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✈ Keeping Kosher in Muscat, Oman

Contributed by: Rachel Lissner  |  Last Date of Travel: December 2007

Kosher Info: There are no kosher restaurants here but with a gigantic Indian ex-pat population, there is an abundance of vegetarian restaurants. Countless Indian restaurants! What could be better?

Standard Middle Eastern fare is found here, so I highly recommend is the halwa. It is gelatinous (jellylike) and is supposed to scooped out of the container by hand. It comes with cardamon and other spices and is absolutely amazing. It’s nothing like the crumbly halva North Americans (and Israelis) are accustomed to.

Whilst NOT Kosher… McDonald’s has both veggie burgers and “veggie surprise”, plus a filet-o-fish. interestingly there is also the “McArabia”, which is either chicken or beef, served in a pita… clearly not kosher, but there’s your culture factoid for the day.

Tourist Info: Muscat is a port city in a country with an extremely popular sultan. It’s quite progressive compared to other Gulf countries and the sultan has already decided that after he passes away that the country will become a democracy.

It is really hard to get around Muscat without a car and a local to navigate. The city is extremely spread out and is not walkable.

Here is a quick list of things to do and attractions in and around Muscat:

  • Visit the souk, the central market in downtown Muscat. It’s on the port.
  • See the Grand Mosque. In addition to being absolutely stunning, it has the largest carpet in the world.
  • The Oman Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the National Museum all display interesting information about the country.
  • If you manage to head out of the city, drive over to Sur and watch the green turtles lay eggs at sunrise. Oman hosts one of the largest community of turtles in the world.
  • Wahiba Sands are dazzling sand dunes that host a number of little camps for tourists. Some camps are simply places to hang out in the desert while others offer camel rides and dune bashing.
  • Try going to a Hindu temple. It’s an experience with lots of colour, song, and dance and there are often bits of leftover sacrifices that worshippers may eat.

Dress info: Despite the stated progressiveness, it is still a Muslim country the laws concerning clothes must be observed. Cover shoulders and knees, wear shirts with high necklines, and when going to religious areas, women must cover their hair.

Muslims wear traditional dress on the whole but the Indian ex-pat community is much more prone to wearing jeans and t-shirts. In areas like the souk, such clothing is permissible but on the beach, make sure to cover up appropriately.

Visit: http://www.destinationoman.com/socialcustoms.html for more tips on the Omani dress code and etiquette.

Jewish Info: The country itself is located northeast of Yemen and near Iran, two countries that until recently that had Jewish huge populations.  It’s about three hours southeast of Israel. Today there is no Jewish community in Oman, but at one point Jews had a presence in the country, mostly made of up Yemenite and Iraqi Jews.

The grave of the prophet Job is said to be 45 miles from Salalah, located in the south, and very close to the border with Yemen. Benjamin of Tudela, a famous cataloger of Jewish communities around the world, visited Muscat around 1170.

Oman does not have any formal relations with Israel, but from 1996 to 2000 the two countries did have exchange offices. There is no issue with Israeli stamps (in your passport) or visas and not much anti-semitism, if at all. Wikipedia, however, says that Omani newspapers circulate a high amount of anti-semitic images. In response to the Iranian threat, which is just across the gulf, the Omani government has started to reach out to Israel and the Jewish community.

About the author

rlissner

  • Dani Klein – Admin

    Hi Kay,

    Kosher may be the same “concept” as halal, but they are not actually the same. Kosher laws are from Judaism, and Halal laws are from Islam.

    It happens to be that people who only eat halal food will also eat kosher food. The opposite is not true.

    Proof of that is the various kosher supervision companies such as the OU, OK, Star K, etc. which are run entirely by religious Jews, but the products are sold to Jews only make up a fraction of their sales. Through research, they found that a good junk of their clientele, in the U.S. at least, were halal observant Muslims.

    Go figure.

    So to answer your question about Jews eating in Oman… its problematic. Vegetarian is a better bet than halal meat.

  • Sam

    While anyone who is serious about their kashrut already knows this, I think it’s important to note that a vegetarian restaurant that does not have any kosher supervision is just as unkosher as a McDonalds. You would be amazed at how many products seem to be vegetarian, but in fact contain byproducts of meat, dairy or fish. Many oils, preservatives, factory made sauces and canned foods that are used in vegetarian restaurants were most certainly made on production lines that also produce non kosher products, also rendering it non kosher. Finally, eating a bug is a serious issue in Jewish law, but while a vegetarian wouldn’t want to eat a bug, have you ever seen a vegetarian check their greens for bugs before using them?

    Be safe… bring your own food to locations that do not have kosher restaurants, or ask if you can go in their kitchen and double wrap some raw ingredients in tin foil and cook in an oven… we’ve been amazed at how hospitable folks are, especially in exotic locations!

  • rlissner

    Hey, Sam, you make a valid point but keep in mind that the Indian community is mostly Hindu. They are pretty strict about animal products in the kitchen and really limit it to dairy. While you can find meat on Indian menus in Oman, finding a pure vegetarian restaurant isn’t particularly challenging.

  • Hey rlissner, Sam made other valid points one of which was in regard to the checking of the greens, onions, etc for bug infestation. Eating an insect in Jewish law is worse than eating pork. There are many other things (ingredients) within a vegetarian restaurants kitchen that are questionable. From first hand experience I know that the personnel of restaurants bring in their own home cooked food to warm it up in the pots & ovens of this supposedly vegetarian restaurant. I saw it being done as I was talking to the owner of a vegetarian restaurant that wanted kosher approval. It is a challenge to find a “pure” vegetarian restaurant anywhere if you know what to ask. Caveat Emptor

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