It's so hot. Facebook is filled with pictures of the temperature gauges in cars. Google says it's 120 and feels like 140. I drank a thickshake from Elevation Burger before leaving Muscat Grand Mall yesterday in an attempt to beat the heat. Drank isn't quite the right word...hoovered? You really have to make an effort to get this stuff up the straw. They give you a spoon as well as a straw but that just feels like a challenge to me. Anyway, I can recommend brain freeze as a tasty method of cooling down, as the head stays colder for  a couple of minutes longer than with other refreshing drinks like iced water, plus my thickshake had Oreos in it.


With the European parliamentary elections and the UK map turning purple on BBC World news this week, like many politically-aware continental couples, Maurizio and I were hotly debating Europe and national identity, in our case though specifically with reference to cheese.

Parmesan, like Champagne, is one of those foodstuffs that is - as claimed and upheld by law - so inherently and essentially a product of its home town that nobody else could feasibly reproduce it elsewhere, and as a result falls under the legal framework provided by the EU Regulation No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs. Well, I'm not one to flout the law but I think there has to be a bit of leeway. There, I said it. (I must remember to put a disclaimer on the blog to cover controversial posts like this.)

The keen-eyed will notice the small but incendiary 'Wisconsin Cheese' branding on the copper kettle Parmesan below. American Parmesan. That's what lead to the debate: can a cheese not made in Parma ever legitimately be called Parmesan? Sweeter and nuttier than its pureblood predecessor, this is a very very tasty cheese - I'm eating a wedge with my other hand as I type this - easily the best American cheese I've had, and I've choked down a few in the interests of fairness. Of course there a few stand-out producers, but overall the cheese situation stateside is bleak.

How can it be possible that there is something known as 'American cheese'; one type from sea to shining sea, that huge mass of states, cultures and people? England is tiny but referring blanketly to 'English cheese' is unimaginable. Wensleydale, Cheshire, Cheddar: town to town there are variations and innovations. Is anything else in the US so homogenous as its cheese appears to be? Even McDonald's has carb-free options and gourmet coffee now. And American cheese always seems to refer to horrible processed stuff in a can, or a canister. If you're looking for a cheese to represent the nation, it shouldn't be squeezable.

Of all countries, the USA should be allowed to fly in the face of name-protected cheeses. Not because of their size and might but because of their own pitiful domestic cheese offerings. Maybe, strictly speaking, this should be labelled Parmesan-style cheese, but what we're seeing here is a sincere effort to better a country's frankly embarrassing international cheese rep, not by shock and awe, but by using traditional Parmigiana methods and ingredients to create a really good cheese. They should label it, 'Better Than American'.

Peace to all nations.

I'm very interested in value, and what people pay for what, and in my real job (in a clothing boutique), showing customers that what they are buying is an investment is something I do each day. With food experience, sometimes we can get a little bit carried away and fail to notice the price, for better or worse, because you're buying something ephemeral - atmosphere; a night out; romance - as well as the food on your plate. It's easy to assume that a cheap-seeming outlet will cost you less than an opulent one, but I don't think it's always true, not here anyway. And I'm a bill-dissector.

I'm musing this value issue after having the below selection of sweets at The Chedi Muscat. For your vicarious pleasure, that little glossy globe is a deep, rich cherry confection. The dusted log is Szechuan pepper and dark chocolate, perfectly sharp. The humble-looking cube is filled with a salted caramel and the sprinkle on top of it is black volcanic salt - lord have mercy. So good. That macaroon is a unique creation by the Chedi's pastry kitchen: green apple and thyme. Apparently the team is constantly playing around with new and interesting flavour combinations, and the best ones make it onto the menu. I love that! 

And when the bill came and I saw that each of these little deliciousnesses was a rial or less, I was stunned anew. 750 baisas for a hand-crafted, uniquely-flavoured macaroon. Seriously, that's what I pay for a Diet Pepsi in a paper cup in some fast food joints. Value! See? These were gorgeous and I got to linger over them in the soul-cleansing beauty of the Chedi (although having got some takeaway ones too, and can confirm that they also transcend location and are just as glamorous when eaten at home in front of Game Of Thrones).

We have a walled garden which mainly exists to provide our cats with shaded areas to sleep in. I'm no proud gardener, but I was very happily surprised to see mangoes growing on one of our trees, particularly as I'm pretty sure it's a guava tree. That blip aside, I think I might get more into this Growing of Stuff; we just created a cocktail from ginger beer, vodka and lovely mangoes not just freshly-plucked but still warm from the sun, and a shred of peel from one of our lemons too. Now I need an Angostura tree and we're set for summer refreshments.




As you no doubt know from the inspirational images on your daily Instagram feed, when life gives you lemons, you're supposed to make lemonade. When you're half way through cooking a delicious-smelling, slow-cooking weekend dinner and your gas runs out, it's more like life has smashed a lemon-shaped fist into your gut. 

It happened to us recently. But like the troopers we are, we had a takeaway from Begum's, wiped the tears from our eyes, and the next day, with a shiny new cylinder in place, set about doing what we could to salvage the abortive dinner - in this case, we managed to resurrect the roasted sweet potatoes. 

We made Mexican sweet potato soup. This was partly inspired by the already-made blackened sweet potatoes that the recipe called for, and partly by the happy coincidence of having non-expired sour cream in the fridge for the first time ever. Also, by my new found love for the instant smoky hit that is chipotle sauce, which the recipe called for. We had it with crusty oil-drizzled bread, a lot of coriander, and the chipotle bottle close at hand.




Does it sound ridiculous to say "I was pleasantly surprised at The Chedi Muscat"? It's such a haven, that place, with an almost otherworldly zen-ness, that it kind of goes without saying that everything about it will be pleasant, from the moment you enter its scented, tented lobby. My surprise came from the insanely delicious raspberry dessert I had there; more specifically, finding out from their pastry chef that the berries are sourced locally. These were plump, juicy and sweet, and grown somewhere - somehow - way out in the Omani desert. Raspberries! That's fantastic. 

Of all the gastronomic nostalgia I suffer from, the relative lack of local produce here is in the most painful. I'd love to see more Omani foodstuffs in restaurants and on shelves here in Muscat. If you want to sample these local beauties, hurry to The Restaurant at The Chedi: Chef tells me that raspberry season in Oman is soon coming to a close. (There's a sentence I never thought I would type.)

Food, good food, like human beauty, art, and probably some other stuff, is all about contrast. Across all food cultures. Sweet and sour go hand in hand, like crispy bacon and runny fried eggs do; like crunchy walnuts in a smooth blue cheese sauce; like hot chilli salsa tempered by cool sour cream.


Ice-cream sodas have managed to pass me by. I've seen them being sipped by The Fonz's coy conquests on innumerable episodes of Happy Days, and when in the US I always favour diners over other eateries (they make me feel like I'm in a film). My first one was the other night at Nando's...their Coconut Crush sounded like it might be refreshing enough to wake me from my espetada-induced stupor. Zingy lemonade and creamy coconut and vanilla ice-cream, bubbles and smoothness, just lovely. I get it now. I got brain-freeze and nose-fizz at the same time too, another first.

Yesterday I was hungry for a food I'd never had. Nando's launched its new menu item, the espetada, and I went to try it out. I didn't know what an espetada was, but Google told me they are Portuguese kebabs. Meat on a stick appeals to the very most basic, sub-mammalian part of the brain. It was more than likely the first hot dinner Man ever had, cooked over the smoking coals of the first ever fire. 

Thousands of years have passed, and our civilisation has developed, and now we can go to Nando's and have garlic-rubbed, feta-stuffed, marinated juicy chicken espetada, served in generous portions, hanging from a specialised metal contraption. Nando's served it with a tasty southern European salad and a fizzy, zingy mango sangria. I'm so glad we've evolved. The chicken, as per the ingeniously simple but effective Nando's tagline, was really, really, really, really good, and I liked the novelty of eating downwards.

We finished with this slice of peanutty, gooey, chocolatiness, which was firm and, despite literally oozing caramel, not too sweet. It may have had other ingredients but I was almost swooning with fullness at this point. Like I said, portions were generous (the espetada was longer than my arm), but when it came to dessert, luckily my keen brain had thought of a fantastic justification for squeezing in one more course: "After all, I'm already here".






Breaking news: Within minutes of posting my last piece, I got the below visual evidence, along with detailed aisle directions to the EXACT POSITION of Rowntree's Fruit Gums from Lulu management. Once I have bought all but one packet, I will disclose the location. (Hint: that's not the real Big Ben.)

And later: my patented instructions on How To Eat Fruit Gums Without Getting Them Stuck In Your Teeth.

Lulu, about which I posted on my retail blog a while ago, is running a British food promotion at the moment; so, being British and a food blogger, I saw it was my duty to check it out. Well. More accurately, I went to see if I might be able to get a) dark chocolate HobNobs and b) Rowntree's Fruit Gums.

I had heard a rumour on the confectionery underground that some variety packs had the Fruit Gums in, and I would gladly chuck away the inferior findings to gorge on gums. Those green ones! Teetering on the edge of too sour, the lactic acid burning your palate. Anyway, my love of Fruit Gums is something for a much longer, in-depth piece, besides which they didn't have any.

What they did have, and what the first thing I saw was, Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Bars! I had one of these for lunch every single that day I went to school with a lunchbox (I had a He-Man one). Far from having come into Lulu looking for these, they transported me back to being 4 years old embarrassingly quickly. That shiny little boy from the Olden Days smiled up at me five days a week for years! Sometimes the only child who would in fact. It's the world's least cool snack bar  - you don't tend to appreciate retro as a concept until you've reached puberty at least - but I loved them. (The cool snacks, of course, were the newly re-branded Penguin bars, and the cool lunchboxes were Transformers ones.)





Before the panel on the Oxford English Dictionary allowed in the definition of the word "vanilla" to describe something that's nice enough, regular, a bit bleh, they should have tried the vanilla eclairs at Fauchon. So not regular. So very vanilla. (You can see the flecks of vanilla bean in the icing and in the creamy filling.) First time I tried it, it was alongside two more ostensibly impressive offerings from Fauchon, including a dessert drowned in liquid edible gold and festooned with tiny golden balls; not that anything from Fauchon could ever be called humble, but it was the relatively less luxe vanilla eclair that stood out. Layers of flavour that just kept on coming, the sweetness offset by an undertone of almost sour creaminess, just perfect. The little branded fuchsia slab on top is lemony too, which cuts through the sugars (I used it as a palette cleanser between this one and the chocolate eclair).






A three-fruit flavour ice lolly from iStick Oman in the food court at Muscat Grand Mall - blackberry, mango and raspberry. Really tasty; they make them fresh every day right there on the premises from REAL FRUIT (Tim Hortons take note), and they don't add any chemical nasties. I was bit taken aback at the OMR 2.500 price tag but thinking about it, I would probably pay not much less for a freshly-squeezed juice, and this contains the whole fruit (I know because the mango was good and pulpy), so you get the fibre you wouldn't in a juice. Anyway, I'd already licked it before handing over the cash, and not even the PACP would make a shop take back something pre-licked. Maurizio frugally had the summer melon one, which was just a rial and just as tasty, so the whole bill was about as much as your average luxury macaroon and was much better at beating the heat. I even got a red nose from the iciness.


Only 1 in 249 avocados in Muscat is ready to eat. When you find a ripe avocado here, it's like a little treat from the universe.

When you find one on a Friday, really the best thing you can do is make guacamole and spread it over a huge plate of nacho chips. With some juicy tomatoes and sharp cheddar and fresh ripped coriander. And, which I just discovered, smoked chipotle tabasco.

Top tip: when your fingers become wrinkly at the tips from the salty chips, you've had enough.


Ah, Foods You Should Like; you're never any fun. Here's what I'm choking down this morning to fight an oncoming cold. The vitamin content is through the roof, but the juice's colour and scent have the same effect on me as the stripes of a poison frog have on a three-toed sloth.



It's been a busy week for FatSu. A glorious Michelin-starred lunch by Chef Alfredo Russo at the Shangri-La (he's there til the 3rd, go if you get the chance). Then last night, the Grand Hyatt Muscat held a gourmet dinner at their Safari Rooftop Grill: Beers and Ciders of the World was the theme. I like to learn, and somehow I seem to have missed out on the cider experience. It's a common introduction to alcohol in England, but my teenage years coincided with the beginning of aggressive alco-pop marketing campaigns. Cider, it turns out, is very strong stuff. Sneakily strong, and tasty. And surprisingly good with dinner.

I tried some very traditional Thatcher's; a strawberry and lime version; and a Swedish pear-based cider. The food was similarly international: foie gras with roasted apple discs and a lime jelly, then wasabi-crusted tuna with a lemon puree, followed by a beautiful piece of halibut. All menus should have at least one of the following words on in order to make guests feel gourmetish: Emulsion. Micro herbs. Artisan.

There was another nice surprise last night; I increased my knowledge of Hawaiian desserts by 100%. Do you know what a mochi is? It's a bite-size ice-cream made from butter and coconut and wrapped in rice paper. The paper package melts in your mouth, very convenient and refreshing. 

And luckily for my fellow guests last night, it was only this morning that I remembered the song I Am A Cider Drinker.










Next PostNewer Posts Previous PostOlder Posts Home