Oman has always been my second home. My father has been working here for almost 25 years as a civil engineer in a pretty cool international construction company, and he has brought me there many times since I was a baby. Usually, we don’t remember much about our childhood – snippets, maybe, of little things here and there, but concrete, solid memories? That’s rare. I know that I’ve been to Oman more times than I could possibly count, but my memories of the place when I was very, very young are hazy at best. However, there has been one thing that always, always stood out to me, one thing that I knew for certain then and know for certain until now, and it’s the fact that since I was a wee one, Omar Al Khayyam has always been my favorite restaurant. I know it is because every time my parents would ask me, “Where do you want to eat?” I would automatically answer without thinking, “Omar Al Khayyam!”
I remember always ordering corn and chicken soup, and I remember savouring each and every spoonful. I remember taking small pieces of their butter naan and eating it with their tasty mixed noodles. I remember the friendly smiles of the waiters who hail from India, who serve the food with grace and eagerness, almost excited for us to taste the Arabic, Indian, and Chinese dishes they have been known for since 1973.
I’ve been here many times since then. I’ve always ordered the same food, even though they have other cuisines and dishes up their sleeves. I guess when you love particular meals so much since you were a kid, it’s hard to let them go and pass up another chance to eat them again. And since I had my camera with me yesterday, I’d like to share with you the magic of this place!
A little intro about what Omar Al Khayyam is: it’s a multi-cuisine restaurant that opened in Ruwi in 1973, and it serves a wide variety of Arabic, Indian and Chinese food. I wish I could judge their Arabic dishes, but the fact remains I’ve yet to try this particular cuisine, which I’m certain has its own interesting culinary history and culture. However, the Indian and Chinese that I’ve tried from them have never disappointed. Fair warning, though: it’s not really authentic Chinese as the ones you can find in China or in Filipino-Chinese owned restaurants in the Philippines, so if you were hoping for a legitimate Chinese experience, you may end up disappointed. However, I don’t see that as a bad thing, because even though it doesn’t have the taste and look and feel of Chinese food, I’ve always found it more of a mix between it and its Indian counterpart, creating a very distinct and interesting taste that they could truly call uniquely theirs. I’d like to talk more about mixing cuisines, but that’s a post for another day.
Corn and Chicken Soup
Ah, the corn and chicken soup that I’ve been ordering since almost 2 decades ago. It’s just as sweet, savory, and amazing as I remember. There’s really nothing else to say about this except that eating it is an unbelievable experience in and of itself. THIS is the particular dish that jumpstarted my love for corn soup; it made me continuously seek other restaurants in the Philippines in hopes of finding something that replicated it. However, there has been none so far that tasted just as good as Omar Al Khayyam’s. For some reason, this makes me both sad and happy: sad because I could only truly taste this in Oman, and happy because it means it’s a soup that this restaurant can proudly say can only be found in their establishment. For the moment, I shall indulge myself with this while I am here. SLUUURP!
If you’re Filipino, then you know we can’t get enough of noodles. It’s pretty much next to rice in the “preferred carb” scale, excluding the wheat bread enthusiasts. Apparently, Omar Al Khayyam is well-aware of it as well! You can simply just say, “Pancit Canton, please!” and they’d nod their head, immediately understanding that what you really ordered was Mixed Fried Noodles. Let’s get this out of the way: this is under the Chinese categories, but it doesn’t taste as what a real chinese mixed noodles should be, BUT it tastes really good anyway. Surprisingly, I haven’t tasted anything like it before, so this is something that I can definitely say is Chinese inspired yet uniquely Omar Al Khayyam.
Okay, to be completely honest with you guys, this was my first time to actually take a bite of the famous biryani rice. I know, I know; as a rice aficionado (my boyfriend can’t believe I don’t see a meal as a “meal” if there’s no rice in it), it must sound astounding that I haven’t tried this yet despite the numerous opportunities to do so. I guess I’m just very particular about the rice I eat? If for example Yang Chow is available, I would definitely choose that over a kind of rice I’m not familiar with (yeah, yeah, I am content to stay in a comfortable bubble; cut me some slack!). I finally tasted it when we ate at Omar Al Khayyam this time around and let’s just say… I choked. Is chicken biryani supposed to be super, super, super spicy? The moment I put it in my mouth, my throat went on fire and I had to get a glass of water to get rid of the burning feeling in my throat. I’m not sure if that was a normal occurence, or if the restaurant put some weird spice in it. My brother (who loves biryani) assured me that the biryani here wasn’t that great, so I’m guessing it’s just not something this restaurant is great at making…
Butter naan – I’m not sure how butter naan is truly supposed to be, but the ones we ordered from this place were really good. At one point, I completely ignored the rice and eat everything with the butter naan. That doesn’t happen often, folks. It takes an extraordinary dish to move me that much!
Pancit Malatong – One of our favorites here! Basically, you have fried, crispy noodles, and then you put the the hot vegetable sauce on it. I’ve also tried ordering this in other restaurants in the Philippines, but nothing beats the Pancit Malatong from Omar Al Khayyam (Makes me wonder – what is their secret ingredient that differentiates it from the rest?!?!).
Raita – I never tried this one (my brother ordered it), but you basically eat it with the chicken biryani. No comment as I didn’t try it.
Chili Prawns – Okay, I liked the shrimps, but the sauce was hella weird. It was way too spicy to the point where the taste didn’t make sense anymore. It wasn’t sweet nor savory or anything… it just tasted weird.
Dried Chili Beef – Same as the Chili Prawns. I also choked up with this because the spices were just way too strong and too much. It became tolerable when I ate it with lots of butter naan, though, and it got better then!
At the end of the day, there is no doubt that the dishes I’ve loved as a child have retained the flavours that reminded me so much of my childhood. Eating the corn and chicken soup brought back the memories of walking up to their big door – my hands held gently by my father and mother – and getting my tongue burnt but not caring anyway because I couldn’t get enough of their amazing flavours. However, eating some of their dishes that I haven’t tried before have made me feel… indifferent at best. While I love some spice in my meals, I don’t think my palate can take it when it’s overdone, lest I want a dining experience ruined by watery eyes and burnt throats. Looks like I’ll be sticking to my childhood dishes when I visit this restaurant again.
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