Middle Eastern Food – How To Cook Great on The Road: Kingdom of Bahrain

The Middle East, conflicted or and misunderstood, to many of us. In this short journey I will taste some amazing food and hopefully get a clearer view of this wonderful region, its people and culture.

We are in the Kingdom of Bahrain, a small Island nation nestled in the Arabian Gulf.

First off a little about Bahrain, we have Dubai and Abu Dhabi a hours flight away, it is connected to Saudi Arabia by bridge, the population is about one and half million, Bahrain has been an historical trading post for centuries, it is very diverse in its culture, religious freedom and population. This is reflected in its food of which we are to dive into. Influences include Indian, Lebanese, Egyptian and other neighboring countries.

Hummus is everywhere and delicious, Mutable and Baba Ganhoush, with their creamy and smokey eggplant flavours, are a must, pickles, olives, vine leaves, tabouleh and fattoush are just wonderful cold meze with falafel, kibbeh, chicken livers, sambusa or maybe samosa to you, along with meat filled breads make up a small selection of hot dishes.

Just think, olive oil, sumac, fresh lemons, parsley, coriander, cinnamon, dried black limes and sesame all with smoky undertones. The Capital of Bahrain is Manama. The first oil in the region was discovered in Bahrain in 1932. Bahrain has 2 UNESCO world heritage sites Around 5000 years ago Bahrain was home to the Bronze Age civilization of Dilmun. You are more likely to see a Ferrari than a camel and yes before you ask woman can and do drive of course. I am yet to meet a man with multiple wives and talk about being a compact place, Bahrain is 161 times smaller than New York.

Let us get tucked in to some main course.
Rice is big and comes in many colors and flavors. Machboos or Kabsa is a fantastic rice and meat combination, it is usually chicken or lamb cooked with a highly seasoned rice, topped with dried fruits
and nuts, really delicious. We also have Mandi rice, Bukhari rice a famous Saudi Arabian dish and Biryanis of course with its Indian connection. All are cooked in a different way and for sure do not taste the same. With Mandi the meat is generally boiled first with spices and the stock used to cook the rice with the meat then roasted with a distinctive charcoal aroma. With Machboos or Kabsa the meat in incorporated into the rice very much as a biryani. And Bukhara rice flavored in several ways and colours and usually served with roasted or grilled chicken. Bukhari rice is often served with Salata Hara a thin spicy tomato sauce.

Of course, you will not find pork on the menu but chicken lamb and beef are incredibly popular. We also have dishes like oozi, think slow cooked melt in your mouth tender lamb just falling off the bone.

Curries and stew are a plenty, Chicken, lamb, beef, fish and shrimp all are used.
Generally stews such as Nashif are not as spicy as an Indian type curry but pack a punch with milder delicate flavors. Slow cooked super tasty and eaten with fresh bread.

Mashawi or grills are to die for, this in my opinion is where Bahrain and all surrounding countries win hands down. If you are a meat eater and like a little spice then this, and excuse the pun, is the Mecca of it all. The local streets at night are filled with wonderful charcoal BBQ aromas that really draw you in. Lamb chops, chicken lamb and beef kebabs sizzling on fire is for me is just heavenly. Beef tikka in particular really gets me going, small pieces of beef marinated with black lemon is probably one of the best things I have ever eaten. Really you would have to go a long way to get tastier food.

Shawarma, they super cheap and are probably the closest thing to what you could call street food. Tahini or tahhina and garlic sauces in the mix make these bite size bad boys a must as a grab and go filler.

It is hard to convey the importance of bread in the region, whether dipping, scooping or filling bread is a must. Small whole in wall bakeries can be found everywhere, they are cheap and super fresh. Tandoor ovens running at a supersonic speed and heat churn out a ton of this beautiful stuff.

As an Island you would think fish and seafood would be big, well you are right. With fishing ports scattered around the island, bringing in their catch, you can find amazing prawns, crabs and an array of fresh fish. Hamour is a wonderful cod type fish that is super meaty and should probably be described as the king of fish from the local waters. My particular favorite though is Safi, Safi fried in local spices is just super. It is small it is bony but it is delightful.

As we reach the end my journey here in Bahrain, I thought we should have some coffee. Arabic coffee is usually much lighter that we find in the west and heavily spiced with green cardamon. Cloves and cinnamon can also be found in the mix, either way you take it, grab a few dates and perhaps a few sweet snacks and you like me will be super happy. Bahrain, small, compact, friendly and diverse. As a historical trading post and still up to this day, Bahrain is a multi cultural melting pot which in turn and over time has produced a beautiful mix of people and cuisine.

Lamb Kabsa

Chicken Kabsa

Hawaii

Mudjarra

Shakshuka

Baharat

Arabic Coffee

Arabic Lamb Stew