I've decided to introduce a system of alerts, so that you can minimise unpleasant surprises, thereby maximising your FatSu pleasure. I'm not saying you're overly sensitive; it's not unreasonable that you might not want to find yourself suddenly reading about a horrific piece of animal cruelty when really you're just looking for tips on where to eat cheese. (If you just clicked that link though, you won't need this system; you have been warned; and there might be something a bit wrong with you. The cruelty is in paragraph two, you sick freak.) 

Also, there are people who might not want to read about eating meat, or drinking alcohol, or pork products. And as my post titles are getting more and more obscure, it's harder to know what a post might contain. But I'm all for preparedness. I wish there was a warning system on books. Same as you might find 'contains nuts' on a menu, or a parental guidance advisory on a film. Books containing particularly heart-rending scenes, unhappy endings, and it-was-only-a-dream devices should all come with an appropriately-stickered cover. I was reading Sisters By A River recently, which is a brilliant account of the author's eccentric childhood in England, and she very helpfully titled one of her chapters, Some Sad Things About Animals. I skipped it gratefully and moved on to a description of a particularly awesome tree.

So below is the FatSu Alert Chart. I've tried to include as many things as I could think of that I might write and you wouldn't want to read. You'll be seeing these at the top of future posts, where applicable. Please take a look, and take it seriously, seeing as I went to the trouble of aligning the hat on the alcohol icon's head. And carefully photoshopping out the smile on the monkey to give it more of a lab-resident look. Do you know how depressing it is to trawl the internet for the correct size cartoon of a dead cow?


It's increasingly harder to squeeze into my Food Clothes, which are by their nature already flowy or voluminous. That could be testament only to my sedentary lifestyle and summer malaise, but I like to blame the food blogging. At the beginning of blogging, people meeting me sometimes said oh, I thought you would be fatter! While I could have done without the comparative phrasing, I took it as a compliment, and I think I also believed that I might be immune to the calories: I mean, I'm eating for research purposes. We go out a lot since I started FatSuing - from the super-fancy like our Michelin-starred meals at the Shangri-La and the Grand Hyatt, to cosy little cafes in Khuwair. I love eating good food, so I don't resent FatSu for the extra pounds. But at this weekend's event at mOre Cafe on The Wave, unexpected competitive adrenaline probably burned off everything I ate.

It was organised to showcase mOre's catering service - they provide nibbles and full-on party food. You can check out the menu here, even book your order online if you're not already too jaded too trust anyone in Oman to check their inbox. We don't have parties at home - for a start I tell stories about tortured simians, not very Martha Stewart of me - so I'm not an ideal candidate for catering, but I liked one idea that mOre's management touted, which was instead of having a full-on feast delivered, you get them to provide the supporting acts to your star of the show, like a spread for before your barbeque, or the side-dishes for your superb roast.

I was prepared not to enjoy this event, because the car's air-con had broken the day before and we live half an hour from The Wave. My god. We hit a full complement of red lights, at each of which I wanted to launch myself into the road. We passed a guy on a construction site watering the ground to keep the dust rising...how I longed to be prancing through the spray. (Yes, I'm aware of the callous irony of this, given that the man was actually working outside in this heat, and not just cooped up for a bit on his way to a nice event at a posh cafe in The Walk.) By the way, The Wave, if you're reading this, those banks of greenery may look very lovely from the golf course but they completely block any breeze that might have come through our windows. And those speed bumps you've put on the entrance road really slow cars down.

When we arrived and parked, we unstuck ourselves from the seats and slid out of the car, then stood, arms out, in the mall to cool down, but we still both turned up at mOre looking like...have you played Resident Evil Revelations 2? There are these zombies that lurch around with a dead crust of skin all over them. You shoot that off, body part by body part, and as you break through with bullets, from one or other of the creature's joints this big veiny throbbing head pokes out. That's what you have to aim at for the coup-de-grace, and once you hit it, down goes the zombie, and all that's left on the floor where it stood is a steamy mass of gloopy, fire-red slime, which hisses and bubbles. We looked like that.

There. I think I'll put one unpleasant paragraph in each post I do from now on. That analogy wasn't as disturbing as the experiment anecdote in the last one, but I hope you weren't eating when you read about zombie pus. Point is, we were not in the mood for Fun. Few things would have been enough to resuscitate our energy. And we ended up having a brilliant time. 

There were lots of nice people, mostly fellow bloggers, and there were games! I'm a devotee of MKR and MasterChef, but I never thought of doing food games at home. First thing was the Blindfold Test, where you had to shout out as many correct ingredients possible in a mystery dish from the catering menu. Now, I knew in advance that this was going to be happening, but I decided not to memorise the menu to give myself a better chance of winning. So I already felt like a moral winner, which is what is important. And then I was an ACTUAL winner because I ROCKED at my turn! Ha! You should have seen me. Or better not, because I identified a weakness in the way my competitors were going about their task - savouring the food, rolling it round their palates, and even waiting until they had finished the mouthful before calling out the ingredient! I didn't make that mistake, although my way was definitely messier and unpleasant for spectators.

Then we went to a more sedate contest over at the coffee bar, where the nice barista submitted to having a dozen or so bloggers peer at him while he made a leaf appear on the foam of a cappuccino. Well. I didn't rock at this one, but I did manage to conjure up a rather beautiful sleeping foam baby on my coffee. Maurizio went for a crowd-pleasing thick layer of chocolate powder on his, rather than any attempt at coffee art, and also didn't win. I think his dark cocoa effect screwed up the colours on my picture of all our creations. And last was Food Pictionary. This is a really good idea for a game. We had to pick an item from the catering menu to depict; I went for the Funky Monkey ice-cream, as you can clearly see from the photo below. You could definitely do this as a general food game; I have a great idea for how to do hummus.












Summer. The sea is soup and the sand burns. People start slowing down in the refrigerated aisles of supermarkets just to catch a waft of cool air. Women walk with their faces turned up to keep the make-up from dripping off. The strength of our car air-conditioning becomes inordinately important to us.

Did you ever read about that horrific experiment they performed on chimpanzees? Or it might have been gorillas. Scientists wanted to see if the bond between mother and child would be strong enough to withstand extreme physical pain and suffering, or whether a sentient creature would sacrifice her baby to save herself. They did it by slowly increasing the heat of the metal floor in the animals' cages, where mother and baby 'lived'. At the first sign of dangerous heat, the mother scooped up her baby to save it from the ever-hotter floor. But her scorched feet became more and more painful, and the floor kept on heating up, and eventually, driven mad by pain, she put her baby on the floor on stood on it for some momentary relief. What on earth these mad bastards hoped to achieve by this experiment is unclear - is it maternal bonds that moved the Mars Rover around? Do chimp tears treat cancer? - but it is a highly unpleasant story that unfortunately comes into my head every time I walk outside in the Omani summer heat. 

(I just remembered, I heard this story from my mother. I wonder why should would have told me that?)

So. That's the problem laid out - along with a nasty story about animal cruelty - but what is the solution? Those of us who stay for summer must make a plan. Typically, this would include:

Trips to mountains
Piled-high DVDs of all the series I deliberately haven't watched so I can watch them in summer
A re-doubling of our efforts to destroy all the monsters in Resident Evil
Trying to play Risk with two people

And then there are all the food options. The indoor ones. Lock them in now, MAKE A PLAN, before the ennui hits and you're incapable of doing more than lolling on your sofa and ordering the same thing from Begum's again.

No doubt you're already bored of wandering around food courts, and do it once a week even in winter anyway, so we'll scratch that, unless I come across something amazing. So where to eat in summer? I'm going to start my with one of my very favourite things: cheese at the Chedi.

If you have an afternoon to while away - and in fact, if you don't, make one, because if you fail to build enough mini-treats and getaways into your summer, you will go insane - a cheese platter at the bar of the Chedi restaurant is a supremely elegant, tasty, and zen way to spend a few hours. You should ideally do this with a wine-drinking friend. I did it with two and that worked even better. Please note that with the exception of drink-driving and causing a public nuisance, all social rules related to alcohol are suspended during summer months. So you may as well order the bottle. The Chedi has an award-winning wine list and it would be really offensive not to try one of them. No it doesn't matter if it's daytime! You're not listening! This is what I'm saying you see; we have to make the best of things, and if you're going to make the best of things, you may as well make it the absolute best possible. Wine. Friends. French chef. Cheese. Chedi.

What cheeses? The Chedi has relationships with some of the top cheesemongers in the world so they always have something exciting on hand, although you might not find the same cheese twice. My advice: do what we did, and just let Executive Chef Sebastien Cassagnol pile up your plate after hearing your preferences (yes to stinky/no to stinky, etc). He is an expert and very charming, and he really loves cheese - even values English cheeses, despite clearly being French. The plate comes with little cubes of quince jelly, generous bunches of grapes, and fresh-from-the-bakery breads. A selection of three varieties is OMR 6.5++ although we doubled up with six types (has a handsome French chef ever offered you more cheese? Impossible to refuse). It's all flavoursome and wonderfully different to supermarket cheeses, and the setting as well as the food make it an experience; you can really take your time and savour everything, shaving off slivers of quince, spreading the soft cheeses on the bread - remembering to cleanse your palette with that wine before sampling the next cheese variety - breathe in the Chedi ambience and that lovely signature scent it has, another slice of the blue, and bang! There you go. One more unbearable summer afternoon just became awesome.









Does that post title sound a bit rude? It just seemed right. Maybe that's because I was exposed to porn this week, which doesn't happen often: some poor gentleman's account was hacked and a very explicit photo was posted in his name onto Oman Restaurant Review (and no doubt also on his family's and employer's newsfeeds. Shame). The picture was there a good 45 minutes or so and I was scrolling through as often as usual - you know, because I write a food blog - so I'm probably corrupted, and the hapless chap has likely been lynched.

Anyway, there's nothing sexy about this post, you'll be pleased to know. The rule I'm referring to in the title is, no ice cream from shops or restaurants unless it is made on the premises and the chef can come out and convince me that there have been no power outages or storage issues since the most recent batch was made. He has to look me in the eye while he says it, and you can't fool FatSu. I've had salmonella twice, both times from bad ice cream. It's not snobbishness! It's just that I have to look after my weary belly. Feckless retailers have turned me into this nightmare of a gelato consumer and robbed me of countless moments full of spontaneity and joy and creamy goodness. It fills me with rage. Well not rage exactly. It's too hot for that. (Just about right for ice cream though.)

So, I do break my rule for Mister Softy. Mister Softy is the ice cream place in Wattayah (Hamriya? I don't know). It's not even called Mister Softy. It's got some random sign outside; Gulf Parts Trading or similar. I realise this is not very helpful if you want to go and find it, but there is a giant flashing neon cone outside it, easily visible even from the flyover. Mister Softy has been there long enough that just about everyone who grew up in Oman has fond memories of it from their childhood: this place has its own humble place in the country's heart and history. The laminated posters on the wall have clearly been their since it opened and pull on my heartstrings. Have you ever been to Ghalya's Museum of Modern Art, on the Corniche? They had a very cool exhibit there when I went, rooms filled with the stuff that made up a typical Omani household in the 70s and 80s - Tang, Vimto, and lots of other products I didn't recognise. Having a Mister Softy is a bit like experiencing part of that.

To the ice cream itself. I don't know what this stuff is made of. I don't normally eat food that is squeezed through a metal tube. But it tastes good. A cone comes swirled up high and proud, service was friendly, and I didn't get food poisoning. Mine was a strawberry and that flavour only machine ice-cream has - if you're going to go for childhood-reminiscent treats, you should go all the way. They didn't have a Flake to put in it but that would have been good too. Can you hear that? It's the distant tinny jingle of the ice-cream van and you're going to ride your BMX over to its source.

If you are an adult and want an excuse to go and try this, may I suggest you finally get that chip on your windshield fixed? There's a shop where you can get it done for a fiver right behind the garage a few blocks down from Mister Softy.
 




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.


Synaesthesia is an interesting condition, meaning 'union of the senses'. Synaethetes experience one sense (or more) through another; tasting colours, seeing music, physically feeling flavours. There's no treatment, no cure, and apparently many with the condition wouldn't want one. It must give you a unique way of looking at (or smelling, or hearing) the world around you, and I'd like to have it just for a day, but be able to switch back if cheese turned out to be a revolting shade of puce, or wine sounded like a whining toddler.

Well, if you're not particularly gripped by the UK elections, you might manage to raise your level of interest by learning what, in the sense-fused mind of one synaesthete, James Wannerton, the main party candidates taste like. It's all in this Guardian article. I particularly like the description of Nigel Farrage's flavour: "a wet tweed jacket sleeve that grinds on your teeth".








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