September 24, 2014

Dates in Oman (excerpt from Unknown Oman, by Wendell Phillips)

“Depending on one’s state of mind, the state of the weather and the time of day, a graceful date garden can be a scene of exceeding beauty. Oasis life is more refined than life on the open desert, with certain oasis tribes proudly referring to themselves as “ahl an-nakhl” (people of the palm). As a general rule, the Omanis eat their dates raw. They claims to possess over one hundred varieties of dates, which are both the ‘staff of life’ and ‘bread of the land’, and they assert that a good wife can place before her husband a dish of dates differently prepared every day of the month. As first noted by Carsten Neibuhr in the late eighteenth century, Arabs classify dates into hot or cold depending on the taste. Oman produces a dozen first-class types of soft dates, with those from al-Batinah noted for their flavor and maturing earlier than those from Basrah. The main variety on al-Batinah (not found in the interior) is the umm silah which, packed in the palm-frond basket, is well know in the markets of South Arabia. The mabsali is not restricted to al-Batinah (found in the interior and on the coast); it is boiled when it reaches the red stage and it is the type which brings the highest price. The most celebrated Omani varieties are the Fardh, Khalas and Khanaizi. Pliny stated in his Natural History that if he could remember their barbarous names he could list forty-nine varieties of dates. In all, over 500 different names and epiphets are used in Arabia, for the date reigns supreme as the queen of trees. Truly the one-humped camel and the date palm are the symbol of Arabia.


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