TASTE THE WORLD: WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT IN BAHRAIN
When visiting Bahrain, tasting the local cuisine is a must. This small island country is a melting pot of different cultures and traditions. Yet, it has its own indigenous food culture that has been preserved over centuries.
Most of the traditional dishes include rice, fish, meat, and dates. One of the most famous Bahraini dishes, considered the national dish of Bahrain, is machboos, grilled meat or fish served with rice flavored with various spices. Machboos is similar to Saudi kabsa and Indian biryani.
The spice mix (Baharat) that is used in machboos is made of black pepper, paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg. The dish is also flavored with loomi—limes, often from Oman, that have been boiled and dried in the sun. The result is an intensely tangy and earthy flavor. The cooked spiced basmati rice is topped with grilled meat and sprinkled with rose water. Some versions also include potatoes and split lentils on top of rice.
Another popular rice dish is muhammar. This one is a sweet rice dish seasoned with spices and date molasses, usually eaten with fried or grilled fish. First, saffron, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon are soaked in rose water. The half-cooked basmati rice is mixed with date molasses or sugar, clarified butter,and rosewater-spice mix, and then finished cooking under closed lid.
Balaleet is a slightly sweet vermicelli (noocle) dish flavored with cardamon and saffron and topped with a savory saffron egg omelette. The Indian-influenced sweet, tender and savory balaleet is served mostly for breakfast.
A perfect way to end a Bahraini meal is a piece of the super sweet halwa Bahraini. It is a cornflour dish mixed with nuts, spices and rosewater and looks like a semisolid fudge.
Another traditional dessert, rangeena, is made with dates, flour, walnuts and spices. The spelt flour is lightly roasted and mixed with oil and cinnamon. The flour mix is then poured over the dates, flattening it down. The dish is topped with walnut halves.
Bahrain does not have a national drink but the intensely strong and sweet karak chai made with evaporated milk and spices such as cardamom and saffron seems to be their brew of choice.
BEST PLACES TO TASTE BAHRAINI FOOD
Haji's Café 1950 is a hidden gem in one of the alleyways of Manama souk in the Bab al Bahrain neighborhood and have a stalwart reputation among the locals. The menu is only in Arabic but the servers speak some English. The family-operated café has a great authentic ambience and the food is deliciously flavorful. They also make their own khubooz, a Persian flat bread very popular in Bahrain.
Saffron by Jena is another local favorite and has been named the best restaurant in town by Time Out Bahrain for years. It is a more trendy place to enjoy some traditional Bahraini dishes. They have three branches but the original one is in a traditional Bahraini house in Muharraq. An interesting feature here is the glass floor under which a traditional date press lies preserved.