We’re getting ready for a big trip…a really big one, for us, at least. Many are asking “Why?” but we are retorting “Why not?” Prayerfully, the trip will be as amazing as we imagine and we’ll have plenty to tell upon our return. Part of our trip prep includes researching places to visit, transportation options, suitable accommodations and the like, but another big factor is the green scene. What’s happening on the ground in country X and how can we fit in? We’ve found resources, national dishes to try, a local vegan association and we’re learning how to ask for vegan food in the local language, but all this research made me wonder if there are vegans who want to know about the scene in Oman.
For us, Oman is a welcomed relief after life in Yemen and Algeria. Not only do you have the basic staples of beans, grains, legumes, fruits and veggies, but you also have imported foods like non-dairy milk, tofu, meat alternatives, etc. In all of the major towns you can find a Gulf chain supermarket called Lulu Hypermarket. If you’ve got Lulu, then you’re in the right place. While local markets can adequately provide your staple produce and groceries, Lulu, Al Fair, Carrefour and other major supermarkets can add a little variety to your diet.
For vegans on the fence about consuming honey, you can find imported agave nectar and maple syrup, but a local option worth trying is date syrup. It’s much cheaper, locally sourced and excellent for pancakes! It would be our dream to find more fermented vegan foods in Oman, like tempeh and miso or protein-packed seeds like hemp or chia, but hey, we’re not complaining!
There are a lot of great vegan dining options in Muscat, Oman’s capital city. Indian food is probably the go-to cuisine in smaller towns but you can find Chinese, Thai, Lebanese, etc. in Muscat. We’ve found vegan options at a Swahili restaurant in Sohar, which was a pleasant surprise, but I’m not sure how other Swahili or Zanzibari restaurants would compare. We have seen “100% vegetarian” restaurants frequented by the Hindu community, but not purely vegan. If you don’t mind the watchful eye of Ganesh and the smell of incense, you can probably find vegan dishes in such restaurants. It would be another dream of ours to have a raw vegan or vegan brunch restaurant but, do you hear anyone complaining? “Not I”, said the fly.
Omanis are perpetual in their invitations. “Tafadhal” expresses their desire for you to join them in their homes or on their mat at the side of the road, to partake in a meal. If you’re invited in the morning for qahwa (coffee), you should be fine since the coffee is black and it’s generally served with dates, fresh or dried, and fruits. For a more elaborate qahwa session, there might be cake, chapatti or Omani bread, beans, etc. It’s not intended to be a proper meal but it’s more of a social one. Mid-morning, around 9:30am, you find women zigzagging the streets, visiting neighbors, for the daily ritual of qahwa. Beware of the Omani halwa! If you see a semi-solid, brown, gelatinous food, served with a spoon and aggressively offered to you, it might be halwa, a locally made, unreasonably sweet dish made with eggs, rose water, cardamom, and LOTS of sugar. Omanis take great pride in this national food and consume it religiously, even in the face of diabetic threat. Fret not! There is one (yes, one) traditional Omani food that I can think of that is wholly vegan- khubz omani (Omani bread). It’s a thin, flaky, paper-like bread. Because it is so dry and dairy-free it can be kept for months! My elder neighbor told me that Omanis used to pack this bread for their hajj journey and eat it along the way.
If you’re invited for a meal, like lunch or dinner, you should inform your hosts about your vegan preferences. They may not understand it, so be clear about what you eat and don’t eat. At best, lentils, beans, stewed veggies, and salad will be prepared for you. At worst, you’ll be dancing around fish or chicken, trying to savor meatless morsels of biryani. Irregardless of what they prepare, you can anticipate that a curious conversation will follow. As for breakfast, tea is usually served with milk and there usually is bread with eggs or cheese. So, again, inform your hosts in advance.
Hair and Body Care
Your safest and most accessible option would be Himalaya Herbals, an Ayurvedic brand of body products and soaps that are plant-based. For a few months, we enjoyed the use of a cheap virgin coconut oil for our skin care (and dental care) but, alas, like many good things, our supply came to an end. A word of advice: If you see a new product, buy three! It may not be around next time! Vegan toothpaste brands are pretty easy to find too! Our favorite brand is Mu’min, a halal, fluoride-free, herbal toothpaste made using miswak extract.
Belts and Shoes
If you don’t mind cheap, Chinese belts and shoes, then you have a modest selection of non-leather options to fit your fashion sense. Most high-quality or designer shoes, especially formal shoes for men, tend to be made from leather or suede. You probably can also find faux fur if you look hard enough but don’t hold your breath. 😉
Even though we’re finding our way as vegans in Oman, we’ve yet to meet a vegan Omani or even a sympathizer. Nonetheless, we’ve found Omanis to be great hosts and eager to help you enjoy your stay as their guest.