Every time, I think of Bahrain, I am reminded of its deliciousness. Age-old recipes, traditional methods, fresh ingredients, high-quality dry fruits and aromatic spices make the best of the Bahraini food. Despite the influence of fusion food and foreign influx, traditional eateries continue to rule the dining scene in this small but pretty island nation. Some of the passionate locals have safeguarded the authentic recipes, heritage food and the legacies of spices with all their heart and soul. I loved the food there and was thoroughly impressed with the way the locals enjoy their food. This post is about celebrating the culinary spirit of the country.
Bahrainis love their food and this is how it should be!
Bahrain may have evolved as a progressive and cosmopolitan country but in some ways it is still traditional and old-school. One of the things that keeps it grounded and connected to roots is definitely its food. I truly admired the way the locals take out time to indulge in traditional cuisines and sumptuous Bahraini food.
Usually when we visit a new city in a new country, we look forward to the lavish breakfast buffet in the hotels. But in Bahrain, you will want to skip the variety. I bet you will eat your hotel breakfast for 1 or 2 days but after that you will head to the famous cafes which are known for their breakfast menus. Haji’s, Saffron, Raazji are some of the places that every one will tell you about. You just can’t miss the food there.
This is what I wrote about Bahrain in GULF WEEKLY!
How Bahrain spoiled me?
I was literally spoiled for choices. There was always a lavish spread from mezze to variety of hummus, leafy salads, fritters or taboule, egg dishes, chicken curries, various grills, slow-cooked meats, pilaf, loads of khubz (flat breads) accompanied by tea, coffee, saffron and milk drink, labaan followed by sweet desserts, dates and fruits. After my first humongous meal, I knew that Bahraini meal has a special character of its own. And the takeaway is not just the flavors but much more.
There is no doubt that the locals take their grills and kebabs very seriously and rice dishes are about elaborate and slow-cooking. When it comes to spices, it isn’t hard to conclude that Bahrainis believe in generous use of cloves, peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon, paprika, coriander, cardamom and cumin, just like Indians.
While traditional flatbread, Khubz, baked in an oven, are popular with hummus, eggs, grills and curries, rice dishes make for a complete meal. While Qoozi (Ghoozi) is a traditional rice delicacy, there is another very popular combination of meat or fish served with rice called machboos. Then there is Gulf’s fresh and favorite fish, Hamour which is prepared in all forms steamed, grilled or in curry. Local coffee is called gahwa and is served in a coffee pot called finjan. The Bahrainis love tea and therefore kadak chai is becoming a favorite. Another popular beverage that is flavorful and appetizing is the salted buttermilk (served with or without mint) called laban. For your sweet tooth, there is baklava, kunafa, umm alli. For some more authentic treats, you must visit the Manama Souq for Halwa and Zalibi and get it packed from the local sweets shop. Dates and nuts are important ingredient of almost all recipes and are available in abundance in the suqs.
In Bahrain, one must eat the local Bahraini breakfast!
The capital city, Manama may be home to many five star hotels and posh buildings but its narrow alleyways still boast of age-old cafes and eateries, which serve only traditional food. My breakfast trips to Haji’s café in Manama and Saffron Muharraq are as enjoyable and memorable to me as the trips to Bahrain International Circuit and A’ali Village.
In these local hideouts, you really don’t have to look at the menu to pick. Just by looking around, you would know what to order and if you are accompanied by a local, they would do the best for you. Every order must begin with some omelets, balaleet (sweet saffron vermicelli is topped with eggs), shakshuka (poached eggs are cooked in a tomato gravy), hummus and saffron drink (with or without milk). Fried Chicken liver or Chicken liver saute is a popular delicacy served at breakfast or you may also go for the cheese platter. The breads (khaboos) are an obsession in this part of the world and Bahraini food feels incomplete without it. They are served so fresh and soft that no one keeps a count of how many they eat in each meal.
If you are having second thoughts of not finding enough for the vegetarian in you, I must clear the doubts instantly. Bahraini cafes and restaurants offer a lot of plant based dishes. The best of saffron royal breakfast is vegetarian. The kebab rolls are delicious. For other meals of the day, there are enough salads, hummus, lentils, eggplant, spiced tomato, baked beans (luba) and chickpea dishes. The humble yellow dal is readily available with steamed white rice. Fried balls of chickpeas, falafel with hummus are also very popular here.
Some of the restaurants which you can visit for lunch and dinner are Rasoi by Vineet, Villa Mamas, Naseef, Tabreej. There are many old and small places which serve Bahraini food only.
You got to eat these when indulging in Bahraini food.
Some of the dishes that I absolutely loved were lamb goozi (lamb cooked in rice), samboosa (samosa ), zinjibari (small bun stuffed with cheese), luba (spiced baked beans), balaleet (sweet vermicelli eaten with omelette), mihyawa, (bread coated with fish dressing), machboos (rice with meat), mahalabia (milk flavored with dates or cardamom).
Tabbouleh, hummus , khubz, saffron drink, Karak tea are a must on every table.
Samboosa – This is a very popular snack which is a cheesy version of samosas. They are smaller in size though.
Zinzibari – It is yet another very unique, sweet and salty snack. It made with both cheese and jam or sugar powder.
Muhammar- Sweet rice cooked elaborately and then served in combination with fried Safi (rabbit fish) or Chanad (mackerel fish).
Mahyawa – It is a tangy, fermented sauce made from fish.
Gaimat – Fried doughs covered with honey, sesame and dates. These are sweet dumplings, a favorite in Ramadan too.
Goozi – Slow cooked lamb (or chicken) in rice.
Grills – The meat grills in Bahrain are laced with spices and nicely cooked over coal. They are simply amazing. I would highly recommend them.
Fresh sea food – At some of the best restaurants, you have the option of picking from the fresh catch display and asking the chef to prepare it in the Bahraini style or the way you like it. Machboos- rice with sea food can easily be called the national dish of Bahrain.
Bahrain also flourishes with trendy restaurants but I am sure you will not get enough of its local food. When you do, you can always check out the neighborhood of ‘Block 338’ for some of the coolest eateries.
Keep coming back for more updates on travel and food.