Cooking classes to offer tourists a cultural link to Oman

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Tourists in Oman can now take some culinary skills home with them thanks to a new initiative launched by Clara Zawawi, owner of Bait Al Bilad, a café in Qantab which is now offering private cooking lessons, too.

Clara opened Bait Al Bilad in an old house near the beach in Qantab a few years ago so she could offer homemade Omani food to visitors to Oman. Many tourists in Oman are looking for a more authentic experience, such as seeing the inside of a traditional house and tasting local food, she said.

“I decided not to do anything like any of the other cafes that exist anywhere else. Our most popular thing is a set course, with a curry lunch, so people can come and see what Omani food is,” said Clara.

Clara’s café, which is located in what she thinks is the oldest building in Qantab, is a success, but she wanted to offer even more experiences for visitors, so now they also have the option of a booking a private cooking lesson for up to six people. She says there’s a demand for such classes and sees it as a wonderful way to share Omani culture.

“To me food is one of the most immediate, tangible parts of a culture, and if people are really interested in it and want to create it at home or take it away as part of their own personal experience of a place, then it seems like a logical thing to offer,” she noted.

A lesson could include dishes like chicken kabuli rice, mashkik (grilled meat), marak samak (fish in a coconut curry), okra marak (a vegetarian okra and tomato curry), raita (yogurt and cucumber salad), the papery thin rokhal bread, and finally lokhaimat (the crunchy and sweet honey dumplings) for dessert.
“We’ll also teach them how to make Omani kahwa,” Clara added.

Clara will be working with local women from Qantab to teach the classes. She says it’s important to engage people from the community both to help the local economy, and to give the visitors a chance to interact with Omanis.

“They’ll teach people how to make the rokhal [flat bread], which they make on a burner sitting on the ground. I didn’t want to lose that traditional approach. It’s not fancy; it’s the real thing,” she explained.

She says many tourists have no idea what Omani food actually is, and assume they will be served food from the Levant, such as hummous, babaganoush and falafel, but after spending two hours cooking and then eating the meals they prepare, they will have a much better understanding of what Omani cuisine consists of, with its Arabian, African and Indian influences.

Offering Omani cooking lessons was long something Clara wanted to do, but she wasn’t sure how to go about it in her small café kitchen. But after a visit to a cooking school in northern Thailand, where participants did their preparations at a long wooden table and then each one moved to a small, single burner stove, she realised she could use that approach at Bait Al Bilad. The classes will take place in the courtyard area in the middle of the old house, under the open sky.

“We’ll do it here out in the open. It’s a perfectly sensible way to do it. It prevents crowding in the kitchen and we can prepare everything really well,” she said.

Clara suggests a cooking lesson at Bait Al Bilad could be combined with a morning trip to Mutrah Souk, the fish market, or even a Lulu Hypermarket, so tourists can see where locals get their ingredients.

Before the students leave, following their lessons and lunch, they will be given copies of the recipes, along with a copy of Clara’s Azzura Bait al Bilad Cookbook and a little package of dried limes and an Omani spice mix, so they can make the dishes in Germany, Australia, or whatever other countries they call home, and share the taste of Oman with friends and family. While she expects many tourists to book classes, she says local expatriates may be keen to try them, too.

The lessons can be booked from Sunday to Thursday, with a maximum of six people. The cost is 45 OMR per person, which includes all the ingredients as well as the recipes,

Mili Thakur