Bread & Camels< OMAN HERITAGE

The Making of the Salalah Bread

 

The oven is left covered while the bread is being baked. This method of cooking gives a grilling effect to Omani bread which can be kept without being spoilt for manydays. The thick variety has more life compared with the thin

 

 

Naf'ah sticks Omani bread in the earthen oven

The geographical features of a region often play a big role in determining the modes of livelihood for people. In Dhofar, a number of women are making a living out of preparing Omani bread known as raqiq, while it is common to find men engaged camel rearing.Naf'ah Mustahail is better known in the wilayat of Taqa as an expert confectioner. All through her life in the last 50-odd years, she has been baking the traditional Omani bread and supplying to regular clients on the nearby mountains as well as tourists.Naf'ah's daily chores begin early in the morning when she kneads wheat flour mixed with ghee, a little sugar and salt. Small balls of dough are then rolled out first on a wooden board and then put on a clay mould to imprint designs on the bread.

Fresh Omani bread baked daily by Naf'ah are sold like hot cakes, especially during the monsoon season. Her major clients are the mountain people of Taqah for whom the bread serves as a main food item during the wet weather.Two types of bread are baked by Naf'ah — the thin variety which resembles kuboos and the other which is almost an inch in thickness. The rolling of dough requires three minutes for each bread. On an average, Naf'ah bakes 40 each of the two varieties daily.While the dough is rolled and readied, Naf'ah is assisted by an employee to prepare fire in an earthen oven. Charcoal lies in ember in the oven when Naf'ah steps out from the kitchen with the raw bread. After cleaning the oven walls, Naf'ah sticks the pieces of bread inside the oven. At a time, nearly 20 pieces of bread can be baked in the oven which is one metre deep and one metre in diameter.

 

The thin variety of bread requires about 15 minutes for baking while the thick variety requires 25 minutes. The oven is left covered while the bread is being baked. This method of cooking gives a grilling effect to Omani bread which can be kept without being spoilt for many days. The thick variety has more life compared to the thin variety.Throughout the year, Naf'ah bakes Omani bread and sells 10 pieces of the thin variety for one riyal while five of the thick variety is sold for a riyal. On an average, she makes about 10 riyals a day. During the marriage season the sales improve as this type of bread is served with halwa to guests.Naf'ah has imparted her cooking skills to a number of women who today are all engaged in bread-making, making a living out of it.

The thick variety of Omani bread can be preserved as long as a month and is preferred by the mountain people during the monsoon season when they do not leave their abodes for days together.The camels of Dhofar are part and parcel of the households they belong to. In the governorate, the number of camels is roughly estimated at 60,000. What makes camels special to the people of Dhofar is their friendliness and usefulness, especially in the desert environment.The monsoon season forces camels to descend from the mountains and remain in the plains untill the rains subside. The slippery mountains may prove dangerous to them and hence during khareef they are restrained in the plains and fed with alfalfa and fodder.Ahmed bin Abdullah al Badi al Rowas, togther with some of his relatives, owns 170 camels.

He recalls a time when camels were few in number, they were required to find food for themselves. However, with the increase in numbers of camels, the owners are now forced to provide food to camels during the monsoon season as well as some other months when pasture lands are exhausted.When the monsoon season ends in August, camels will have the best time of their life for two months with abundant pasture on the mountains, Al Rowas said.Due to the strong link between camels and their owners, the animals are rarely sold, and they are kept as part of the household, Al Rowas said.In order to identify the camels belonging to one tribe, the animals are branded when they are young. In case a camel is stolen or is lost, the distinguishing mark helps in locating it, Al Rowas said.Normally camels remain very healthy and the diseases it could suffer from include a certain type of infection which is contracted while grazing. 

This, however, can be treated and cured easily, even though it may be contagious, Al Rowas said. The camels which are sick due to such an infection will have watering eyes and become thin and weak, he pointed out.Ahmed bin Said al Katheri has never been trained as a veterinary doctor, but is sought after by camel and cattle owners when their animals fall sick. From sheer experience, by watching his father exercising medical expertise, Al Katheri picked up the remedies and started practising as a vet. Over the years, he has gained thorough knowledge about the ills affecting the animals and remedies for them. He even performs caesarian operation for animals which find difficulty in delivery.

The Dhofari camels have not been bred as racing camels. However, efforts are on to rear a racing breed as camels from the mountainous regions ought to naturally perform better than other camels, Al Rowas felt.Meanwhile, the formal functioning of a company which was set up to market camel milk is eagerly awaited by camel owners, Al Rowas said. The company will be a boon for them as currently camel milk is consumed only by their own family members, he added. The milk should not to be boiled and has to be drunk immediately after milking. The milk, however, can be preserved if it is immediately put in refrigerator, Al Rowas said.Camel milk is low in fat content and very good for stomach, Al Rowas said. On an average, a she camel will yield 15 to 20 litres of milk a day, he added.Even though camels are large in size, compared to cattle, they are easy to control very friendly to people, Al Rowas pointed out. This has led to a strong bond between camels and people, he added.

 

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