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 …….

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A Singaporean Foodie Getaway in Oman! + Competition

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Iv always been a fan of Asian food, and living in Australia for a while, got me exposed to Singaporean food a lot! (there is large Singaporean community in my city). When I got invited to taste the food at ‘Asia’ in Shangrila with two acclaimed Singaporean guest chefs on board (Amer Hashim and Andy Ho) , I instantly got excited to relive my Australian memories of having Singaporean Chili Crab.
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After a long day of work I was pretty happy to see prawn crackers! I don’t need to say much about em because well….prawn crackers!

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And no Asian meal should go without a warm yet refreshing cup of Asian tea!
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We started off with a lovely dish, prawn with mango, coriander and chili….the tangyness of this dish mixed with the spices were perfect for me but if you aren’t a big fan of spicy food then make sure you ask them to reduces the spices….make sure you order this though because this is a real treat! (second photo cred: Anna Chesalina)
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Next was a Oxtail soup! its as strange as it sounds and it shows how these chefs aren’t afraid to bring in real authentic things to our tables!
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One thing you CANT miss out on, is the one thing that I was really hoping I would see! the Singaporean crab was just divine! again it was on the spicier side but I love it that way…….and when you do go, don’t bother with a fork and knife! just dive into it because you just wont enjoy crab as much with a fork and knife!

The crab is very well done and I suspect that ill be back there again with my family before the end of the week!
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Also, I couldn’t help but include the only photo of me that I took…with heather’s expression, I had to :p

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One last thing! There is a pretty cool competition that they are running and the prize is a three nights stay in Singapore!! I have been looking for a holiday spot so cross your fingers that my name gets picked! 😛
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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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Photogra-foodie

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Iv been taking photos for a while now, I actually started my love of photography with Macro / floral photography and its still something I love doing.
In the past while however…..iv been investing into a new kind of passion, Food Photography!

(photo cred: Anna Chesalina)

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Iv written here before that it wont take you long from the time you meet me till you get to realize that im a foodie….I love trying out new places and I dont mean just the fancy ones, I really enjoy finding the ‘hole in the wall’
So as a photographer, when the opportunity of doing a professional shoot for a restaurant came, I jumped at it!

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Many of you have seen YouTube clips of how photographers stage shots by making plastic versions of their food or doing insane things to take photos of them in a way they wouldn’t look naturally. Well ill tell you a thing or two about that…..
1. Sometimes its unavoidable….We shoot using lights that get quite warm, taking photos of ice cream can prove to be difficult (not impossible, just very difficult)
2. Restaurants and businesses here in Oman generally can’t afford that.

So now that’s out of the way, I absolutely hate faking shots……My idea of food photography is that it should show the food in its best way, not its unnaturally perfect form! so until now I haven’t had the need to hire a food stylist, rather…I work with the chef’s to bring the dishes out in the best way they should look. (here is a shot of me during the shoot and of the shot I took, photo cred: Anna Chesalina)
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One of the fun things that I love about food photography is that you have to be precise….and hungry.
Im not kidding! you end up looking at food in a really different way when you are hungry so I try to skip a meal before my shoots.
Downside….you starve while being confronted with great smells and beautifully plated food
Upside……you get to eat it when you are done!!

Yes….. that’s the question I mostly get when I say that I do food photography…..although I must confess, I usually shoot up-to 15 dishes a shoot so I do bring along friends for ‘support’.

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Here is one thing that iv noticed though…..restaurateurs don’t really understand the business of new media, they don’t get that a good photo can make a customer come to you no matter where you are.
Most restaurants say that they can’t afford a food photographer or that they are fine with their phone-camera photos for social media.
To those who could identify with the above, do this….check the instagram account of a café called ‘passion café’…..these guys have brilliant photos and have create a buzz well before they opened just because of those photos!! (and no I didn’t take those beautiful shots).
Similarly….check out restaurants that have one dish highlighted with a professional photo in a menu, ull notice that particular dish selling more (The people who told me that wish to remain anonymous).

My last bit to add about that just happened last week.
We were at a restaurant that I had done the photography for (Anar at the Wave Muscat) and I had the photos on my phone. When my friends were looking at the menu and were confused, I pulled out my phone…that was the last time I saw the phone before all orders were done. Actually, the waiters noticed this so when new people joined our party (it was a birthday,so it was a whole bunch of people) the waiters just referred them to my phone! (which was just being passed around)

Food plays not only with your taste buds, but with your sight…..there are many studies done in the field of psychology that showed the huge difference in opinions in the perceived taste when the same dish was presented differently (don’t worry, I wont get all nerdy on you).

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So next time you see a great photo of a dish in a menu, take a moment to appreciate that you, and particularly the way you like to look at beautiful food made someone’s job possible 🙂

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Discovering Everest……In Oman

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How adventurous are you when it comes to food? would you try anything from most places? Well I would… The more local or exotic the dish is, the more I would like to try it!

There’s a hidden gem in Muscat that iv been going to for a while now and every time I bring someone there they keep questioning and wondering where im taking them….but after they try the food they always come back! The Everest cafe is a small and hidden cafe in Hamriya which serves my favorite dish….Momo’s …a Nepalese dumpling like dish which is completely different from anything you would have tried.

Why is it such a hidden gem? well for one…..it’s in an ally way in Hamriya….right by where the Al Fair was….you literally have to go through an ally in between buildings to find it, and for me…that’s part of the charm!

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Once you find your way in ull see a small few seater shop….I like to go upstairs, its roomier and mostly no one goes there 🙂

This is what the upstairs looks like 🙂

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I’m sure you are thinking after all these photos, why?  well simple….because it has my favorite meal in Oman…..I actually leave work sometimes, get stuck in traffic on the Hamriya rush hour which takes me an hour or so to get to Everest cafe to just eat and go back home!

Ull see a simple menu, with many different dishes, im going to discover a few more out of this place for the next time I blog about it, but for now…Ill just show you the one thing everyone comes here for….Momo’s

Momo’s are a dumpling like dish native to nepal, usually steamed or fried and served with a sesame sauce and a spicy chili sauce….your choice of filling, vegetable or chicken! my favorite is the chicken.

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They are served with a soup, more like broth…which i like to just add a spoon of to the momo’s to add that extra flavor.

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The beauty of Momo’s are in the sauce…..the sesame sauce adds a very unique flavor which iv not tasted before and its not spicy for those who don’t like spicy food 😛 …….The chili sauce however……well that’s going to blow a hole in your mouth (still an amazing sauce which I can never get enough of!)

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The vegetable Momo’s are brilliant as well, actually the first time I had them, I didn’t even think they were vegetarian…..they are very filling too!

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My usual order would include the steamed chicken Momo’s and another dish……Chili Momo’s

Don’t let the name scare you, they aren’t actually that spicy….iv had people who don’t eat much spicy food enjoy them 🙂 the sauce of the chili Momo’s is what makes them very unique, theyr fried so they have that extra crunch to them as well!

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There you go, ull find me there a lot….so if you want to get there, you can find the place on foursquare (iv added it there)……its in the building after HSBC in the main hamriya road…before cleopatra (the phone shop) where the old Al Fair use to be….just got to the HSBC building and its in the ally way behind the main shops 🙂

Or you can just take me for a meal there 😛