Restaurants and hotels will offer scrumptious iftar buffet when the sun goes down in Ramadan. It is called “Iftar” which means to break the fast. There are wide range of choices from quirky to lavish food from different restaurants and hotels during the month of Ramadan.
This year, I have tried iftar at Musandam Restaurant in Intercontinental Hotel, Muscat. My friend and I arrived exactly at 7:00 pm, the time iftar started. We booked for reservation in advance as we were advised the restaurant is usually full during iftar on Ramadan. As soon as we arrived we were assisted by the friendly staff to our table. The place has an authentic Arabic design and warm ambiance perfect for an ultimate unforgettable Ramadan experience. There were tables and chairs outside the veranda but since the weather was really hot and humid, most of the guests stayed inside the restaurant. The place was full with diners. It was expected as it is the first ever meal Muslims eat after a whole day of fasting.
Dishes served were a combination of Arabic and international cuisine with a focus more on Arabic food. The buffet was amazing! I love the wide selections of Middle Eastern mezze. Mezze are salads and dips served as an appetizer course or light meal. Creamy olive oil topped hummus, eggplant filled moutabal, traditional fattoush, crunchy tabbouleh and halloumi salad to name a few. They have chicken and beef salad too. There were wide choices of bread perfect for the mezze. For the soups, they have seafood and lentil with lemon wedges and croutons.
There were more than 5 choices of main dishes to choose from with authentic Omani dishes to try. I tried ouzi as my main course. Ouzi is an oriental rice with lamb. The other international food served were Asian noodles and Bolognese. I was advised the main course dishes are change each day to give the diner a different taste every time they will visit the restaurant.
There was a live station for barbecue grills and bread. Skewered chicken, lamb and shawarma were served hot on the plate. The chef was approachable and even explained the food I weren’t familiar with. Saj bread or markouk was shown how it was made on their live bread station.
The dessert station shouldn’t be missed. There were more than 15 types of Arabic and international desserts available. Kunafa (cheese pastry soaked with in sugar based syrup), katayef (sweet dumpling filled with cream or nuts) and oum ali (Egyptian puff pastry made of milk mixed with nuts) were some of the desserts to try. As much I wanted to try everything, I chose the French macaroons and the chocolate fondue.
The staffs were all hands on, assisting us throughout the dining experience. The over service was great. We were so full and felt overwhelmed with so many options to choose from. It was such a great iftar experience.
When I started living abroad that is when I realized how much I miss being away from home. My everyday life in the Middle East is different to what I were accustomed back home. Culture, tradition, weather, food, transportation… everything is completely different. My being away from home has made me appreciate a lot of things in my country even more. For sure many things have changed but that’s what makes me eager to be back and experience everything that home has to offer. I can’t wait to see the Philippines again!
It is hard not to miss the food. I do cook Filipino dishes while living abroad but some ingredients are just hard to find. Most of the time, I make alterations. I grew up in the province of Albay in the Philippines that uses a lot of coconut milk to local dishes. Coconuts are abundant in the Philippines but limited to the country of Oman. Instead of using fresh coconut milk, I buy coconut powder or make use of ready-made coconut milk in can. Taste is okay, but there is something different about how food are made back home.
Pinangat is on my top list of food that I want to eat. I’m drooling for it. Pinangat is a local dish from my hometown, which is made up of taro leaves, meat, chili and coconut milk. It is wrapped in gabi leaves, tied securely and simmered in coconut milk. Other local cuisines that I miss a lot are – Bicol express (spicy dish made up of pork, shrimp paste, chili and coconut milk), kare-kare (ox tail with fresh greens stew), lechon (roasted pig) and Bicol version of Adobo. It is hard to enumerate all but I can’t wait to try it all again. Nothing beats eating these home-cooked food back home having the authentic taste with your family and friends.
I miss all the tropical fruits too! Bananas, mangoes, avocados, coconuts, pineapples, santol (wild mangosteen), langka (jackfruit), lanzones and a lot more. These fruits can be found fresh in the local market for cheap prices. In the province, mango trees are everywhere and some fruits can be eaten right away without a need to pay for it. It is just around the neighborhood.
Street food are spotted everywhere in the Philippines. All are cheap and will not go beyond 20php/ .50 USD/ .200 OMR. Banana and kamote (sweet potato) cues are my favorite. It is a banana or a sweet potato coated with caramelized sugar on the sticks.
Fish balls, squid balls, kwek kwek (quail boiled egg), kikiam and siomai are street food that are usually on a push cart and can be found near schools or crowded places. Trying all these food, brings back the memories of my teenage life in the province.
Family, relatives & friends
I miss hanging out with my family, relatives and friends back in the Philippines. Surely there are a lot of catching up to be done when i get back home. While modern technology keeps me connected to them via social media, actual personal interaction is still much more favorable.
I have lived my whole life in the province of Albay. Mayon Volcano, the world’s most perfect cone volcano is the main landmark of the province. I used to get up seeing this amazing view every day. It is our pride. It brought substantial value to my growing years. Seeing Mayon Volcano will always remind me of the beauty and simplicity of life in the province.
Malls and bazaars
Malls in the Philippines are huge and equipped with almost everything. From groceries to department stores, boutiques, bookstores, spas, medical clinics, beauty salons, internet shops, restaurants, coffee shops, movie theaters and a lot more. A place where you can find everything to entertain yourself for a whole day. I miss being in a place where I can see a lot of Filipinos walking around.
I even miss all kind of food bazaars and tiangge (Filipino version of flea markets) over the weekend in some of part of Manila like Salcedo market. I love seeing and trying local food and products. To add more, I miss my bargaining skills in buying items to get big discounts.
Mountains, beaches and all the natural wonders
When you are living and working in a place where it is mostly desert, it makes you miss the feeling of being in a tropical country. With over 7107 islands, Philippines is endowed with mountains, waterfalls, caves, beaches and an array of natural wonders. Philippines is blessed to have a rich environment.
Beaches in the Philippines is unparalleled in beauty. It is everywhere. White, black, pink sand beaches with turquoise crystal clear waters are all can be found in the Philippines. I missed the times our family will go to the beach on the weekend to swim until sunset. The mountains, waterfalls and the caves are spectacular too. I love to hike so definitely I will never allow not to experience it by myself. I can’t wait to see the overlooking views from the mountains. There are so many places in the Philippines I haven’t seen yet but definitely I will check on them soon.
The vast majority of the Filipinos are Roman Catholics. As a Roman Catholic I’m looking forward to attend a mass with my family. Philippines as a former Spanish colony, have churches built during Spanish period that still exist up to now. These churches have been an integral part of the Philippine culture.
In the Philippines, even shopping malls have chapels and conduct masses. This shows how religious the Filipinos are. Churches are available in Oman but access is limited to certain place like Muscat.
Jeepneys, tricycles and pedicabs
The public transportation here is limited to cabs and buses. Mostly have their own cars. In the Philippines, the most common form of public transport are the jeepneys. Jeepneys are considered the king of the road. It is numerous. Jeepneys have open windows and are colorful in designs. It offers cheapest way of getting around. Aside from the jeepneys, tricycles and pedicabs are also abundant. Jeepneys have been the cultural sign of the country. Only in the Philippines!
There is nothing more relaxing than enjoying the cheap services available in the Philippines. Haircut, hair treatment, massage and other spa services are affordable. No doubt, it is one of the first things most of the Filipinos from abroad do.
Christmas and New Year
I have never experienced Christmas and New Year in the Philippines for the last 4 years. Though we celebrate Christmas together with other Filipino colleagues and friends, it is still different to celebrate with the whole family and relatives.
To my fellow Filipinos living and working abroad, what have you missed back home?
Ramadan starts in Oman.It is the holiest month of the Islamic year. It is when the Quran, the holy book of Islam was revealed to Prophet Muhammad. It is the Islamic month of fasting where Muslims pray and reflect. Muslims do their normal routine but refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and doing any kind of intimacy. It is intended to teach Muslims about self-discipline, patience, generosity, and submissiveness to God. It is common to have one meal (known as Suhoor) just before sunrise and another (known as Iftar) after sunset. Ramadan lasts for 29-30days depending on the sighting of the new moon.
Not all Muslims are required to fast. Non-Muslims, sick or those mentally ill, young children, elderly, and women who are menstruating, pregnant, breastfeeding or recently had a baby are exempted. If the fast is missed, they should try to make up the fast at a later date or make donation to the poor. During this time, greet Muslims with the phrase “Ramadan Kareem” which means Generous Ramadan.
When you are visiting Oman which is a conservative Muslim country on the month of Ramadan, you need to understand certain rules and regulations .This month brings a lot of joy for Muslims but for non – Muslims , it may cause some inconvenience. One is expected to adapt to the rules in public places during the daylight hours.
During fasting hours, non – Muslims are expected to follow the rules of fasting. In gulf country like Oman, it is considered illegal to eat and drink in public places during day light. Police patrols the streets and you may get fined if caught. It is only allowed to drink, eat or smoke in private. Restaurants are closed the whole day and will reopen after Iftar. But international hotels will have at least one restaurant open for travelers to eat during daylight hours. Bars and pubs are closed and no live music are allowed. It is also expected that men and women will dress more modestly. Government offices, banks, malls, tourist places are open but working hours are shorter too. Regardless of the religion, all residents of Oman have shorter workdays. At home, you are free to do whatever you do. If you will walk around on the daylight, you will see a quieter life scene.
Most of the people are up all night. Day and night are somewhat switched during Ramadan, so there is a lot of stuff going around during the evenings. Malls are open until midnight. Most of the hotels will offer Iftar and Suhoor buffets.
Ramadan ends with Eid el Fitr, the festival of breaking the fast. Many Muslims celebrate by giving gifts, visiting family and friends and wearing new clothes.
For all my Muslim friends and colleagues, Ramadan Kareem!
Have you ever spent Ramadan on a Muslim country? Share your experiences on the comment below.
When I first arrived in Oman, it is said one of the places not to be missed is Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Muscat. It was on my second year in Oman, I was able to have a glimpse of this enchanting structure by myself. Truly one of the most beautiful and fascinating mosques I have ever seen in my entire life.
Opened in 2001, it is the main mosque in the Sultanate of Oman that is open to non- Muslims. It is one of the largest mosques in the Gulf that can hold an estimated 20,000 worshipers in the two prayer halls and surrounding courtyard. The major feature of the design of the interior is the prayer carpet which covers the prayer hall composed of 1,700 million knots weighing 21 tons that took four years to produce. It is the second largest single carpet in the world. It is used to be the largest until Sheik Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi was built. It is an active place for worship particularly for Friday prayers. The huge Swarovski chandelier above the prayer hall is 14 meters tall and was claimed to be the largest in the world until the construction of a bigger chandelier in Qatar in 2010. With the incredible mosaics and crystal chandeliers it is hard not to be amazed with this mosque.
So here’s a quick guide for first time visitors to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque to know what to do, what not to do and what to wear.
Before you go make sure you dress appropriately. Dressing is a way of showing respect. Women should cover their heads, wrists and ankles. No transparent clothing. Headscarf is necessary. No tank tops and shorts for men.
There are no entrance fees for the Sultan Qaboos Mosque.
Eating and sleeping on the prayer hall are prohibited.
Children below 10 years old are not allowed to enter the prayer hall.
All visitors are required to remove their shoes before entering the mosque. Don’t worry shoes will be there when you return.
Visit time is every day except Friday from 8:000am until 11.00 am.
Have you visited any mosques? Share your experience on the comments below.