Although Muscat is growing as a holiday destination, most tourists confine themselves to the coastal area of Qurm and find their culinary needs well catered for in the many hotels. However, for anyone who chooses, as we did, to venture further afield, eating out in Muscat can be a bit of a puzzle.
There are a number of restaurants in Ruwi, the central business district of Muscat, but from a western perspective there is a bewildering lack of information about them. They all have neon signs to let you know what type of cuisine is on offer, but that is as much as you can find out before you go in. There are no menus on display, or information about prices or opening times, and the big wooden doors and shuttered windows prevent you from taking a peek inside!
So, unless you are lucky enough to have a recommendation (see Bin Ateeq below), it is a matter of taking pot luck! But restaurants in Muscat tend to be inexpensive, and Omani food is delicious, so why not give it a try?
Authentic Omani Food at Bin Ateeq
You are unlikely to find a more authentic place to eat than Bin Ateeq on Al Khuwair Street. As soon as you enter you will be shown to a private room (irrespective of the size of your party) with rugs on the floor and brightly woven cushions propped against the walls. Leaving your shoes outside the room you sit on the floor: there are no tables or chairs. A white robed waiter brings you bottled water and a menu.
The menu is in both Arabic and English, with pictures to help you decide, although the meaning is occasionally obscured in the translation (such as “Fresh boiled cow meat”). We decided to pass up such local delicacies as fried intestine and played it safe with a delicious meal of hummous, foul mesdames and salad, with lobster biryani and chicken curry. (If you are not familiar with foul mesdames, they are a traditional Arabic dish made with fava beans.) As alcohol is not available outside of hotels in Oman we ordered freshly squeezed fruit juice to accompany the meal.
The food arrived all at once on an enormous silver platter. There was lots of Arabic bread to scoop it up with but we were relieved to see that we were provided with spoons and forks as well. When we had finished the waiter reappeared with cups of spicy cardamom coffee and a big dish of dried dates.
Bin Ateeq is located near the National Bank of Oman in Ruwi. (There is also another branch of the restaurant in Al Khuwair.)
Traditional Cafés in Muscat
Traditional Omani food can also be sampled in many cafés in the Muttrah area of Muscat. In a tiny café in the souk we had Arabic bread with local cheese, jam and vegetables, and drank thick guava juice and salty lassi. And at the Corniche Café, at the very end of the souk, we ate felafel with a salad of fresh vegetables and chickpeas, with pomegranate seeds, mint and olives. This was followed by a plate of very sticky cakes! Not to be missed here is the Cornich cocktail, a glorious concoction of different coloured fruit juices.
International Cuisine in Muscat
Tourists may be thin on the ground, but Muscat is full of ex-pat workers and business visitors from across the globe, and this is reflected in the range of food available. For instance, in our hotel (the Al Falaj in Ruwi) the excellent breakfast included Arabic, European and Indian food (complete with curries, dahl and tamarind), and evening meals were provided in a mouthwatering sushi restaurant. This mix of nationalities also means that English is widely understood wherever you go.