DUBAI: While food from across the Arab world is internationally popular — hummus, tabbouleh, shawarma and tagine are crowd-pleasers across the globe — Khaleeji cuisine is still, arguably, underappreciated outside of the Gulf. The UK-based culinary writer Dina Macki is on a mission to change that.
Macki is championing her native Omani cuisine through her debut cookery book, “Bahari,” which also pays tribute to the author’s Zanzibari roots (the book’s title is a Swahili term for ocean).
Oman’s coastal location is, according to Macki, one of the main reasons that its food culture is so rich and diverse.
“Essentially, Oman is an island itself,” she tells Arab News. “Everything involves the fact that it has significant ports and everyone came because we were the closest point in the Gulf to Mesopotamia and Iran. We have influences that were brought over from the Portuguese when they were in India. We also have the influence of the East African coastline. So Omani cuisine is very much an amalgamation of all of its maritime history and everything that was brought in. I like to think that we’re lucky to have the best of all the brilliant countries around us.”
Macki, who was raised in Portsmouth on the UK’s south coast, has a degree in fashion marketing. But food was always a central part of family life, especially for the women. The theme of family is key to Macki’s book, which includes old-school snapshots of the author’s mother and maternal grandmother, who were both born in Zanzibar.
“For me, ‘Bahari’ is a way to honor my origins, as well as my mother and grandmother’s home and our history,” she writes in the book. Zanzibar’s 1964 revolution forced many of its people out of their country, and Oman — a former colonizer of Zanzibar — was a common destination for them.
“I’d be standing in the kitchen with my grandmother, listening to her story,” Macki recalls. “Every time she was cooking something, it would bring back a memory from when she lived in Zanzibar or Oman.”
Researching the book led Macki to explore Oman from north to south, learning the differences in taste and ingredients that are often dictated by regional climates.
“I came to learn of the completely different worlds in which the inhabitants of each region live, from the Bedouins in the desert to the lively communities of the coastal cities,” she writes. “They all have their own foods and traditions, and generally seem uninterested in what is not theirs. To me, it seemed as if everyone was absorbed in their own Omani bubble.”
She says that dried limes, cardamom and dates are popular components of Omani food, while vegetables are, apparently, not. One of the key motivators that inspired her to put this book together was to disprove some misconceptions about the Gulf’s foodscape.
“No one really focuses so much on what the region actually has. They think it’s just rice and bread,” says Macki. “Everyone just assumes Middle Eastern food is all the same and it drives me insane.”
Featuring more than 100 modern, accessible recipes for meat, fish, drinks and desserts, “Bahari” is published by the notable UK firm Dorling Kindersley, an offshoot of Penguin Random House.
The book is billed as the first international Omani cookbook written by an Omani cook.
“There were Omani women who wrote cookbooks, but they wrote them for the community and the country,” Macki says. “It’s a big moment for me, because it’s the first Omani cookbook to be recognized on such a global scale and to be published by a major publisher.”
A recipe for Bahraini tikka from Dina Macki’s ‘Bahari’
INGREDIENTS (makes about 15 skewers)
600g beef tenderloin, cut into 2.5cm cubes; 3 tbsp garlic paste; 2 tbsp ground dried lime; ½ tsp ground ginger; 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper; 1 tsp salt; 1 tsp ground cumin; 3 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra for brushing
1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and massage with your hands to make sure the marinade has coated the meat well.
2. Cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge for at least an hour, but no more than 3 or 4 hours, or the acidity from the lime will tenderize the meat too much.
3. If you’re using a grill or barbecue, preheat to medium–high. If you’re using a griddle pan, heat over a medium–high heat and brush generously with oil.
4. Thread the beef chunks on to skewers, adding five chunks to each one. Cook the beef for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, leaving it slightly pink in the middle but nicely charred on the outside.
Serve the tikka with your chosen accompaniments. If you cooked it in a griddle pan, drizzle any excess juices from the pan over the meat, then serve.