50th Post: Mumtaz Mahal, sumptuous Indian in Oman

Welcome to the 50th post of The Culinary Diplomat! Thank you to all of you – friends, family, or the fellow bloggers from Word Press – for checking us out, following this blog, and offering feedback. Thank you to my two CD Ambassadors (guest bloggers)! To the rest of you, please consider submitting a guest post. The CD needs more voices to be truly great. Click on the Become a CD Ambassador link to find out more! Plea aside, thanks again and enjoy the post!

I love Indian food. The spices, the yogurt, the tender meat cooked in a tandoor. The way a slow-cooked curry is so rich and complex that I want to sop the sauce, gravy – whichever name you prefer – up with naan or paratha – or just lap it up with a spoon.
In Oman, I ate Indian – or at least, dishes with Indian spices or culinary influences – as often as possible. When I had more than three recommendations to try Mumtaz Mahal in Muscat, I vowed to try it. Two visits later, I safely and highly recommend it to anyone fortunate to make it to Muscat and for a special occasion dinner.
Mumtaz Mahal is an elegant, high-end Indian restaurant on the second level of a modern, white, two-story structure overlooking a man-made waterfall and grassy banquet area about 10-15 minutes west of Mutrah Souk and the old Center of Muscat. Its outdoor balcony seating was perfect for early spring nights, but it’s expansive indoor dining room is probably a safer bet much of the oh-so-hot year.  
As Indian food goes, it is not cheap. It is not cheap by highly expensive Muscat standards (but not unreasonable compared to Europe).  Like most Indian food, their menu is prefect for sharing and sampling, creating a painter’s palette of sorts on one’s large plate, with savory, sweet, and spicy flavors commingling pleasantly.   Their expansive, global wine list is another draw in this largely dry country.
A few highlights:
The papadum, naan, and chutney were decent if not noteworthy. Their Chicken Tikka Masala is moderately spicy, thick, yet not as heavy as other versions. Chicken makhani was a crowd favorite. Saag Paneer was more tangy than most; instead of sporadic diced tomato dispersed throughout, the spinach curry’s base itself appeared to be a light tomato sauce.  My group found that to be an unexpectedly good culinary decision. The Zattar-spiced Tandoori Cauliflower was the least heavy dish I tried. We accidentally ordered the rich Tri-peppers Cauliflower Masala – but it was a wonderfully unintended addition to our meal.
Lamb is everywhere in Oman, and Mumtaz certainly executed its lamb dishes almost perfectly.  Lamb Mughali Korma was a wonderful surprise for me – tender chunks of braised lamb in a creamy and delicate cashew sauce that was like no other korma I’ve ever had. Lamb Vindaloo, always a favorite, was warm but not too spicy.  The Chettinad Lamb Pepper Fry, purportedly a dish from southern India was enticingly fragrant and deceptively spicy. As one colleague put it, at first bite, the heat is subtle, but the spice grows over time until it holds on the tip of the tongue (which is an odd sensation given that most taste receptors for spice are further back on the tongue). It was a must-try.
Should you make it to the far reaches of the Arabian peninsula to Muscat, Mumtaz Mahal is worth the buzz. Should your wanderlust for Indian cuisine strike you closer to home, try a new local Indian restaurant. Whether you are in a large city or small town, chances are you can find a great, family-run Indian restaurant within driving distance. Try something different!

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