Bahraini Cuisine

Bahrain is an international port and, as such, imports goods from all over the Middle East, India, Pakistan and Africa. Each restaurant in Manama featured a different cuisine and the food markets offered a dazzling selection of bins filled with spice, shelves stocked with oils, dates, honey and staples from around the world.

Spices

But what did the average Bahraini eat? Every meal was served with flatbread, and various small plates of egg dishes, meat dishes (usually chicken or lamb), vegetables (I liked the white beans with cilantro which were very spicy), hummus, tahini, and curries. These dishes were shared among diners. The flatbread was torn into smaller pieces and a spoonful of one of the other items was placed on the flatbread and rolled up. Diners ate this morsel with their right hand, utensils being reserved for serving. The population is predominantly Muslim and alcohol is not served except in larger establishments and hotel restaurants. Thus, diners drink water or fruit juices with their meals and follow the meal with Arabic style (strong) coffee or chai tea.

The area is subject to dust storms of very fine, white silt, which was probably the reason there was not any “street food” per se as there is in other cities of the world. The famed “shwarma” was sold at many establishments along the sidewalk where doors could be slid open to reveal the juicy, marinated chicken and lamb roasting on a spit. This Middle Eastern variation of a wrap was available everywhere for the equivalent of $3 US.

The vast array of available spices is incorporated into most menus. The following recipe is for the Chicken Machboos that we made in our cooking class.

Bahraini Chicken Machboos

Ingredients

¼ c. rose water

¼ t. saffron threads

2 T. melted butter

¼ c. canola oil

Whole spices:

3 star anise

2 black lemons*

2 cinnamon sticks

5 whole cloves

2 bay leaves

5 whole cardamom

Vegetables:

2 medium onions, diced

2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced

½ t. ground ginger

½ c. fresh cilantro, chopped

½ c fresh dill, chopped

1 medium tomato, diced

Remaining spices:

1 T. salt

½ t. black pepper

½ t. cinnamon

½ t. ground cardamom

½ T. turmeric

½ T. paprika

1 T. curry powder

1 t. cumin

1 2-3 lb. chicken, quartered

2 c. basmati rice

4 c. water

Green chili (optional)

Directions

Pour rosewater into a measuring cup and add saffron threads. Cover with plastic wrap and soak for 4 hours or overnight.

In a heavy stock pot or Dutch oven, heat butter and oil over medium high heat. Add whole spices and sauté until you can smell the aroma. Then add onions, garlic and ginger. Fry for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add cilantro and dill and stir for one minute. Add the fresh tomato and mix until it softens. Add remaining spices and mix for 3-4 minutes.

Add the chicken and fry for 5 minutes on both sides to lightly brown. Add 4 c. water and bring to boil. Simmer for 40-45 minutes until chicken is cooked. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Rinse rice with cool water until it is clear. Drain. Add to stockpot. There should be 3 c. water in the stockpot for the 2 c. rice. If not, add more water. Bring to boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the rose water and saffron. Place chicken on top of all other ingredients and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes or until rice is cooked. Garnish with lemon slices. Serves 4-6.

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