Every summer, when it starts to heat up here, I have a mental escape plan. I pick a country I might feasibly live in, and then I pretend I'm moving there - I research properties, possible towns I could pick, what businesses I might start there. Imagine where my local hangouts might be, or how cool the walls of my Andalucian cave house would feel, or lying in a hammock, pool-side in my Costa Rican finca, watching lizards kill smaller lizards. FatSu's Vicarious Summer Home can't just be any old place, of course. To get on my list, a country has to meet certain criteria, some of which are things I couldn't do without after so many years in Oman - it has to be, for example, relaxed and clean and safe and friendly. Other must-haves are things I crave after living without them for so long: it has to be green and leafy; I would have to be able to own a house there; I'd like to be able to buy wine in a normal shop, and I'd like to be able to walk to it, on a pavement, without passing drivers slowing down to ask if I'm alright, and without collapsing from heatstroke. And above all, there has to be an abundance of fresh produce.
Meanwhile, I do live in Oman, because I love it here. I can cope with trips to the booze shop instead of the corner shop. It will always be hot, and we'll continue to suffer through heat, humidity, and scalding tap water, despite Muscat Mutterings' recent cruel hoax.
Some things are changing though, and it may soon be that I can cross the requirement for local produce off my list as Oman starts to step up sustainability. I've been here eleven years, and all the time we're hearing more about in-country value, whether it's the prominent discussions of manpower rules or the funding of Omani SMEs. You'd think - because we're a touch on the arid side, here - that our local produce would be sidelined in all this ICV talk. But, from the showcasing of Omani products in supermarkets that's increased over the last few years - those Omani Roma tomatoes are really tasty - to the embracing of local food brands, we seem to be getting prouder of our produce, and more aware of the wider issue of food sustainability. The powers that be want it. Several huge projects are underway to shore up our production of food - there's a pilot scheme currently operating here in Muscat. Oman already supplies the best restaurants in the region with its fish and seafood. And, we're the biggest manufacturer of foodstuffs in the GCC.
Tomorrow we're going to the Rooted in Nature dinner at the Shangri-La, from which I'll be posting live on the FatSu Instagram @heyfatsu. The meal is designed to showcase how the three-hotel resort utilises local produce across its twenty-two food venues - the image below is a one of the dishes, a beautiful piece of tuna fished straight from the beach beyond the hotel. Embracing local produce is a dictum that has come down from above - all the Shangri-La hotels worldwide have undertaken to set up and maintain links with local food sources, in the interests of the environment and responsible business. Unlike most orders issued to a local property from some far-off HQ, though, this one actually fits beautifully into what Oman needs and what its residents want. Local farmers and fishermen are happy; the Shangri-La engages with and supports the community; we diners get fresher, authentic Omani ingredients; and removing the petrol-heavy transportation to Oman of stuff we can grow here, reduces carbon emissions.
More and more outlets here are turning to their local suppliers - and even to their own properties - to supply their ingredients. Shangri-La's seafood is already 80% local (I'm guessing it's those tricky salmon and a boatload of oysters that make up the other 20%). Overall, 60% of their dishes feature locally-grown produce. I can only imagine the volume this represents, but it's got to be making a real impact on the agricultural and fish markets. Taking advantage of their lush grounds, Shangri-La have cultivated a herb garden, stocked with chilli, lemongrass, rosemary...I need to find that place; I'll wander off from tomorrow's dinner and follow my nose. I hope it's poorly-secured.