‘Oman is one of the cleanest and most beautiful countries in the world’ a local business man tells. He put it down to the thousand street cleaners, in their green uniforms,’who work daily from 6 AM to 11 AM and then again from 3 to 530′. I agree, it needs to be on your bucket-list.
The Sultanate of Oman, the third largest country of the Arabian peninsula is certainly beautiful: with low rise buildings which must be painted white or cream. And, unlike its neighbour Dubai, this country has not traded its heritage for shopping malls, high-rise hotels, and imported workers.
In this delightful country it was easy to meet locals and today’s photos are from the fish market Muscat, the country’s capital.
Despite travelling with a fractured arm I loved Oman and would certainly return. Because of that broken arm I haven’t written the blogs I intended to, however, they will happen and while you’re waiting here are a few photos of some of my meals.
The food of Oman is a mixture of several staples of Asian foods and are often based on chicken, fish, and lamb, as well as the staple of rice and a mixture of spices. Smoked eggplant (aubergine) is popular as are curries and soups. The main meal is usually eaten in the middle of the day with a lighter meal in the evening.
The Columbia Restauranthas been a Sarasota, Florida tradition since 1905 with Columbia Restaurant – Ybor City leading the way as the oldest restaurant in Sarasota and it serves fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, using some century-old family recipes.
Their St. Armand’s Circle site, in Lido Key opened in 1959 and after a short wait; we choose an outdoor, footpath table.
Its menu features Spanish fare: paella packed with fresh clams, shrimp, and mussels caught my eye, but the Spanish Bean Soup with chorizo became my starter while their signature, and award-winning 1905 Salad became my main.
The warm, crusty, homemade, Cuban bread served with the soup was excellent and the soup was well-flavoured with a tasty chorizo – seems this soup is Columbia’s signature lunch and they’ve served dished it up since the restaurant started.
Great serving skills
the Original 1905 Salad being prepared for me
the secret ingredient
generous Romano Cheese
prepared tableside it becomes an enjoyable performance
Columbia’s legendary “1905” Salad is tossed tableside. Crisp iceberg lettuce with baked ham, natural Swiss cheese, tomato, olives, grated Romano cheese and the famous garlic dressing – most tasty.
Sarasota has stunning beaches, acres of recreation, superb shops and galleries and St. Armands Circle is conveniently located near the beaches of Lido and Longboat Key: after our delicious meal, we strolled around the circle – which is home to more than 130 shops – and down to Lido Key to watch the sunset.
However, what really interested us on the beach were the birds nesting there and we spent time watching the parents delivering food for their young. They flew very low to the sand as they came back with food, and we also watched others skimming the sea – maybe drinking as swallows do!?
young waiting for food
On my bucket list for ‘next time’
flying low over the sand .. a problem with all the people I suspect
Like our New Zealand birds that nest on the ground, these birds too are at risk and sadly their numbers are plummeting.
Opposite the infamous Tong Sleng prison, amid the dust, heat and noise of Phnom Penh, I found an oasis of green and peace. The Bodhi Tree Guesthouse and Café have welcomed people for meals since 1998 and for the past three years (written early 2000’s) have also had guest accommodation. The ten rooms are individually decorated with traditional Cambodian materials: all are extremely tasteful and most have an en-suite.
I know the food is great, not only because I tried it, but also because some 70% of their customers are locals who eat there .
The main idea of the Bodhi Tree, as well as being commercially viable, was to give a comfortable working space for young Cambodians who find themselves in challenging circumstances.
I talked with a young man who has worked there for two years.
‘I could find another job with more money but it would not be good like here’ he says ‘I like to stay here. Everyone is friendly and all are equal. I have learnt so much. Before I worked at my Auntie’s shop and could speak some English but I did not understand anyone talking it. The accent was too hard – now I can talk to many people.’ He continues ‘I want to study management. My boss wants me to help others improve too. We only have people here who have a good attitude.’
Another young man tells me he has worked there for five months and that it was ‘ . . . a good place to work. I get two meals a day and it is a nice place to be. People are kind to me and I am learning many things. I stay in a house with some of the others who work here’ He also told me the restaurant was named after the tree in the story of how Buddhism started. (See sidebar)
The cook, who has cooked for three years, produces wonderful meals. She had been a cleaner at the Bodhi Tree before learning to cook and now her menu and skills could be used at any international restaurant she chose to work at. Along with the Asian and continental breakfasts from the kitchen, these became my favourites during my stay:
Slow roasted honey and cinnamon Asian pears – topped with fresh blue cheese and walnut – served with balsamic vinegar.
Red bean and steamed spinach salad with black pepper grilled bread with grated Parmesan and summer vinaigrette.
Spanish potato omelette served with tomato, olives, and mint salad and garlic bread.
After a week of travelling on the back of a truck in the remote north-east of the country, being served these, while sitting on cane furniture, leaning against silk cushions, under a Bougainvillea tree in an outdoor room, and with a Buddha gazing serenely on the scene, was heavenly.
Surrounded by the delightful artwork, birds of paradise, orchids, lotus buds, and other floral arrangements or plants it was hard to imagine the horrors that had occurred right across the road in the prison S 21. (See sidebar 2 below)
Note: I wrote this many years ago and have just refound it!
Sidebar 1. (As told to me by one of the young workers at Bodhi Tree )During the 16th century, in what we now call Nepal, Prince Siddhartha Gautama became curious about what life was like outside his comfortable court existence. When he saw people suffering it caused him great pain and he decided to alleviate their suffering.
Giving up his comfortable life, and his wife and child, he set out to study various religions for the answers.
After some time he adopted a life of self denial and fasting until, on the verge of death, he realised that this was not the way to end suffering: in fact he was perpetuating it.
During this time he was meditating under a Bodhi tree and this was where he received the revelations which led to his enlightenment. These were on three successive nights: on the first night he saw his former lives pass before him; on the second he came to understand the cycle of life death and rebirth, and on the third night the four holy truths of suffering.
Despite receiving enlightenment he chose to remain on earth and help others.
Toul Sleng (known in the Pol Pot years as S-21 or Security Office 21) is now The Museum of Genocidal Crimes. This was Angkor’s’ primary security institution: designed for the interrogation and extermination of anti Angkor elements. Originally a high school (Ponhea Yat) and built in 1962 it was enclosed with corrugated iron and electrified barbed wire during the Khmer rouge regime. Prisoners came from all over the country, all walks of life and included different nationalities including British, American Australian and new Zealand.
Over 12, 000 people were killed at S-21. While in the cells prisoners were shackled to iron bars and on arrival had been photographed and details of their life recorded.
The museum is not only a reminder of Cambodia’s very recent history, but also serves as a warning about how badly very ordinary human beings can treat each other.
Off out for a day tour with Grayline (Melbourne, Australia) as well as visiting a wildlife sanctuary and riding the Puffing Billy, we had food in many ways, including for some fellow passengers feeding birds.
Interestingly the chef at our dinner stop -‘for the best roast beef you will ever have’ our driver had told us – insisted that the alcohol in the jus would have been ‘cooked out’ – an old chefs myth that’s repeated all the time so I was not surprised she didn’t know. (See here for the facts from the US Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Data Laboratory which calculated the percentage of alcohol remaining in a dish – based on various cooking methods)
Visiting the First Landing Resort in Fiji was an unexpected bonus after cruising on the Fiji Princess. It’s a lovely resort with many levels of accommodation and it appealed to me: unpretentious and friendly. Check out their website as there are some luxurious parts within the resort to stay also – including having your own pool.
But an even bigger bonus for me was the Chef’s Tasting Selection after a kodoko (Fijian raw fish) making lesson. Without a word of exaggeration it was the tastiest time I have had for a long time. I wish my photos did the six plates justice: the tempura coral trout was the prettiest, most impressive, dish I’ve seen: why is it food that looks so good to the eye fails the lens test?
Let your taste buds imagine what mine had, and, if you get to Fiji make sure you have a meal at the First Landing Resort – make sure you tell them the KiwiTravelWriter sent you.
we look for herbs we know
‘pig poo and compost are the secret’
vudi vaka soso
time for play
Resort Manager Amanda Braddock shows us the gardens -growing veg for the kitchen
Our catamaran, the Fiji Princess, gets tied to a coconut tree: the Yasawa Islands setting idyllic, and we are to have a Fijian feast onshore, followed by a concert by the local village.
Coconut has a special place in the Fijian diet and, grown in most coastal areas, it’s not only for food, but plays an important role in the economy. It is also used in many ways in the lovo (earth oven); as a basket, as the steam producer then to cover the food.
These photos are of the demonstration we saw of a food basket being made.
our food basket is created from coconut palm fronds
two across and then again
Working in numbers
Some of the foods cooked in the lovo were Taro (dry starchy root crop), Kumala (sweet potato) whole chicken and a large leg of pork. After the burning wood was removed the meat, and vegetables placed in the hole in top of the hot rocks, covered with banana leaves and cooked for about 3.5 hours. It’s considered a healthy meal because of the lack of oil – it is quite similar to the (Māori) hangi or the (Hawaiian) luau or (Samoan) umu and has a smoky flavour.
After showering, washing off the salt water we had played in, we return to the island, where a kava ceremony was being held, and before long we watch our dinner being dug up.
While the pork was dry, the crackling on the pig was fabulous (I think it had been grilled somehow after being cooked in the lovo) and my favourite dish was the entre. It’s a ‘raw fish’ dish made up of Walu (sometimes called Spanish mackerel) with ‘miti’ – a coconut-based sauce. The fresh fish is marinated in lemon juice and left to “cook” for several hours. The thick coconut milk is added after it is “cooked” together with finely diced tomatoes, chillies and salt – this is the ‘miti’.
Dinner over, we move to seats in a clearing among the coconut palms – by now it’s very dark and before long we are entertained by beautiful singing and dancing at the ‘meke’. I often feel uncomfortable joining in traditional dancing anywhere, but the Fijians seem to love a conga line, making it easy for all, including me, to join in!
we are welcomed with flowers
the men can be fierce
Beautiful choir like singing
Afterwards some women set up shop
NOTE: Kava is used for medicinal, religious, political, cultural and social purposes throughout the Pacific. In Fiji a kava ceremony often goes together with social event and while on ‘the Princess’ it happened three times – including a ritual presentation of the bundled roots as a gift and drinking the ‘grog’ is accompanied by hand-clapping before and after drinking from the coconut shell. It is made by pounding the sun-dried kava root into a fine powder, straining and mixing it with cold water.
Apparently the effects of a kava drink vary widely depending on the kava plant used, and amount drunk. Most on board didn’t drink it but for those who did their eyes became droopy or sleepy looking it seem the active ingredients have a half-life of about 9 hours.
From oysters, berries, and cheese through to chocolate, my gourmet food and sightseeing day trip with Bruny Island Safaris had it all: beaches, history and wildlife and for any foodies delight, meeting some of the producers of our food tastings.
One of those producers was an ex-teacher who turned an Adventure Bay paddock into a productive berry farm in only 3 years. A berry I’d not heard of was my favourite – Jostaberry – a thornless blackberry-gooseberry cross.
The Bruny Island Cheese Company has artisan cheeses, great breads, and many other foods in their shop and cafe-restaurant. It was a very popular stop, not just with my group but many others who were also enjoying tastings or their meal. The award-winning chutneys, pâté, & pastes (made on site) at the Bruny Island House of Whisky were award-winning for me too – of course, others preferred the whisky tasting 🙂
Bruny Island is about the size of Singapore, has a population of 600, and thousands of visitors each year – with nearly all arriving by the regular and frequent vehicular ferry (15 mins, no booking needed).