Talking about Omani food? May be we could start with cardamom flavoured kahwa, the very symbol of Omani hospitality, to go with dates and halwa. Then go elaborately on Maqboos, the rice dish cooked over spicy meat, Aursia, the festive meal of mashed rice, Mashuai where roasted kingfish is served with lemon rice or the Rakhal bread served with Omani honey.
And it wouldn't be complete without touching upon Shuwa, the typically Omani dish, where a whole lamb would be roasted for two days in a special oven dug in the ground. But, have you heard about Shuwa sandwiches? 'Shuwa Express', the very name of the restaurant, suggests that we are about to taste something creative and innovative. The caption 'A bit of yesterday with a bite of today!' catches our eyes. And they come, one by one, the tender shuwa presented with filling portions, in wraps, chicken in rakhal bread and rumali roti, lamb in long samoon bread and lettuce wrap, boosted with special sauces, topped with cheese and salads, and a most special one – shuwa in a beef burger; 'Cooked in a traditional way and served in a modern way', as Raid Maqbool Sultan, the founder and chairman of Creative Foods LLC which owns and runs Shuwa Express, proudly says.
This restaurant at Bareeq Al Shatti Mall at Shatti Al Qurum, is the first Omani fast food outlet in the Sultanate, introducing a totally new concept, where the customer can choose his or her favourite bases, fills, sprinkles and boosts. "It's one-year-and-a-half since we have opened this restaurant and we are planning to open more branches," says Raid. He and his partner Ali Al-Abdullatif wanted to come up with something new in the restaurant business and hit up on shuwa sandwiches.
They had their third partner in Raid's cousin Salah Sultan and prepared the recipe themselves after incorporating the ideas and opinions from expert shuwa cooks from interior Oman. "We experimented with ingredients, baked our own breads and brought in rolls, burger buns and samoons from outside. Besides, we created our own special sauces and mocktails," he elaborates. For a regular supply of shuwa, both lamb and chicken, they have given a contract to a friend, an Omani in Al Ansab.
The fresh shuwa and the sizeable quantity make the price reasonable, Raid asserts. Customers walk in and choose from the menu and there's a great demand. "At the moment, our customers are mostly Omanis, but other nationalities and even tourists have started trickling in after hearing about this by word of mouth or through social media network. We also have a takeaway menu and services for home delivery and outside catering," he adds.
The blend of tradition and modernity is visible in the interior décor as well, where they have brass trays replacing glass tabletops, lightings, antique mirrors and chairs with carpet-coloured cushions. Also on display are some photographs depicting traditional Omani cuisine with brief descriptions beneath, all in sepia tone to give a museum ambience.
The plan is to have more outlets in the near future. "By the end of this year, we will be opening another outlet in Panorama Mall in Bausher. We are here to expand and the new outlets could have bigger kitchens incorporating more innovative dishes, but all with an Omani base. We have plans to open branches outside the country and franchise our brand 'Shuwa Express'. But, first of all, we will spread our presence in Oman," Raid says.