Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Sompat—rich ripe fruity top, with underlying dirty, earthy balsamic, teeth tingling mouth watering characteristic so indicative of lao oud, followed by an ethereal subtly sumptuous, ecstasy fomenting bliss. As this oil evolves, a rooted, deep dark forest sense enters, with an almost vetiver-like (almost) sense of roots, mud and water, further along peppery notes come out, with the sharpness almost immediately ceding to the warm black pepper tones, and a bit of barnyard behind it. By this point, the oudh makes a nest in the back of the throat, creating an entire vibrating orgasmic world between the throat and the top of the head. After this a tobacco note begins to show, and with the road now open, this oudh just opens and flows, like the highway as you drive through the desert at dawn.
Keo—fruity, fecal, lots of higher, top notes, with a fertile, ripe, fermenting edge, rounding out with the deeper notes in more of a mid level, black cherry aspect. As this oil evolves, we come across a grim sweetness, not really sweet, but like a slightly overbearing yet happy drunk. Further along, a liquor fueled, rolling sense creeps in, with the deep earthy notes being hijacked by this alluring, siren song. There is a rich rotten underlying note, which is exciting in a way things are not supposed to be, according to society’s structure, so it’s a hidden kind of excitement, a forbidden kind of excitement.
Super—smooth, subtle, sophistication with all the deep harmonies present in a multi-layered symphony. There’s barn and there’s pepper, but these notes play like oboes and cellos, with the violin-like tobacco flower. Something of a musty unused attic plays the timpani. And deep rich loamy earth presents the bass, a fertile breeding ground for the strong bright and true unfolding of honeyed melodies. This oil can easily go into obsession when you bury your face in him. You might not want to come up for air! As I immerse myself in this most dominant of oudhs, my teeth tingle, and it’s almost impossible to take. The notes don’t easily unravel themselves; they play in a tight and taut formation but with a steady underscore of earth and roots, fertility and fecundity.
Boyah—This is the one we have called “cultivated” in the past. Boyah is agarwood distilled from uninfected, or white, wood. If your agarwood is solid at room temperature, then it’s boyah. While Boyah is not technically Oudh, it is agarwood. Boyah can be any quality, and this Lao Boyah is really a nice one. He smells like oudh, except a little more spastic and wilder, with the notes going crazy, all dirt, mud, fecal and pepper screaming over each other but it makes that throat-top-of-the-head connection. The body is bright and all aspects become integrated. As he wears in and on, this agarwood unfolds very tightly,revealing many if not all of the same notes found in Sompat.
Super Hindi --Sweet succulent woods and warm balsam start this delicious descent, all full and rich. It seems all consciousness comes to a head and the soft sweet undertone supports a heady balsamic heaven. This oil holds together well, changing perhaps less than the others as the minutes tick by. These are the highest most divine notes, and this oudh has them all. Super long lived, 24 hours later my teeth still tingle, and the balsam happy notes are still singling their joyous soft melodies.
Birrin--Sharp smoke and acids leap to the forefront of this fecal and fecund oil. This oil, more than any of the others, evokes the interior of the body. Rank and robust, the combination is nevertheless exciting and a little bit surreptitious. This is the rawest and most volatile of the oudhs. He is like a wild young man, completely out of control. But even though he might make you uncomfortable, there is something alluring and seductive about him, even if you feel a little weird about it afterward. Try as you might to stay away from him, I’m willing to bet you sneak a taste when no ones looking.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
But I am delighted to tell anyone who may be interested, that you can, in fact, find great chaat in Muscat. In Ruwi, behind the Star Cinema, around the back of the round building with an entrance from the outside, near the rubbish and the car park, up some concrete stairs. You can park at the Supa Save, as it’s right behind that too. It’s a teeny tiny place, and the entire seating area is a little porch with four tables. I think it must be hell in summer, but never mind. It’s called Babukara Snacks and the cook is a real Mumbaiker.
Their menu covers the whole gamut of Mumbai chaat, made and served in complete traditional style, and it’s terrific. I had pani puris and something that I don’t know the name of, two potato patties with chana dal, and about 6 sauces, and yogurt, and cilantro and powders and those little noodley things sprinkled on. It’s very inexpensive, and completely authentic. One of the people I was there with is from Mumbai, and she told me that it’s the best place in Muscat for these things, and while I don’t know all the hidden foods of Ruwi, I can attest to a fine meal. Phone is 99035361
Omantel has blocked my photo on the “about me” space on this blog. If you are not in Oman, obviously, you will not notice this, but if you are in Oman, you may notice. Hard to tell if someone finds me obscene or if they are just “protecting my privacy.” Weird. Anyway, guys, don’t you have anything better to do? I don’t see there can possibly be anything offensive or criminal about that photo. It just makes you look ridiculous.
If you are not in Oman and you are curious as to how I know it's blocked, when you click on my photo, you get the following message from Omantel:
"The blocking of this site was not a unilateral decision taken by OMANTEL. An overwhelming number of requests from the subscribers made us rethink our strategy and conform to the popular demand to block pornographic and certain hacking sites that encourage hacking such as this one.
OMANTEL is not unique in this industry to take such an action. Many ISPs in several different countries are taking steps to block such sites.
If you feel this message is in error, and the site you are visiting has been miss categorized, please fill in the following form: "
And then there is a link you can use to complain. It's
Here is the offensive photo, here on the right. If you cannot see it then Omantel is apparently blocking it constantly.
It’s back to the USA for me for a while. I’m off tomorrow night. So much has happened in the last few months that it’s difficult to remember where I was back in January. But now I know better than to write about it! All I can say is everything, on all fronts, is better and better, Alhamdulilah!
Monday, March 08, 2010
When I get excited I often revert to my native dialect, Southern Californian. Not something I can control I think. I have been known to say awesome and totally, dude and there are even worse ones but I will not readily admit them and those that have heard me have been asked not to repeat. Those from the 1970s Southern California beach culture will know the ones I mean. That said, I fully scored some awesome plants, care of my friend at the lovely resort nearby.
Four, count them, four, frangipani trees! One nerium; this is the gorgeous deep red velvet beauty I cavort with when no one’s around. He smells like sugar and spice dreams. If there was ever a tree (or large shrub) to plan a tryst with, this would be the one. So seductive! He is impossible to pass without grabbing a branch, pulling it down to my face and seriously passing a few seconds of bliss with, dude.
Also, 2 sage beauties, and two pairs of little guys I have go see as adults: Eranthium and Bedalanthus. I may have the spelling wrong.
Ironically, I have no yard. But we’ll take care of that. I have a paved-over area with concrete blocks and when the landlord drove by waving I chased his car like a Doberman, barking out my full reparatory of Arabic greetings and courtesies to his evident delight. I asked (this part mostly in sign language) if he would mind if I ripped up the concrete and he was still delighted, assuming he understood me. Of course no problem. I think he’s realized by now that whatever I do to his house is going to be awesome and different.
There was a terrible sun awning made of corrugated tin, mostly ripped apart in the wind and we got rid of that before it decapitated anyone. Next step is to find Jasmine to climb up the frame.
Next, I have very little information at this point but it seems someone in Salalah is making cheese! This was something I’ve been wishing for all year. It’s available at Istrakar Hypermarket and it’s a feta. Sort of a feta. They are learning but I think it’s pretty good and despite its young saltiness and rubbery feel, (more like halloumi,) I picked it over the more sophisticated cheeses of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. I like local! I also found what look like Anaheim chilies, also local and have a super stash of Guerrero tortillas in my freezer. I think I’m looking at dinner!
I also received a great shipment of absolutes and concretes from India, from the same guy who supplies Enfleurage and Christian Dior, and my frankincense room is now well stocked with a variety of lovelies. Now I just need to find jojoba oil here in the Gulf.
Making lots of Luban oil and experimenting with my different stills. Things change dramatically in the 35-40 litre range, it seems to be the cut off point. 35 and under gives a lot of hydrosol (which so far is unfortunately too acidic to do anything with) and 40 gives oil at about the same rate but differing in color and constituents, presumably. Hardly any hydrosol comes out of that 40 litre still. And the still is super-duper high maintenance. The last time I used the 35, I just needed to keep filling the water bucket, and didn’t need to mess with the tubes at all. Progress I think. But the 40 just fusses and fidgets. We will do a Luban sample test tonight.
I noticed there are more beehives than usual scattered throughout the back roads here and so I plan to start the honey quest soon. All well in Salalah is what I want to say, Dude.
Saturday, March 06, 2010
Lavender: Lavandula dhofarensis, Lavandula hasikensis and Lavandula macra are all native. The L. macra grows all over the southern coast of Arabia but the other two are here only. Lavandula hasikensis lives alone in the arid, and exposed outcroppings of Jebel Samhan and Jebel Hasik, the little hermit. In the Jebali language—that’s the native mountain language here-the name means “little plant of the bridegroom and bride” which refers not only to the sweet scent but the soft and delicate textures; unusual in this rugged areas, since most plants produce thorns or bristles.
Lavandula dhofarensis is also soft and sweet, with an innocent happy little air. He lives along the escarpment woodland and around the waterholes there. He likes it wet!
Lavender doesn’t have a strong tradition here, oddly, and these guys have not yet been extracted for oil. Traditionally, though, they are rubbed between the hands and over the body as a perfume and deodorant.
Even though he doesn’t have a strong place here in Dhofar, apparently lavender is used in Yemen, with the leaves being added to milk and drunk for stomach aches, as a vermifuge and against epilepsy. Smoke from the dried leaves is inhaled to strengthen the nerves and the intelligence. A decoction is also drunk for kidney disorders. In the rest of the Middle East lavender infusion is taken as a stimulent(!), a tonic and an antispasmodic.
We have basil. Ocimum forskolei. This is the only one that seems to be native to Dhofar and this time I have traditional uses to list! Basil is primarily used for his smell, not surprisingly, since breathing tainted air was traditionally considered to be dangerous for the health. Like with Berber people, basil has been traditionally worn tucked behind the ears, and, like lavender, the leaves were/are rubbed between the palms and then over the body, so even though there is no distillation tradition, we’ve got essential oil use! Leaves “were crushed and the juice put into the nose of someone with a stuffy headcold, or into the ear of someone with an infected ear. Both these were said to be painful remedies, but nonetheless were held to be efficacious.” Well. From what I know about Dhofari medicine, (which isn’t a whole lot, I’ll admit,) if it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t count. This is the land of the red hot poker….and where you can still find older people who sniff at todays wimps, women going to the hospital to have a baby, instead of just dropping it in the field and then going back to work! The book goes on: “ Juice expressed from the growing tips was put into and around a sore and inflamed eye or one that had been damaged or was bleeding. Again, this was a very ‘hot’ treatment, but the patients condition often improved.” Well, I’d jolly well improve too, I’ll bet. Basil plants were/are also dug up and replanted on the graves of the newly dead. And basil is highly prized for soothing the bites of tiny biting flies that appear during and after Khareef.
In Yemen, a basil paste is supposedly used to dress the hair to stop graying. I have to admit I’ve never seen this, but then why would I have? It makes me happy to think about it though.
Jasmine grandiflorum!! I danced a happy hula when I found that one. And jasmine is related to Olives (and osmanthus, and lilac), which I had forgotten completely, if indeed I ever knew it. So I danced twice. Because if Olive trees (Olea europaea) are here then there may be olive oil in our future. Always a delightful thought. Jasmine, both grandiflorum and floribunda, are apparently found wild all over the Dhofari woodlands, flowering all year long, traipsing in and out of trees…..another thanks to this fantastic book, Plants of Dhofar. The flower locally known as “jasmine” here is Plumbago zeylanica so I don’t feel like as much of an idiot as I could feel. Anyway, jasmine is obviously loved for how she smells, of course, with the added benefit her protective properties against disease and infection. I hear there is a clear and delicate jasmine honey to be found so those poor honey guys will have me pestering the hell out of them again. Jasmine flowers were traditionally pounded into a paste and used as a dressing for burns that were not too severe, like the ones you might get when you treat someone with a red hot poker... So it all works out. This same paste was also packed into a deep or suppurating wound, to disinfect it. And the stems were used to treat stinky leather, say for holding milk.
Interestingly, goats that are not local to the woodlands, ie, goats from the dry areas, that come into to graze after the monsoon, will sometimes pass blood in their urine from eating jasmine and so the herders call jasmine “the bleeder.” Other livestock ignores it.
In Yemen it was mixed with salt and used as a poultice!
Limes. Citrus aurantifolia Swingle! These are our nice little limes. I didn’t realize they are a native species. Well, maybe not native, I think they are from Indonesia originally, but they grow wild here in Dhofar, if the soil is good, and water is nearby. Limes like to be petted and coddled a bit. I always prefer to buy them over the bigger, yellower and sometimes juicier lemons. These limes are like the cows here, littler and feistier. Maybe a little tougher. I just learned that citruses are technically berries known as “hesperidium.”
Sadly, “aurantifolia” means that leaves are like those of an orange tree.
Poor little, tough little ones.
But limes means lime flowers! So it’s possible we might one day have lime neroli….and lime petitgrain of course, and the lovely lime peels themselves. Limes are still used in cooking here, of course, and plenty of them. Limes of the mountains are/were known to be the best ones, and picked and sold not only here in Salalah but in Muscat, where they were/are dried and shipped overseas. Limes keep well, unlike other citruses, and even the most dried out and withered little black stumpy one will open to reveal life inside. They were/are usually pounded into a powder when in this state, and added to food like any spice. Medicinally, the juice is a tonic for the whole body and a blood cleaner. Here’s the terrifying part: “The juice of a fresh lime was squeezed into a painful ear which was infected and exuding pus….” Get better or else! And people suffering from epigastric pain drank hot water with fresh lime juice.
Wood from lime trees is not suitable firewood as it smells bad!
Frankincense, obviously. Boswellia sacra is our species here. I was so very sure we had dozens of species since the trees differ so much—it seems impossible they are all the same species but I have been corrected. The frankincense area goes from Hasik west all the way to Hadramawt, as far as Habban, to be exact. Here’s an explosive tidbit: According to my Plants of Dhofar bible, B. sacra was thought to be B. serrata in 1846 by Dr. H. J. Carter, a surgeon aboard the East India survey ship Palinurus, while making its survey along the southern Arabian Coast. Then, in 1867, a Swiss chemist and botanist named Flueckiger re-examined Carter’s specimens and renamed them B. sacra. Three years later the English botanist Birdwood decided the specimens were actually the same as the Somali ones—Boswellia carterii! Then for years the Arabian trees were known as B. carterii. Now we hear that the African and Arabian trees are all the same species and therefore all must be called Boswellia sacra since sacra came before carterii. Following the logic, there is no such species as B. carterii! That’s sure to cause some small uproars. I have no opinion on this, as much as I’d like to. It seems to me that there must be a hundred different frankincense species—I don’t like this homoginization at all. But I am suspicious of Latin binomials anyway, as you might know from past posts.
Frankincense trees are technically not supposed to be planted but they are, from time to time. They say that the trees growing in the monsoon (Khareef) areas produce a low grade frankincense gum, not worth messing around with. I don’t know what they mean exactly, where they draw the line, by “in the monsoon area” but I strongly suspect that our lovely black beauty frankincense comes from there and she smells like heaven.
Also found here in lovely Dhofar is Cyperus rotundus (nagamotha,) various Commiphoras (myrrh family,) various Acacias (mimosas,) Caesalpinia erlanthera (supposed to be a substitute of Oudh,) Pavetta longiflora, at least one Ferula (galbanum family,) Tamarind, Coconut, and a whole host of other plants I’ll get to eventually. For the meantime, I just wanted to mention these delightful little ones that we already know: jasmine, lime, frankincense, lavender and basil.
If anyone out there is crawling with curiosity, Plants of Dhofar-the Southern Reigon of Oman Traditional, Economic and Medicinal Uses, written by Anthony G. Miller and Dr. Miranda Morris, illustrated by Susanna Stuart-Smith is probably insanely difficult to find. It's published here, in 1988 by The Office of The Advisor for Conservation of The Environment, Diwan of Royal Court, Sultanate of Oman, and the ISBN is 07157 0808-2. Good luck with that.