from trying!

  3. hooray hooray! Keep the recommendations coming!