by ALE ZADJALI
When it comes to food, Oman is known for many notable and delectable delicacies. From pit-cooked Shuwa to Mashawai’s charred meats, Qaboli (a pilaf dish consisting of rice cooked in stock and mixed with vegetables, spices and a source of protein) and Halwa, but the most common name in Oman’s food diary (and probably the most accessible of them all) has to be mishkak, a charred treat served on the streets of Muscat.
Now, I know you must be wondering… what is mishkak? In simple terms, it’s essentially skewered meats marinated with tangy tamarind sauce, yoghurt and a bunch of species, bathed in chilli, and served with extra tamarind on the side. Other variants include chicken, squid and camel meat. In Oman, it’s the ultimate choice in street food, it’s delicious alone, it’s delicious mixed with other foods and it’s delicious when drenched in your favourite sauce. And, it’s widely available all over the country. In Muscat alone you can almost count the miles by the amount of young adults grilling away their nights, making it a popular on-the-go dining option that offers a bang for your buck.
Mishak has become a cultural favourite food. It’s an ever-growing experiment to play around with the flavour and that keeps it exciting, especially when the classic flavour is still widely available. Each street vendor will offer their spin on the meats, prepared with their grandma’s recipes that use traditional Omani ingredients and other spices to make it a distinctive and flavoursome treat. Not even a five-star hotel can offer the same taste: fresh off the grill and straight into your mouth, literally.
My favourite thing about mishkak is that it brings people together. It’s almost my favourite thing to do when getting to know someone. Despite its popularity in the streets of Muscat and its wide availability, you often stumble upon mishkak in campsites and beaches; it serves such a feel-good vibe that makes for great group activity food. From your trip to the Butcher’s Block to marinating the meat, all the way to preparing the grill, it is a fun thing for people to bond over.
So where to have this smoky delight? I like a twist on my dining experiences so I would recommend three very different choices. One is by the beach, at Qurum Beach (just before you enter Love Street there are various vendors and extended choices, from corn to burgers and more, but nothing beats the first vendor on the entrance, Amwag Al Qariya, grilled by Nasser Al Balushi, whose passion for mishkak is unmatched. It’s the best place to go to after watching a show at the Royal Opera House.
Nasser’s mishkak skewer alternates cubes of meats with chunks of fat, which means every bite is heavenly palatable. Come here if you want to live the Omani street food experience. My other favourite gem is hidden in Al Ghubra with no notable name but ‘cafe’ on its board. The place offers the ultimate twist on the mishkak as it’s served mixed into a cabbage-heavy salad and fries, drenched in tamarind sauce. While it may not be the nicest thing to look at, if you ignore that and feast, it will be the best thing you’ve ever tasted. My third recommendation is for lovers of cheese. At Hilal Burger in South Al Hail, they have an Omani-Swahili variant inspired by the French poutine dish. Called ‘happy fries’, a massive portion of fries and mishkak, topped with molten cheddar and mozzarella. All that at the price of OMR2.
This is ultimately what I love about mishkak, that on different sides of town you will have three very different experiences because it’s the greatest thing to get creative with and you will never have to salt and pepper it. If you are ever in town, find me, I will take you and you will thank me later.