When you’ve been fasting all day, buffets are usually quite dangerous. Too much food, too much variety, and usually alot of food wasted in the process. Our preference is homecooked, whole food meals prepared with love and eaten with gratitude. So, when we were invited out to break our fast with a dear friend, we were cautious about departing from our Ramadan groove but didn’t want to turn down the invitation. Our host wanted us to enjoy a traditional Moroccan meal without the hassle of cooking. The Moroccan community in Oman had been buzzing about the reopening of Meknes Cafe, which had apparently been orphaned for the last two years. We noticed the restaurant since we first arrived to Oman but had no idea it was closed for so long. A large sign advertising their Ramadan buffet was a clear way to broadcast the good news.
Entering the al-Khuwair neighborhood from the Shell Station/McDonald’s entryway, we found Meknes on our right hand side in the direction of Ruwi. The entrance was lit but vacant, with boxes stacked against the wall. Only by seeing a Moroccan family enter without exiting did we know that Meknes was assuredly open for business. We ascended the staircase to find a long dining room wrapped around three family rooms, appropriately named after three popular Moroccan cities: Agadir, Tangier, and Marrakech. After taking our seats in Marrakech, we heard the call to prayer signal the end of our day’s fast and received cold bottles of water from the staff. A platter with dates, obviously sourced from North Africa, sat beside a fresh fruit display. While it’s our custom to first eat dates and drink water, we found it interesting that most of the Moroccans had soup right alongside their dates to break fast. This soup, as it turns out, is a Moroccan classic called harira. Same say iftar is incomplete without it. The tomato-based soup was thick and comforting to our empty stomachs. Lentils, chickpeas, and rice gave the soup its body, with cilantro and parsley punctuating its flavor.
As for our vegan prospects, we were assured that the harira would suit us but couldn’t guarantee a meat-free couscous. Fortunately for us, the buffet offered a number of non-Moroccan dishes like olive salad, french lentil salad, and tomato and cucumber salad. Between the soup and cold dish offerings, we were satiated but found it hard to resist the couscous.
At the farthest edges of the platter, we found broth-free couscous furthest from the chicken and piled on the zuchinni, carrots, pumpkins, seeking out every last chickpea would could find.
Exchanging bright faces of satiation, we welcomed the sweet Moroccan mint tea reminiscent of the Saharan tea we enjoyed while living in Algeria. Though the salted peanuts were missing, we enjoyed the unroasted almonds in its place. The longer we sat, the smell of sheesha began to permeate the air and warm the dining area. As the families filed out, young men filed in mostly wearing t-shirts and jeans, congregating with friends to play games and smoke. At this point, it felt like we were in the middle of a boy’s club, so we paid for the 6 OMR, nearly $16 USD, per person buffet and ended the night with a traditional Moroccan sweet, chebakia. The fried folded dough, dipped in honey, then sprinkled with sesame seeds rounded out a filling meal and fueled the hour and a half ride back to Nizwa.