clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Anthony Bourdain ‘Parts Unknown’ in Oman: The Most Memorable Lines

“Oman has changed in a way that’s unique to anywhere I’ve been.”


On the latest Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain treks to the Middle Eastern nation of Oman. His first trip to the country formally known as the Sultanate of Oman involves stunning vistas, camel rides, desert bagpipes, and feasting on a local specialty of goat that’s been buried underground for two days. (Of course, Bourdain is quite famous even in countries he’s never before visited — at least one Omani recognized him from his Simpsons cameo.) But above all, the intrepid traveler gets a glimpse at an intriguing place that’s like nowhere he’s ever been, and the food is just one small part of that.

Oman, which is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates, has seen incredible growth and modernization since the 1970s, but as Bourdain discovers, its cities have still largely retained their traditional look, and the predominantly Muslim country is also home to beaches, mountains, and vast deserts inhabited by the nomadic people known as the Bedouin.


Here now, the 11 best lines from the Oman episode of Parts Unknown:

On Oman’s unique position as a tolerant, peaceful place surrounded by contentious nations: “Oman defies expectations. It shouldn’t, according to the cruel logic of the world, exist — but it does, and it’s incredible.”

On the Omani people’s genuine fondness for their ruler, Sultan Qaboos: “This is not a democracy, but everybody, everybody it seems, has respect and genuine affection for the Sultan.”

On Oman’s transformation from a sprawling empire that spanned from Pakistan to East Africa, to the smaller nation it is today: “Modern Oman is a fraction of that size now, but its DNA, its culture, cuisine, and to some extent attitude toward the outside world, is a reflection of that history.”

On the diverse influences that make Omani cuisine unique: “The food of Oman is a mix of flavors and ingredients and tastes from Arabia and from all over Oman’s former empire.”

On shuwa, Oman’s most prized special occasion dish: “They do one version or another of this all over the world, but shuwa is special. They slather a goat with a spicy paste consisting of cumin, coriander, red pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg, then wrap the meat in palm or banana leaves, dig a hole, throw in some meat, cover it up, and leave underground for a day or two over hot coals.”

On a local conflict that had far-reaching implications: “You know about the Vietnam War. What you might not know is that while that conflict raged on, Oman, along with an elite force of British special operators and military advisors, was engaged in a war in the country’s southern Dhofar region that was in every way far more vital to American security interests and of far more importance to global strategic and economic concerns.”

On the nation’s post-war identity: “In 1976 the Omanis laid down their weapons and never picked them up again. The resulting peace has lasted for 40 years, and while Oman ain’t your system and it ain’t my system and it’s far, far from being perfect or a Western style democracy, there is a palpable pride here in the collective identity of being Omani.”

On some of the flavorful dishes found at a traditional Omani meal: “Kabuli laham is slow-cooked goat in a rich rice pilaf scented with star anise. Musanif djaj, a local specialty, are pan-seared dumplings stuffed with chicken, pepper, ginger, turmeric and onions, and of course there’s Omani bread with honey.”

On the role that Islam plays in Omani life: “As one moves away from the coast and enters the interior, everything changes. This is the country’s more conservative core, its spiritual center. Uniquely, Oman is neither Sunni nor Shia but rather Ibadi, a very old and particularly tolerant nonsectarian form of Islam. This is a distinction we in the West would be wise to notice: Islam is not a monolith, it comes in many forms. Ibadi theology arguably forms the backbone of many of Oman’s codes of conduct. It places value on concepts like politeness, acceptance, unity, and understanding. Perhaps as a consequence of that, the Sultanate embraces grace and tact as a matter of foreign policy.”

On Oman’s stark and pristine desert region: “130 miles south of Muscat, the pavement ends and you hit this: Sharqiya Sands, on the edge of Rub al Khali, the largest sand desert in the world. Once you get up in the soft sand, things change. Everything changes. You change... This is the traditional domain of the Bedouin, who for thousands of years have moved across this harsh, dry, seemingly endless landscape making it their home.”

On the remarkably diverse landscape of a nation that’s barely as big as Kansas: “A uniquely fascinating country. You probably can’t find it on a map. It has incredible beaches, mountains, pristine desert. It practices a tolerant, non-sectarian form of Islam. One of the most beautiful, most friendly, generous and hospitable places I’ve ever been — I’m talking about Oman.”

All Coverage of Parts Unknown [E]