Meat from the Earth

One of the more privileged moments of my family’s time in Oman was being invited during the Eid to celebrate a traditional dinner with the extended (very extended!) family of one of our friends in Sohar.  For the shuwwa, or grilling, the family employed a traditional technique called the Tanoor, an earthen pit in which carefully herbed and wrapped meats are grilled/smoked underground overnight.  This technique will immediately seem NQR to a western audience, accustomed as we are to eating from the anti-septic (but chemical-laced) confines of our mass supermarkets.

The pictures I present here, of the process of the shuwwa itself, should demonstrate not only the technical aspect of how the procedure is undertaken but also the sense of community, the involvement of the larger kinship group in this tradition.  It would be similar to the Thanksgiving Holiday in America, but only adding a hole in the earth and meat we raise and slaughter ourselves.  The Eid is a holiday at the end of Ramadan in commemoration of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son on God’s command.

Photos / explanations:

Reed-wrapped meats along with a selection of greens and herbs to add moisture and flavor.

The earthen pit, coals very hot, before the meat and herbs go in.

More herbs, better shot, some of these gave the meat a very savory flavor that stayed with me for days: smoky, heady, delicious, different.

By the lights of a luxury SUV pulled close to the earthen hole, dinner and herbs are lowered by the men into the prepared oven.

Once it goes in, the hole is covered with a sheet of metal and then with a thin layer of soil. If any smoke escapes, then too much air is getting in, the meat will cook too fast and dry out. A true seal over the meat allows it to smoke/roast to perfection.

When it is ready, after a day, the men of the family dig it up. (The women wait in a separate area to receive the meat, carve it, finish its preparation and divvy it up among the families.)

When finished the herbs and wrapping are charred but the food inside is juicy and wonderful. (Actual photo of meat missing, I was too busy eating!)

 

My friend Abdul Azziz (whose family is depicted in the photos above) kindly sent two complimentary photos, the first reveals the meat after it is unwrapped, the second shows a much bigger tanoor, where up to fifty wrapped packages can be cooked at once.  He also notes that this type of shuwwa is particular to northern Oman and parts of the UAE.

The cooked product of the tanoor, with garnish of local herbs.

A bigger version, holding up to fifty wrapped packages.

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