Times of Oman
Nov 26, 2015 LAST UPDATED AT 09:32 AM GMT
Desert Kitchen
April 4, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A view of The Guide Oman kitchen in Sharqiyah sands. Photo - Hi

Breakfast at 7 am, buffet lunch at 12.30 pm and dinner at 8 pm…you cannot go hungry, they have assured. 

"Our catering crew proudly creates many dishes for meal times that cater for everyone's tastes. You will enjoy many salads and mezze, as well as hot vegetarian dishes," you recall what you have read in the booklet before you took the decision to venture into the Sharqiyah Sands with The Guide Oman for the two-day desert crossing.

But, who would swallow such promises hook, line and sinker, especially when it talks about having a three-course or five-course dinner in the middle of the desert, beyond the challenging soft sands and high dunes? And they say, they would be cooking everything fresh in the desert, braving extreme climates or even strong winds. All one could imagine is some khubz (Arabic bread) stuffed with dry salads and some fizzy drinks to wash them down.

You wake up in your tent, a place of nowhere in the desert, about 100 kilometres away from the last tarmac you saw in Bidiyah. The tempting aroma has already filled the morning fresh air and the breakfast is hot on the table. Boiled eggs, omlette, baked beans, sliced sausage, puri, potato bhaji, mixed salads, a combination of leaves and antioxidant-rich fruits…You realise they weren't joking. You just can't wait for the buffet lunch and the three-course dinner.

It's been many years since The Guide Oman topped up its regular and extreme desert crossings with delicious cuisine and just like the sands and the stars, the food cooked fresh in the desert too has added to the wonderful ambience and experience. And, scaling the high dunes and moving through the soft sands with all those heavy equipment, utensils and provisions in the pick-ups ahead of the adventurers (to set up the kitchen and prepare the food in time) has been the kitchen crew - cooks, helpers and drivers, who have never failed expectations.

Taste like more
"In the initial crossings (from 2003-2008), we were relying on a desert camp in terms of catering, and we found that food wasn't good," says Mohamed Issa Al Zadjali, the founder of The Guide Oman. In 2008 when he launched his own company, 'to control the crowd and to have my own team which can provide whatever we need instead of relying on others', the kitchen crew too was formed. "It started very small and we learnt from experience how to pack, when to cook, how to serve and when to serve. Sometimes, we had problem with frozen gas. We learned to camp beside high dunes which could act as wind barriers. This all evolved over the years," he points out.

It's made sure that everything is cooked in the desert itself and there's no compromise on the taste. "Initially there were four of them handling the kitchen and all were Omanis. Now we have three cooks, 6-7 assistants and six drivers, a mix of Omanis, Indians and Bangladeshis. For larger groups we need to have more cars to bring in the necessary items," Mohamed says.

The team meets before the trip to prepare the menu, ensuring that they cater to all, the vegetarians and the non-vegetarians alike. "We have to take care of people who might be allergic to some kind of food and should ensure ample options like salads, pasta and rice and so on. We also introduce new dishes every time. Barbeque is possible only for small groups as it wouldn't taste nice if the meat sits out from the grill for long," he adds.

Pizza in desert?
The next dish The Guide Oman would want to add in the menu is pizza! "We come to the desert to challenge ourselves.  Now, with the equipment and cars we can make it anywhere we want to go and even with standard cars we can take newcomers. So making pizza in the desert could also be possible. Once we brought ice cream with much difficulty," Mohammed beams.

Managing the kitch

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