Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Celebrated Shuwa of Oman

I have been an expatriate in the Middle East for more than a decade. I understand Arabic as well as speak the language practically. Arab tradition is among the most distinguished and unique cultures in the world. The Arabs value family welfare and tradition distinctly. Among the notable tradition of the Arabs is their love for food.

The Sultanate of Oman shares these unique cultures. I arrived in Oman on May 10, 2007; among my first curiosity was my affection to discover the exclusivity of food dishes in Oman. There are similarities among the food dishes I have experienced with from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

Shawarma and Sarooq are common Arabic sandwiches I savour a lot. Mandi meat dish prepared the Yemeni-way is equally available and serve in different regions in Saudi Arabia; this meat dish is one of my all-time favourite Arabic dish. Kabsa whether dijaz (chicken) or laham (meat) variety is the most popular and most consumed dish in the Middle East. Samak (fish) and laham (meat) Bukhari dish served in ordinary restaurants is an Afghanistan-inspired dish, they are very popular in the Asir Region of Saudi Arabia. Mugalghal (pot roast) is an Arabic meat dish akin to the Philippines’ local Menudo (meat stew).

Oman is one state in the Gulf Region who savours meat dishes. Among its stand-out meat dishes are the Maqbous and Shuwa or roasted meat.

Before the onset of Eid Al Fitr (the feast marking the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan) on August 31, 2011; I had the pleasure to receive from one of my Supervisors an e-mail containing photograph attachment of a typical community cooperation engage in the preparation of Shuwa. Aside from the well-acclaimed and delectable flavour of Shuwa, I found the preparation and cooking technique very unique and fascinating.

Meat Preparation

A thoroughly cleansed jute sack or basket made from palm leaves is prepared and uses to drape and bind the choice cut of meat for Shuwa. Jute sack is hand-sewn after the meat is seasoned.

A Jute Sack For Binding The Meat

The jute sack is spread flat and layered with herbs like rosemary, lemon grass, tarragon, etc. In some regions of Oman, fresh banana leaves are used instead of the herb. The layer of herbs or banana leaves locks-in and enhances the flavour of the seasoned meat.

Jute Sack Layered With Herbs

The choice meat block either from a goat, lamb, beef or camel is set on top of the layers of herb or leaf. The meat is thoroughly rubbed with Bizar A’ Shuwa (Omani Spice Rub); a concoction of spice blend commonly used in slow-cooked dishes to add flavour and zest. The spice belnd is composed of red pepper, turmeric, coriander, cummin, cardamom, garlic and vinegar.

The Meat Seasoned With Bizar A' Shuwa

After the meat is coated with the spice rub, it is once more layered with herbs or banana leaves. The seasoned meat block is totally wrapped in jute sack which later on is stitched and reinforced with firming twine to congeal completely.

The Sealed & Seasoned Meat

The Pit Oven

The oven utilize for roasting Shuwa is nothing more than an open pit dug directly in the ground. The pit varies in sizes depending on the heap of meat blocks to contain. The lining of the oven pit is constructed either with refractory bricks (fire bricks) or steel encasement to totally enclose the heat. A plate shield made from solid material like iron or steel is fabricated into a cover to completely close and seal-off any opening of the pit.

A Typical House-use Pit Oven 

A Communal-use Pit Oven

The charcoal produced from a species of Sumra tree collected from the outlying desert wilderness serve the best mean of bonfire. It is believed that these desiccated driftwoods scorched under the blistering desert temperature similarly improves the meat aroma, burns rigorously and lasts longer than ordinary firewood.

The Smouldering Pit

Once the driftwood is transformed into glowing charcoal, the meat block is pitched into the pit. The jute sack or palm leave baskets will not burn because a layer of mesh screen at the bottom of the pit prevents the glowing briskets from getting in contact with any surface of the meat blocks. Though slight scorching will occur especially during initial arrangement of the meat blocks; no unrestrained burning will take place. The oven pit is sealed with a metal cover. A large canvass fashioned from entwined jute sacks is spread across the oven pit cover.

Shuwa Ready For Pitching Into The Pit Oven

Shuwa Ready For Pitching Into The Pit Oven

A Shuwa Block Being Pitched Into The Pit Oven

A Shuwa Block Being Pitched Into The Pit Oven

Shuwa Is A Community Conceptive Effort

Soil set evenly, plump and firm is spread on top of the oven pit creating a fiery mound. The principle of setting the oven pit with plump mound of soil is to create a total vacuum generating pressure and heat that is even all throughout, not fiery since oxygen is depleted thus preventing over-cooking and uncontrolled smouldering.

Covering The Pit Oven

Setting The Top Soil

Plump Setting The Entire Lid 

The Fiery Mound 

Roasting Period

Shuwa is allowed to roast in a slow phase. The cooking time varies from six (6) to forty eight (48) hours depending on meat variety. Lamb and goat meat takes shorter cooking time compared to beef and camel meat. The slow roasting process infuses flavour absorption of the seasoning with the meat. The meat is tendered and does not dehydrate. There is no scorching nor under cooking. The flavour is locked in every grain and the aroma sets a more alluring and mouth-watering craving.

Unearthing the Treasure

After the lapse period and roasting time, the oven pit is finally unearthed. An enthralling aroma of freshly baked Shuwa greets every individual’s olfactory sense. The meat blocks are hoisted up the oven pit and allowed to simmer. The proud owner of the unearth cache leisurely cut-off the firming twines and slashes the jute sack and basket stitching. The layer of herbs and banana leaves binding which had apparently withered after locking in the flavours and aroma by liberally blending the seasoning with every strand and grain of the meat are meticulously separated.

Opening The Lid

Hoisting A Shuwa Blocks

Retrieving The Shuwa

Collecting Their Priced Shuwa

Removing The Binding

Savour the Flavour

The conclusive result of all conceptive effort is an inviting smorgasbord and sumptuous delight of tender, juicy and flavourful Shuwa everyone desires to savour.

Shuwa is best taken either with Arabic bread called Khubz or along with long-grained steamed white rice; I prefer rice prepared the Mandi or Bukhari way.

Salata or vegetable salad made up of daintily-cut cucumber, onion, carrot, tomato and lettuce will cordially supplement the dish.

A velvety serving of fresh Laban or yoghurt will definitely complete and compliment the opulent meal.

Sumptous Delight of Tender Juicy Meat 

The Shuwa Dish Served With Rice

Facts about Shuwa
Shuwa is a meat dish prepared during very special holidays, family gatherings and other well-known celebrated occasions in the Sultanate of Oman.
The celebrated Shuwa of Oman is a cultural and national treasure worth preserving and honouring. It is a heritage worth conserving and maintaining. It is very unique in every aspect of contemplation.
You might have noticed and wonder why in some photographs, Shuwa meat blocks are bearing empty soda cans and in one instance, a vehicle plate number?

Shuwa Meat Block Bearing Soda Cans

Shuwa Meat Block Bearing A Vehicle Plate Number

They do not in anyway contribute to enhance the flavour of the dish. They are just simply attached to the meat blocks for the simple purpose of identifying the owner.

Pretty cool!


I would like to express my sincere thank to my distinguished colleague from Oman, Hilal for entrusting me the privilage to feature this interesting topic in my blog site. It was indeed an honour. My admiration goes as well for his patience during my unrelentless inquiries. I hope I have presented the subject precisely or somehow substantiated the facts with veracity.

Respectively, I pay tribute to all the extraordinary gentlemen published in the photos. This presentation illustrates only how genuine communal cooperation among the neighbourhood exists in Oman. I look forward to your admiration or commentary if you have some and wish in your next groundwork, some of you might want to invite me for another series of an up-close and personal dissertation of the celebrated Shuwa.

A Tribute To Genuine Community Cooperation

Eid Mubarak...

Shukran Jazilan

Assalamu Alaikum

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