Oman’s Iron Chef BBQ edition…..and how I wasn’t even close!

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Its not a secret that I enjoy food….Apart from being a food photographer / Blogger, I always enjoy a nice meal at home or out!
I didn’t start cooking myself till I went to university in Australia. The first attempts were.. well lets just say ..umm well they weren’t good. That was very ironic as before I wanted to study at uni, I wanted to be a chef! Thankfully since then, I took may classes and experimented….now I really enjoy cooking and at camping trips and bbq, i’m always the one behind the grill.

When A’saffa Foods announced that they will be doing a bbq competition, I thought: Hey, why not! lets be on the other side for once! whats the worst that could happen?20150313_154003

Weellllllll……..lets just say I was not prepared for this kind of competition! the people there had amazingly complicated marinades, some serious gear and a great spirit to go along!
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I wanted to do my simple but tasty yogurt, lime and coriander marinade.

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The other teams livened up the spirit! the teams and their families created such a fun experience and the entertainment on stage kept the young ones entertained!
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The awesome chef Issa Al Lamki was the judge of the competition and although he wasn’t impressed with the simplicity of the dish, he did say that he was loved how it was cooked very well and how the chicken was tender….There’s some hope left for next year!!
(pic taken from Susan from HeyFatsu)

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So lesson learned! next time they have this, ill bring my ace game….maybe even take a class or two at NHI!

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Ethics of A Food Blogger

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So recently I’ve been confronted with an interesting topic: Why do you get free meals and why should people believe your blog?
This question even popped up on the popular restaurant review page “Oman Restaurant Review” and the admins there were accused of trying to score free meals…etc.

Should bloggers get paid? should they get free meals? how do you insure that a blogger’s views are honest and not bought?

Well, here are some popular bloggers and their opinions before I share mine…

Heather Duncan from The Duncan Adventures had this to say:
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“As a Blogger I am constantly ploughing my time and money into a site to please other people. Shelling out for camera equipment, domain names, traveling to places in search of a good story – it all adds up! I don’t make any cash back on my site so effectively I am at a loss. I just keep blogging because I enjoy it and feel a sense of pride. If a company wanted to invite me for a free meal to discuss their upcoming events, I don’t see anything wrong in that. A small ‘perk’ in return for all the time devoted to creating something bigger is a not a bad thing. A ‘perk’ is just a small reward, not pay day.”

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I asked one of my favorite food bloggers; Susan from HeyFatsu a few questions that I’ve been asked a lot! this is what she had to say:
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Me: Why do people differentiate bloggers from traditional media? essentially they both get asked to join in for food tasting.

Susan: It’s probably because people see bloggers as people who write for free, whereas the print media gets paid a salary for it. That makes bloggers look more objective and open, so maybe people feel somehow betrayed if they then perceive bloggers as getting “bribed” with food.

Me: Do you think its ethical? would it sway opinions of bloggers?

Susan: Blogging is so varied and doesn’t follow a set structure, each writer is going to make their own ethical choices. Personally I was brought up on a diet of Enid Blyton and righteous indignation so I have a very firm view of what I am morally comfortable with. I think that readers can sense when there’s honesty in what’s being written, especially highly intelligent ones like the people who read FatSu. I hope people reading FatSu know that while I might love food and appreciate sometimes being invited, I wouldn’t ever change what I wrote based on that for the sake of a free meal. Maybe for a massive pile of cash.

Me: If you got invited to a place and didn’t like the food, how would you handle that? does getting invited sway how you write?

Susan: Sometimes, I get invited to places and choose not to go because I have had the food before and not enjoyed it. So free food alone would not be enough to tempt me. Free awesome food, I will not turn down. Why would I?! If anyone were to ask it I ate for free, I would tell them the truth. I have never and would never lie about that, or anything else on my blog. My blog only retains its value for readers if it’s honest and entertaining. There’s never been any pressure on me to make specific references, or efforts made to influence my posts, by any of the people that have invited me – if there was, I wouldn’t continue to eat at their restaurants. I’m no food whore. And nobody tells FatSu what to write.

Being invited doesn’t sway how I write. How good the food is sways whether I write. I’ve been invited to restaurants and not particularly enjoyed the food – to me, that makes for a pretty dull post, so I tend not to write it up, particularly when it’s a cuisine I’m not that familiar with (on the ground of well, what do I know?). Of course if I was a traditional restaurant critic, I would have to give a full evaluation regardless, but luckily I’m not. I can choose what I write about, and I like to write about good food. All my negative ranting tends to be aimed at the market in general, whether it’s the proliferation of faceless chains or the lack of ripe avocados on the shelves.

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Initially, I had set out to write a big post about this but all my points are covered! what id like to add is that we don’t write to get perks, we write because we enjoy it and as Susan rightly said, it will be a very boring post if we write things that we ourselves can’t enjoy!
More so, we have intelligent readers…..if I write that a restaurant I visited has amazing food and great service and you get treated to an unpalatable meal, would you believe my next post? would you continue to read my blog?

No, you wouldn’t …….

And now I feel like some Sem Som!

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Its a good time to be a foodie in Muscat! With all these great restaurants opening up, many cuisines are coming up and some bringing their own new twist to the mix…
Thats exactly what SemSom is to Lebanese food! The new twists on all the traditional foods make this place a must visit at least for its surprising new flavors…let alone the traditional yummies!DSC_0700

So lets start off with the first thing I had from there!
Jullab is a very unique drink, it has a sweet taste of rose but with a hint of date…I know, it sounds strange but this drink is very light and refreshing. Bonus…..you get to have the pistachios, pine nuts and raisins after you finish drinking, they become soft and soak up the flavor of the Jullab! (I must have had 4 of these!!!)

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Next on the menu was the famed Lebanese starters, the hummus trio and baba ghanouj.
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The traditional hummus is very flavorsome…. actually that’s where I heavily evaluate a Lebanese restaurant. If the hummus is dry or tasteless then its a major downer for me…..in this case, the hummus was so amazing I would consider bread and hummus for lunch! it was so smooth and creamy!
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Next up was the green hummus infused with olives…they did say Lebanese with a twist!
You could really feel the flavor of the olives, It does hit you by surprise as you don’t expect that much of a different flavor! aah very yummy!
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Ok seriously……I think everyone just wants to know about the pink hummus, well here you go! This is one thing that I will surely come here for over and over again! its infused with Zaatar (thyme) and sumac (a wonderful spice), and you can really feel the flavor of the zaatar! im a big fan of zaatar so having a creamy hummus with zaatar infused to it is perfect for me…its really making me hungry as i’m typing this 😦
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The baba ghanouj was also another flavor filled dish, but with the two hummus twists, it was the underdog of the starters, especially when you have the pink hummus next to it!
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One thing worth mentioning is the bread and olive oil! the bread comes fresh and HOT….its easy to get carried away and loose track of how much bread you consume as its VERY soft and it keeps coming.
The oil comes from Lebanon and it has a very different flavor from any olive oil I have tasted….make sure you add a drizzle to the hummus! if you want to really taste the flavors just dip some bread into the oil and you will see what I mean by “it tastes very different”….I’ll try convincing the wait staff to let me take some home! 😛
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The salads were up next!
Fatoush is my staple salad for lunch, so having one here with its new flavor was a much needed change! the sauce has a certain after taste that I liked and was not your typical recipe.
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I grew up having tabouleh…..when I was a kid, I use to have it as lunch or dinner, and it remains on the top of my favorite salad list! this was no exception, while i didn’t feel a wow factor, it tasted exactly what you would expect out of a good tabouleh.
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Next was another round of starters! (These Lebanese really know how to eat well!)

Laham Bil Ajeen (meat pastry) was brought to us and the smell was divine! after sniffing for a while we devoured it! my colleague Smitha who writes foodishly in love said “The pastry was soft, the meat succulent and packed with oodles of fresh-burst in your mouth flavours.”…I wouldn’t disagree!!!
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Next up was the Fish Kibbeh, this was my favorite starter!!! the crusting is made from borghul and fish, so you don’t get any of that fishy taste….instead, you are treated with a zesty light flavor and a rich after taste.
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The next platter was a mix of cheese, chicken and Lebanese style sausage all wrapped in a crispy coating!
The whole platter is a burst of flavors but the chicken stood out! big time!!! cheese lovers will love the raw taste of the cheese even though it is melted.
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The Kibbeh was ok….well compared to the rest of the dishes, this wouldn’t be on my top rated list….but as far as kibbeh’s go? this beats many places around!
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My initial response to the next dish was: Nop, noooo, Noop….NOOOOO.
I’m glad I changed my mind because oh boy this was a treat!!!
The chicken liver in pomegranate sauce looked appetizing but i’m not a fan of liver…
The first bite was a nice surprise, I absolutely loved the sauce and everything about this dish! it really shows that even an ingredient you hate can be made very well with the right chef…this opened my eyes to trying even more things that I wouldn’t normally order! By the end, I was just hogging the chicken livers :p
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Finally, the mains! after eating so much we all had to take a break, but then the mixed grill platter came and it was a free for all battle!
This is by far the best grill I have had in Muscat…..the chicken was so soft it could melt in your mouth. The seikh kabab was so full of rich flavors that my tongue was battling to identify them! but the big surprise was the beef cubes…..usually beef cubes are dry and over cooked but this shows you how they should be cooked! 
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After a break and some nice foodie conversations, desserts came!
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First up is the amareddine mehallabieh (apricot). The taste of this dish slowly builds up in your mouth and leaves you with a wonderful after taste! an amazing start but was dwarfed by the next two dishes!
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If you are looking for a traditional Lebanese sweet, then Mafrouket pistachio is the thing for you! Iv had one when I was in Lebanon and these guys brought that same taste!
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Next up was a chocolaty blast of chocolate ice cream osmalieh. The traditional Lebanese ingredients mixed with ice cream, pistachios and cream is the perfect thing for the chocolate lovers.
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My favorite though was the strawberry muhalabiya….the touch of orange blossom makes it so light, and it has a slight rose taste. its very refreshing and it goes so perfectly well with a Turkish coffee…..I see myself having one of these with a Turkish coffee on the balcony around winter here!
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After such a big meal, I wanted to draw up my favorites and put in a list of what I would recommend for a meal…..at this point, I have no idea and I just suggest you pick randomly! everything iv had was superb!
This place has become my favorite Lebanese restaurant, let alone the Lebanese ambiance that comes with it!
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A New Take on Golden Oryx

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I’ve always loved Chinese food! It was always a treat for my family to go for a meal and poorly attempt to eat with chopsticks!! Back then, the choices were limited …..and the one that you dressed up for was the Golden Oryx! It was one of those places that we all got excited to go to… and when we were invited, we felt like we had won something!

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Its been a while since I’ve been there……but this time I get a new treat! they recently introduced a Japanese menu which also happens to be one of my favorite cuisines!! We got welcomed by an awesome introduction to the new menu and a cheat sheet to remind us of all the dishes we were going to taste….and there were MANY of them!!! I won’t cover them all so ill just dive into my favorites!! DSC_0715 DSC_0714

We started off with the Edamame.
Already one of my favorite dishes, you couldn’t go wrong! and it didn’t. but there’s a twist! This Edamame wasn’t typically served……you get interesting condiments to go along! The chili paste, green tea salt and salty 7 blended spices were a very interesting addition to the salt typically served. My favorite was the chili paste but then the salty 7 spices were very unusual as well……needless to say, refills were ordered. DSC_0721 DSC_0720

The next dish I liked was the Peking Duck spring rolls… They were very well matched with the hoisin sauce but they needed to be just a little more tender….something I would gladly order again!

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But the big shocker for me was the tofu! I’m not a big fan of tofu unless its in miso soup….but I loved this! it had a very rich taste which wasn’t usual for what im use to from tofu. DSC_0723

The mushroom dim-sum’s were very earthy and flavorsome, I love the taste of mushrooms, especially the earthy flavored ones like Shiitake or Matsutake mushrooms…..The filling was just that, perfectly balanced and very raw! the parcels were a little thin but I liked them that way. DSC_0724

The Sashimi was next and I was pretty happy with it….little hint, they have two types of wassabi…..the first one we got wasn’t strong enough to my liking but the second one was perfect! The octopus sashimi was my favorite but the salmon wasn’t far behind.

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The best bits of the Japanese menu were definitely the sushi options that we tried  ! the three that REALLY stood our were cocktail roll, the three seasons roll and the negima roll (in order of photo from top to bottom) But the California roll (bottom photo)was my favorite! I think out of all the dishes this would be my second favorite.

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The Hunan chicken was also a highlight……after eating so many dishes, I would have assumed that liking anything would be difficult, however I kept trying to make some room for this. DSC_0749

My absolute favorite though was the szechuan chicken. everyone agreed that it was a favorite! its perfectly crunchy from the outside and soft on the inside! the flavors were just delicious. DSC_0747

The ups? Its a nice place to have a meal and a drink…..and the additions to the menu add flavor

The downs? The new menu has its kinks in using certain produce, while I liked the dishes that are on here, there are some that didn’t work…..but every single one of them was in the right direction. after talking to the chef, im sure he will work on our comments and get them to the same standard as my favorites.

What my meal from there would be like? Id start with the edamame, share a California roll and then get the Szechuan chicken with garlic rice for the main…..I haven’t tried the desserts yet but I can’t wait for the next time I do!

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For the love of food!

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The first time I went to Love at First Bite (L@FB), I remember my reaction…….This is not Oman! The creative concept i was surprised by is unique and I was very surprised that it was created by a passionate Omani entrepreneur! everything from the menu to the furnaiture was his brainchild.

The name just puts you onto the owners mindset! The satirical names of the dishes alone should make you try this place out……can you picture going on a first date and ordering “Marry Me”?

When you see themed restaurants, usually the experience isinteresting but the actual food isn’t the highlight……….that is certainly not the case with L@FB……the restaurant owner (Khalid) oversees the creation of the dishes himself and has his own inputs, so you feel that individual touch to each dish…how do I know?

Well……I was at the OpenMinds forum a while back, and someone recognized me from the Freezing Omanis, as I was talking to him and updating him on what iv been upto, Khalid walked by……he walked by at the same time that I was getting to talk about my food photography.

Khalid talked to me about doing some shots with his restaurant but these weren’t average food shots………..he wants the personality of his restaurant to come out in the themes…..and in doing that I saw how immersed he is in the love of his restaurants……….nothing less than perfect came out and I didn’t have to step into the kitchen once!

This was the nicest yet most difficult shoot I have done so far……….I spent a week just thinking of the concepts for each dish and a lot of will power to not eat everything I saw! and it got harder after I tried the food!!!

So lets dive into my favorite foods and images!

“I can’t make you love me” ……except if I offered you this heavenly sandwich……..the cheese and chicken are just a perfect match!

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“Deception” I tell you! ……this devilishly fresh asparagus soup tricks you into thinking its an ordinary soup but shows its true flavors at the first sip.

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“She Loves Me”…….you don’t have to take a gamble on whether you love this dish or not……the prawns are nicely battered and crispy while the sauce just adds that zing to it!

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“Lies”……This is definitely my favorite sandwich! the sauce mixes so well with the cheese and meat…..ok this is making me so hungry that im gonna go off to eat something now….

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WARNING…….the next photos aren’t for the faint hearted or anyone with a sweet tooth “Addiction”

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If you want something to share, “its complicated” will take the complication out of the equation!

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Or you can end the night with an “Affair”

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Well……….these are my top picks but its difficult to say as there are many more noteworthy dishes! the choices will just drive you “Bananas”

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All puns aside, this place has my attention……….and serving till 12 midnight makes this a perfect classy place to go to if you are out till late!

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A Ridiculously Romantic Dinner At Shangrila

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You know……I really wouldn’t have thought that a traditional Arab country like Oman would be a seriously ridiculously romantic country?? But you know what…..it really is!!

Don’t take my word for it, I went to the Shangrila hotel for their full moon dinner event…..It was one of the highlights of this year for me!!!

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We got there and we immediately were impressed by the beautiful lighting and setting… everything was just a wow factor…..we even had a table right in front of the band!!!

The service was really good, waiters came straight away and full of smiles! we even had a few interesting conversations with the staff there who were into photography!

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And then the band started setting the mood for the ridiculously romantic evening! soft jazz and some great vocals, many people couldn’t resist taking off their shoes and slow dancing on the sand under the full moon! ….want a little hint? next time they do this take a few moments away and step out behind the bar….you can hear the beach and the jazz and you will really feel like you are in some sort of movie!

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The food and drinks are what you would expect out of shangrila, nice and fresh but the my favorite by far was the steak with the mushroom sauce!! The deserts were really nice too!

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Oh and the waiters don’t skimp out on drinks……they keep coming to refill!

When the moon came out again it was just an amazing view…….food, jazz, a full moon….

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After the dinner we decided to go for a walk by the beach, it was a little humid but the slight breeze was nice 🙂

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I have to confess, I don’t usually go to the Shangrila because I often think that its too far, but after the full moon dinner, ill be making it a tradition to go there once every month on the full moon!

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