Build your Halloumi event at McDonalds, Bahrain

Last Sunday I did something  different. I took a detour from the routine and headed to the McDonalds outlet on Exhibition Road. When I stepped in, I was greeted by some heavily suited gentlemen with wide smiles. I was directed to their first floor by the McDonalds’s staff where I met Dunia from Obai and Hill (@Obaiandhill). Okay, let me just start from the beginning.

I was invited by a PR team in Bahrain called Obai and Hill to attend McDonalds’s “Build your Halloumi” promotional event. Since it was happening on a working day, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to a make it. But finally, all the stars aligned and I got a few hours off from work and accepted their invite.

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Halloumi is a typical middle eastern cheese that is semi hard, brined and has a high melting point. This makes it easy to grill or fry it.  This is one of the cheeses that I love and regularly use at home in salads and sandwiches.  McDonalds struck a chord here and I wanted to see what they do with one of my favourite ingredients.  The event included a kitchen tour and breakfast at McDs.

McD's ground floor
McD’s ground floor

Armed with my camera I took the flight of stairs to reach the first floor. I was quite apprehensive because expected a swarm of media to be there with their flashing cameras and such. But I was immediately put to ease by Dunia of the PR team Obai and Hill and the McDonalds’s General Manager Mr. Ahmad.  The staff served me some coffee and I perked up to capture the event on my blog.

They took a batch of 4-5 people for the McDs kitchen tour ( on the ground floor), at a time. I must assume that I was the only food blogger there or maybe I missed meeting them. The tour was being guided by Mr. Ali who is McDs incharge of quality control and supply chain.

Mr. Ali taking us through the McDonalds kitchen tour
Mr. Ali taking us through the McDonalds kitchen tour

He told us about the high standard of quality control that McDs adheres to in storing its frozen and dry ingredients. He took us to the cold storage and showed us around. He also asserted about the highest standard of hygiene maintained and asked us to wash our hands before we embarked on our Halloumi sandwich building expedition.

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He first, introduced us to the ingredients of the muffin sandwich which included my favourite – Halloumi cheese, olive paste, shredded lettuce, tomato slices and the muffin slices. 5 ingredients were too little, I thought. It was quite similar to what I made at home for my family. I wondered if it would have the McD addictive magic to it. In a line we parked ourselves with our plastic gloves against the counter, ready to make our sandwiches.

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As per the staff’s directions we plied the already toasted muffin sides with 1 tsp of olive paste, a handful of shredded lettuce, thick slice of tomato and grilled Halloumi ( grilled to perfection for 45 seconds each on both sides, stressed Mr. Ali). We assembled our mini tower of ingredients on our sandwich as hustled to go back to the first floor where our respective tags with toothpicks  were waiting to be pinned on the Halloumi sandwich.

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It was heart warming to see my blog’s name on one of the tags along with several other media tags. Watching my “Slice of my lyfe” tagged halloumi sandwich standing  proudly among others, made me smile.

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Soon Dunia whisked us away to take photos with our sandwiches at the Halloumi photo booth. It was as funny as it was memorable. People made funny faces whilst pretending to eat their sandwiches.

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The staff then served us our choice of breakfast of egg McMuffin and hash browns and orange juice. I had a ball photographing the venue, the ingredients, listening to the media chattering among themselves and biting into my Halloumi sandwich. I must say, I was in for a surprise. It did taste absolutely wonderful inspite of using just 5 ingredients.

It felt like home made sandwich with a sprinkling of McDs magic. 

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sumptuous breakfast

I have to admit that I was quite nervous going on my own to a promotional event but the PR team of Dunia and Zara put me at ease and I found myself enjoying the flurry of activities. My hearty congratulations to McDonalds for having launched such a healthy breakfast option with my very favourite halloumi and a big thumbs up to Obai and Hill team for putting together a fab event with exciting activities that engaged everybody. I had a wonderful time and when i went back to work with my goody bag, I spent the rest of the day musing to myself – I am lovin’ it!

Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake and Summertime musing

Summer.

Melting ice lollies.

Frequent baths.

Insomnia and a writer’s block.

Withered flowers in the vase. No inspiration.

Music. Jazz. Blues.

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Summer.

Cloudless sky. Heartless sun. Shade-less roads.

Ennui. Littered work place. Staring into space.

Empty parks. Empty swings. Hot wind. Watering eyes.

Ice cream van honks. Children peep out of the window. Little hands making impressions on the hot window pane.

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Summer.

Sad stories from dog-eared books. Melancholy and nostalgia stay with me.

Sepia thoughts criss -cross like colourful kites in the sky.

Words are rewarding. Fills the soul with wonder.

How much I miss writing beautiful words!

Strange they should come out like this today.BBC5

Summer.

Sadness looms. I read some more. Curled up on the sofa.

Little hands grab my hair. Pull and tug. Giggles.

“Let us bake a cake mamma.” , she says. I shrug and ignore.

She climbs atop and the reading  stops.

Eyes twinkling and smile heartening.

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Summer.

Busy hands. Measuring and mixing. Sugar and cream.

Blueberries glistening in the light of the afternoon sun. Purple and dark blue.

“Cream cheese on your nose mamma.”, she says. Laughter.

Sauce bubbling. Scent of summer in the air. Warm hugs and high-fives.

Hot oven. Cheesecake baking. Purple swirls. Artists.

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Tart and creamy. Purple and pearly white. Juice stained tiny fingers licked clean.

Celebration. Joyous exclamations. A proud mamma.

The setting sun. A spoonful of happiness. Melting moments.

Smiles and peonies. Closed eyes. Savouring. Another spoonful.

Best friends. Huddled together. Sharing a plate of blueberry cheesecake.

Eid Mubarak with Nafisa’s Shir Korma

How infinitely true is it when you think about friendships and realize that the friends you have had in school were the best sort. They all come with no conditions apply policy. And as you grow older through college and then work, all the friendship become more conditional. As children in school we have no expectations when we get into a friendship. Wish I could say the same about all the friendships through the rest of the course of my life.

Ofcourse, there are exceptions to this all the time. I have a fair share of such unconditional friendships even now. Touchwood.

Well this is a special Eid post inspired purely because one of closest school friends happened to share an awesome Shir Korma (vermicelli milk pudding) recipe with me.

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Nafisa and I go a long way from school to now being whatsapp buddies. The thing with her is that there is never any awkwardness even if there were long periods of being out of touch. As a matter of fact, we were 5 friends, – Sunita, Nafisa, Kavita, Poorna and me. Whenever I think of one, memories of all the others come on automatically. There was never anything that we did not do together.  Sunita was the prankster, Nafisa the level headed one, Kavita was everybody’s agony aunt, Poorna was quirky and funny while I was the nerd. We made such a fantastic team together and never tired of having fun all the time.

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Nafisa and I also played basketball together for many years. That is where we got extremely close. We could discuss anything and everything under the sun – teenage crushes, gossip, everything.

IMG-20130809-WA003We parted ways after school and during college we couldn’t keep in touch as much as we would have loved to. Life took over and then here we are living our busy lives with our babies and husbands. She is a proud mother of a 2-year-old (nearly)  beautiful Naisha. Thank God for technology and here we are chatting up on whatsapp whenever time permits; discussing motherhood woes and joys.

Eid was a special time while growing up with Nafisa. I remember Nafisa and her sisters wearing splendid shararas / ghararas and looking so beautiful. They invited us to their homes where we were served delicious Shir Korma and other delicacies.

S1Nafisa’s mother is such an excellent cook and so is Nafisa.  So during one of our whatsapp rants I asked her to share her Shir Korma recipe. Shir Korma is a milk based pudding with vermicelli, nuts and raisins. This is usually made during Eid celebrations.   I have tried to replicate it with the best of my efforts just to capture the essence of the Eid celebrations with Nafisa’s family 20-25 years back. Nafisa is sad that she wouldn’t able to spend this Eid with her mother due to some special circumstances. Perhaps this post will rehash all her Eid memories and make her spirit a little lighter.

Thanks so much Nafisa for this wonderful recipe and taking me back in time.

Nafisa, here’s wishing you and your beautiful family all the happiness and prosperity on this Eid.

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Gabgha – Ramadan Special Post @Elite Resort and Spa

It has been just over 3 years in Bahrain and still I feel like I know so little about the culture of this beautiful island. Bahrain has certainly been the longest stint for us so far, outside of India. So far it has been interesting and rewarding. Being a food blogger and living an expat’s life can bring forth a lot of wonderful food – related experiences. I try to not miss them as far as it is possible. But every Ramadaan, I somehow miss the ‘Gabgha’ and the ‘iftaar’ celebrations.

For the uninitiated:

Ramadaan is the holy month for the Muslims who fast from dawn until dusk. Their fasting involves absolutely no consumption of water or food. This is done for a month and in my opinion it is a real test of will power and physical endurance. Most Indian Muslims that I know, who are in Bahrain or other countries in the Middle East find it easier to carry on their fasting activities in this region, as there is a collective sentiment towards a common goal. Eating and drinking is forbidden for all (except children) in open areas. Restaurants and eating joints do no serve any food or drink during fasting hours. When the sun goes down, the end of fasting is marked with Maghrib, which is when Muslims will have Iftar – the meal to break their fast.  Following Iftar, families and friends get together for a Gabgha – a lively gathering with food and entertainment that lasts throughout night.

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Corporates have their own “gabgha” for their employees and their families. I have missed each one of them for some reason or the other. In Bahrain, as it is the case with all the other middle eastern countries, all the top 5 Star and 4 Star hotels have iftaar and Gabgha get together for their guests. I had been eyeing the adverts and the leaflets for Gabgha since the start of Ramadaan. I zeroed in on a few hotels and waited for a freer weekend to attend one of them.

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So on one of the weekends, we went to a Gabgha arranged at the Elite Resort and Spa. It came highly recommended from one of our friends Pooja Rajpal, who works for a magazine and regularly reviews hotels and restaurants.

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When we reached the venue, the staff was wrapping up their iftaar (the menu includes more snacks and light bites) arrangements and were quite engrossed in laying down the tables for Gabgha (more dinner-like menu). The gabgha had been arranged in a huge tent within the premises with sparkly chandeliers and illuminations. It was a huge hall which could probably hold a crowd of 200-300 people easily. The crowds usually start trickling in after 10 or 11 pm. The smoking (sheesha) and non smoking sections were segregated which made it easier for us non smokers to enjoy our meal.

There was an entire section dedicated only to dried fruits, nuts, pickles and jams. That is where we began our tryst. Slowly we moved to the several meters long center table that served appetizers, a huge selection of breads, main course and sides.  Fruit juices and Arabic coffee was also being served.

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For vegetarians there was a good selection of main courses and appetizers to choose from such as eggplant Parmesan, hummus and other chickpeas and vegetable preparations. Meat eaters were spoilt for choice by a wide array of different kinds of meats and sea food preparation; Arabic and Italian. The idea of a gabgha is to have a community gathering of sorts and share a meal and conversation after a tough day of fasting. Gabghas usually last until 2:30 am or 3:00 am.

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 The most striking of all the dishes laid out was the huge biryani cauldron  that had a whole animal in it. I assumed it was lamb biryani and all the guests thronged it, scraping out meat and filling their plates with the scented biryani rice. By the time, I got there with my camera, most the meat was scraped off.

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The most appealing section of them all was obviously the dessert section which had the choicest of desserts; both traditional and contemporary. Since, I can only speak for myself, I must confess that I indulged in the most obscene kind of gluttony. After a  slow start with the appetizers and salads, I gradually moved to main courses of Arabic curries with breads and finally to traditional sweets such as kunafa, mahalabia, Arabic halwa and such. Even tiny portions in such a wide spread buffet can go a long way. I was already snoring at my seat.

My daughter started at the dessert counter and ended it there itself.

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All in all, it was a unique experience attending a gabgha in a traditionnal tent like set up. It came to 15 BD++ per person.  I am glad I was able to make it to this fantastic gabgha and hope to go to many more next year.