Every year, Muscat residents wait for one of the much-anticipated signs that winter is coming: when Souq Es Sabt re-opens for the season. Since launching in 2012, this market – located at Al Mouj Muscat – has become something of a local institution. Visitors stop by stalls to pick up all manner of artisanal supplies or treats, from indoor plants and freshly picked flowers to locally made essential oils and soaps.
The Souq came to be as organically as a crate of produce from the stall run by Pairidaeza, one of the local organic farms. The market’s founder, Sara Al Asfoor – a former consultant who found her calling in running this seasonal operation like a well-oiled machine – started out by selling fresh, homemade, organic products right from her kitchen table along with her Irish neighbors. “Within a few weeks, we suddenly had 60 strangers coming into our living room,” she explains. Over time, they quickly began to outgrow every space they took over, and it became apparent to her that there was a real demand in the market for, well, a market. “And that’s how Souq Es Sabt got started”.
In those early days, the founding team set the bar for the type of products the market was seeking to sell, and you can still clearly see that standard being upheld to this day. The focus is on artisanal products, made locally and with an eye to sustainability.
The lay-out and vibe of the Souq are inspired by well-established markets in places like Europe. Sara spent a summer in Gdansk, Poland, nearly a decade ago, and happened upon what she later learned was the largest farmer’s market in Europe. The impact of that experience, and that of markets in other European towns thereafter, stayed with her. She incorporated those influences with Oman’s centuries-long tradition of running some of the region’s best-known markets.
There’s no doubt that the Souq has grown into a community of sorts, creating a platform for local entrepreneurs to launch their businesses and grow from there. Al Asfoor reels off one success story after another of local businesses that have gone from market stall to brick-and-mortar shop over the years. Her dedication to supporting the local SME community is unquestionable, giving thought to details as specific as making sure that vendors are zoned with complementary neighbors. In other words, you won’t find the Thai street food stall cozying up to Sacra Soap & Body, a local business specializing in natural, non-toxic soaps and body products.
And just in case you need a little pre-Souq primer, Goodness rounds up the six stalls to look out for this year so that you can make the most of your market run.
One of a Kind Oman
One of a Kind is run by a local creative duo, Ahood and Khalid. They produce clothing with unique designs hand-drawn by Ahood, showing off Omani culture with a modern and playful twist. The designs range from beautifully rendered sketches of local landmarks to pop art-style portraits and even custom orders. The couple launched their business just a few months ago and are already making a technicolor splash in the local fashion and design scene.
Since 2014, Rym Clothing has been asking one simple question: Why settle for ordinary? Founder Reem Al Suwaid has also answered that question: You don’t. Each item of clothing and accessory has a touch of the extraordinary, designed with an undertone of sophistication and artistry, be they intricate and highly detailed patterns on a tribal-inspired scarf or the minimalist elegance of a woven leather bracelet.
If you go to a local market and don’t come back with a plant, did you even really go? Shoral’s vivid green corner of the Souq is a huge crowd favorite. Owner Ammar and his team, decked out in their signature leafy shirts, can be found there every week, helping customers not only pick the right plants to brighten up their indoors (and gardens) but also handing out helpful tips on how to care for them.
Moonet Teta is the preserves and food outfit run by the Lebanese grandmother we all wish we had. Her jams, pickles, and preserves are as fresh and authentic as they get. Special mention goes to the eggplant makdous and fig jams, which are the stuff that foodie dreams are made of.
Dakwa, meaning peanut butter, is a key ingredient in Sudanese food. Need we say more? Dakwa Official serves up Sudanese food with some serious attitude, and it may just be your next favorite thing. The stall run by young entrepreneurs Amr and Mohammed serves up chicken or beef agashe, a popular street-food dish consisting of grilled meat marinated in a mouth-watering spicy, peanut-buttery blend, preferably washed down with a crisp and cool hibiscus juice. You can also pick up a packet of their spice blend separately to experiment with making your own Sudanese-influenced dishes. Top tip: The spice blend works a real treat in salad dressings.
Did you ever think you could get a taste of Brazil right in the heart of Muscat? Dona Festa brings flavors straight from the streets of Sao Paolo to the Souq. Slices of passionfruit cake have been a resounding bestseller, but the koshinyas – a Brazilian iteration of a chicken or cheese croquette – are also not to be missed.