Things we did growing up in Oman

My sister and I lived in Oman in the late 70s, 80s, 90s and I lived there until the mid-2000s. For us the 80s and 90s were some of the best years of our lives living in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

With its pristine isolated beaches, dramatic jebels (mountains), glorious wadis (valleys), the clearest light, brilliant blue skies, dramatically green oases/villages in the middle of nowhere with their life-giving falaj systems, Oman was a small slice of heaven.

Even with the temperatures hitting nearly 50 degree Celsius in the summer, we regularly hit the beaches or found things to do in the evenings on the hottest days in summer. Even the rains were dramatic. They came suddenly out of nowhere and for about the time it took for one to take a deep breath everything was washed clean and the desert looked like it was in bloom.

And we periodically go into reveries about the farmhouse in Musanna outside Muscat that we spent many happy weekends at. The farmhouse belonged to dad’s boss and had the loveliest groves of lime and sapota and dates. They had a million ber (Indian plum) trees. The farm also had a rose garden which was an enclosed structure made of climbing roses. The fragrance of those big pink roses is something I have been trying to recapture ever since. We used to gather a bunch and keep it in the fridge in Muscat. Or they would have them sent over. And the fridge would be a fragrant little haven for several weeks.

This is a list of everything that marked our growing years divided into what we ate/drank, where we shopped, all the outings and what we did for entertainment. Some of these things maybe universal experiences for those who grew up there at the same time as us. Many of these places don’t exist anymore or have changed beyond recognition. I’m sure there’s plenty I have forgotten. But these are the things that stand out.

The food (junk and otherwise)

1. Oman chips, Pofak (with hot chili sauce), Sohar chips (chicken flavored), Ringo

2. Omani halwa

3. Omani dates

4. SunTop (orange and mango) with the World Cup football team stickers and the polar bear stickers

5. Chilled laban from the so-called Malabari shops on hot hot hot summer days.

6. Cold Almarai milk.

7. Stone fruit from around the world in the winter. Cartons full.

8. Qubus (from Modern Oman Bakery, freshly baked) and that salty creamy Kraft cream cheese.

9. The kebabs from the Afghani baba’s kiosk near Hamriya. The baba was really like a character from the Arabian nights.

10. The kebabs and parathas from the Mallu restaurant near the Musanna farm where we spend some long weekends.

11. Batata vada on rainy days from the Gujju shop just outside the souk.

12. Bhel puri from Samrat near Riyam Park.

13. Donuts (especially the jam filled ones) from the Modern Oman Bakery.

14. The small pizzas from Modern Oman Bakery (chicken and veg). Pizza Hut and Domino’s have nothing on these guys.

15. Every birthday cake ever from Modern Oman Bakery.

16. Everything ever made at the Modern Oman Bakery and their super friendly staff.

17. The shawarma from the Ruwi high street with the yummiest falafels anywhere in the world.

18. The whole grilled chicken from the Al-Falaj Hotel. The tastiest chicken in the world.

19. The shawarma from the Sultan Center.

20. The weekend brunches at the Sultan Center with all those cheeses. A shout out to all those beautiful Egyptian and Lebanese and Palestinian families with the chubbiest babies that were also at those brunches.

21. Vimto (for Ramadan and for any hot day and for any day of the year for no reason at all)

22. Ribena for when you were going ‘healthy’.

23. Tang for every family visit. Also, for transporting back to Kerala on summer vacations.

24. Tins and tins of Nido that were consumed. And Rainbow milk powder for making homemade yoghurt.

25. Shani, RC Cola and other drinks which we won’t find anymore.

26. All the chocolate: Ripple, Flute, Fanfare, Galaxy, Milky Way

27. Softy ice-cream from that small place in Muttrah but also from the small shop in Ruwi.

28. Ice cold chickoo milk shakes and chicken sandwiches from the Sindbad Restaurant in Ruwi

29. The kebabs from the Omar Khayyam Restaurant.

30. The HUGE meals at the Lebanese place in Qurum.

The outings and drives

1. Riyam Park with the awesome view out to the sea for short weekend outings. Also, Wadi Kabir park for the shorter school trips and family outings.

2. Intercon beach for short weekend beach bumming

3. Qantab beach for longer weekend beach bumming and before Bustan Palace Hotel was even an idea. Pure white sands and beautiful cliffs.

4. Naseem Park for longer weekend outings which didn’t allow full holidays and also longer school trips.

5. School trips to the Pepsi Cola factory

6. Visits to the Sohar Sun Farms

7. Walks on the Corniche in the early mornings and late evenings in the summer and any time of day in the winter.

8. Finding hidden beaches like the Yeti and the Al Suwaidi before they became popular destinations.

9. Exploring a different region of this vast and beautiful country. Sur, Nizwa, Salalah, Quriyat, Jebel Akhdhar. For the longest time, these were vast beautiful desolate stretches with tiny hamlets.

10. Drive over to Dubai and Al-Ain for the longer holidays.

11. Before the roads/ highways were fully developed and lights installed, it was a joy to drive through the country in the evenings. Starlit skies and full/crescent moons. Dangerous (if you weren’t following the speed limits) but beautiful.

The shopping

1. The souk…walk from the Muttrah side to the corniche side on Friday mornings. Buy anything from around the world plus the smell of all the spices.

2. The fish market in Muttrah. Never have I ever seen as much fish anywhere else in the world.

3. The Family Book Store…yet to come across a bookstore that is as cozy. And in those days books cost an arm and a leg.

4. SABCO center… the very first ‘mall’. Also, saw PC Sorcar perform there once.

5. Al Jadeed supermarket for grocery shopping …

6. Lakhoo Stores for the most vibrantly colored sarees and chiffons

7. Mehdi Stores for lovely dress materials and shirts

8. Al-Andaleeb for the beautiful British made clothes for kids. The loveliest things.

9. Dhofar building …for blingy textile

10. Pappu store on Ruwi high street for cheaper textiles when you were on a budget and needed to buy for the million relatives in India

11. Salman Stores on Ruwi high street with the loveliest things…

12. Capital Stores for the French perfumes. And general prettiness.

13. Khimji Stores for all the pots and pans and also the huge jigsaw puzzles and board games

14. Shahnagar Das for the back to school stationary and books and sweet smelling erasers and stickers and water bottles and lunch boxes

15. Salam Studio Stores if you wanted to splurge

16. Co-operative Stores with the yummiest hot dogs ever in the stand outside.

17. Assrain Garden Center for the indoor plants.

The entertainment

1. Reading. Reading. Reading. Books borrowed from the school library. Books bought on the rare occasion from the Family Book Store or hauled back from trips to India.

2. The half hour to one hour of English programing on Oman TV which anyway started only at 3.30 PM. This was in the 80s.

3. The midnight showings of various English television mini-series such as War and Peace, Windmills of the Gods etc

4. The Ramadan programing was the best. The Arabic dubbed animated versions of Daddy Longlegs, Little Princess, Voltron, etc

5. Ramadan also had some amazing Arabic television series.

6. Some Fridays when we were very little (early 80s) they would show a Hindi movie in the afternoons. Amitabh Bacchan films were super popular.

7. Outings and drives (see above)

8. Movies at Star Cinema or the Rex Cinema

9. Learning dance (bharatnatyam in my case), keyboards (my sister), painting (also my sister), needlework (me).

10. The various writers, commentators, musicians that the Kerala Cultural Center and the Indian Cultural Association brought over. The various intellectuals and sports people who we encountered at these do’s included Khushwant Singh, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Kamala Das, N. Ram, Sukumar Azhikode, various cricketers including Gavaskar and Shastri. Also, various Malayalam film actors.

11. Endless games of badminton and our version of beach ball. Or just hanging out on the terrace looking out at the sea or staring out the window at the cat that was always giving birth on the neighbor’s rooftop under the badam tree that grew there.