Having been born and raised in Oman, I’ve been exposed to the country’s myriad chips (or crisps, if you’d prefer) all my life. And, for a relatively small country, it certainly has a wide and lip-smacking variety.
Who can forget the lightly flavoured Salad Chips, which have inspired many a joke about eating healthy? Or the triangular pizza-flavoured tortillas that go incredibly well with hummus?
Any mention of the chips of Oman also warrants a shout-out to chilli-and-chicken-flavoured Sohar Chips – but let’s keep that for another time.
Even amid the overload of delicious options, there has always been one that seemed to be a wafer-thin cut above the rest: the ubiquitous Chips Oman.
Created by Al Jufair Food Industries, a subsidiary of Ali Shaihani Food Industries (and, incidentally, the same company behind Salad Chips and Sohar Chips), the humble snack is described as “the most popular product of its kind in the Sultanate of Oman and the entire Gulf region” on the website. It's a big claim – but it’s hard to disagree.
So what makes Chips Oman so unique? On paper, it seems rather unassuming. On the trademark red and blue gradient packaging, the ingredients listed – potato, palm oil, chilli flavour, paprika and salt – are all commonplace. But the crunchy, flavoursome and crispy chips within belong in a league of their own.
So, how do I love Chips Oman? Let me count the ways.
For starters, the packaging has seldom changed over its 25-year-plus history. Featuring a knife slicing a potato, the old-school design brings to mind simpler times.
And then, of course, there are the chips themselves. Some of my earliest memories of them involve sneaking out of the house while my parents were having their afternoon nap to buy packets for my brother and I. The mere whiff of the razor-thin chips can easily bring back memories of that tradition, which lasted for years, until we were caught (we weren’t very clever about the disposal of empty wrappers).
This also brings me to another point – how easily available they are throughout Oman. From the nearby baqala or local corner shop to hypermarkets, you’ll seldom find a store that doesn’t stock them.
But the biggest draw of Chips Oman isn’t how tasty a snack they are; it’s their ability to make just about any other dish better. Over the years, I’ve watched in amazement as cafeterias have sprinkled the chips in burgers and sandwiches, while cannier chefs have used then in international dishes, be it dal and rice or pizza, for extra flavour.
Simply put, I’m yet to find a savoury dish not improved by a helping of Chips Oman. Something about the flavour profile – spicy, but not too spicy, and perfectly crunchy – appeals to all sections of society, and all nationalities.
The UAE seems to have discovered this phenomenon as well. It was only when I moved to the country that I realised the cult following the Omani chips have here, and the sandwiches that have attained unofficial "national dish" status.
Just pop over to Dubai's Abdulla Omar Cafeteria, a quaint haunt for student-favourite nakanak – comprising cheese, sausage, hot sauce and crispy Chips Oman wrapped in a flakey Kerala-style parotta – and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Meanwhile, numerous cafeterias across the UAE serve different versions of Chips Oman sandwiches – from those featuring cream cheese and hot sauce in a parotta, to others that pair the classic Emirati street food regag with egg. They're always delicious, no matter the version, and mostly within a budget-friendly price range of Dh3 to Dh10.
Look through the gallery below for more dishes available in the UAE:
It's about more than just sandwiches, too, such is the appeal of Chips Oman in the UAE. Take Reel Cinemas's newly launched popcorn, for example, which seems to have helpings of the chilli-flavoured chips intermingled with the salty movie snack, or home-grown brand Moshi's Chips Oman maki rolls. Tent Jumeirah Restaurant in Dubai even has a Laban Chips Oman that combines two of the Middle East's classic flavours into one unique, savoury drink.
The chips brand hasn't just shaken up the culinary world, either. In the past, local fashion label La Come Di launched a T-shirt and clutch that paid tribute to the snack. Meanwhile, FMM Dubai created a kaftan and mobile phone cover with a Chips Oman print for its Throwback Wayback collection that was "very popular, especially amongst Emiratis," says founder Fatma Al Mulla.
“We even had a few customers who have moved out of the UAE purchase it because it made them feel closer to UAE, closer to home," she says.
“As an Emirati, [Chips Oman] means my childhood – going to the grocery store next to the house with friends and cousins, exploring the shop and getting a packet. To this day, it’s nostalgic to me, and its part of my son's current childhood.”
Whether you love them or hate them, you can’t ignore the cultural significance of this humble snack. To this day, every time I visit my brother, who is now settled in the UK, I take him packets of Chips Oman and Sohar Chips as a way of greeting.
The years may have gone by, but the unique tangy-spicy flavour of Chips Oman will always transport me back to my childhood.