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Fantastic Bahraini delicacies and where to find them

This article appeared in the National Day special edition of the Weekender Weekly. 

All pictures by Sushil Sasheendran

Bahrain has a rich culinary culture that borrows heavily from the migrants from all over the world who travelled and eventually made this beautiful island-country their home. Over the years, Bahraini cuisine adapted and evolved and formed its own unique identity among all other Arab cuisines. The Bahraini cuisine today is influenced by all the cultures such as Indian, Persian, Sri Lankan, and Palestinian to name a few. In the course of my culinary adventures, it dawned pretty soon that it was only in Bahrain that the aroma of Indian food merges seamlessly with the waft of Mediterranean cooking methods interspersed with Arabic ingredients making it a heady concoction and a true foodie’s delight. From simple aromatic cuisine and local markets to snazzy restaurants and sizzling grills, Bahrain pleases and teases with the variety of food it has to offer. On the glorious occasion of National Day, it is only fitting to talk about all the popular and traditional Bahraini dishes to give it the attention it deserves.

It was quite easy to put this list together with the help some Bahraini friends and bloggers. These dishes are national favourites and the places where you can find them, even more so.

Sharbat Zaffran ( Saffron) We start with a refreshing drink that promises to quench thirst and has medicinal properties too.  The color of sunset, this Sharbat ( cooler) is a must have on a hot day.Many restaurants in Bahrain serve this drink but Chai Café’s  ( in Sanabis, opposite Bahrain Mall )never ceases to delight. You can have option of choosing the Saffron drink with either rose water or palm water and both of them are equally fantastic.

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Balaleet – Breakfast is the most important meal in all cultures around the world and Bahrain is no exception. Balaleet is a unqiue Bahraini dish that combines a sweet and savory flavours together in one dish. Sweet and cardamom flavoured vermicelli noodles are topped with an omelet making it a complete meal.It can take a little getting used to but once you develop a taste for it, you will love it. Children particularly enjoy Balaleet for breakfast because of the sweet noodles. You can order Balaleet at plenty of places around Bahrain but the most satisfying one that I found is at Chai Café.

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Liver with Khoboos & Mehyawa – Bahraini cuisine is marked by strong and bold flavours  and enjoy eating liver for breakfast with fresh –out-of-the –oven Khoboos ( Arabic bread) in the morning for breakfast. The best liver dish that a lot locals rave about can be found at Haji Gahwa- a tiny whole –in-the-wall place in  the heart of Manama. Do not miss out on their home made Mehyawa ( dried fish sauce), cheese and labneh. It is simply out of this world!

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Bahraini Breakfast Platter – if these single Bahraini breakfast dishes aren’t enough to whet your appetite, you can try the Bahraini breakfast platter from Saffron by Jena. For an authentic experience try the outlet in Muharraq. The breakfast items are available in a set menu fashion and offer fried potatoes, different kind of Arabic breads, Balaleet, fava beans ( mashed), red kidney beans, Tahina dip, dates and so on. It is a gargantuan meal and you might feel the necessity to skip lunch after a breakfast meal at Saffron by Jena.

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Fish Machboos – Lunch for most Bahrainis is about enjoying a hearty plate of rice and fish or meat. Machboos is the National dish of Bahrain that is made at home and at restaurants at near-same frequency. With the sea serving up the freshest catch each day, the fish Machboos is what you must try. Machboos uses a unique blend of spices such as black lemon, saffron, black pepper, cardamom which makes it a dish that fills up your senses as it does your tummy. The best Fish Machboos is town is to be found at Tabreez in Adhari. This is an absolute favourite among locals as it is among Saudi nationals who frequent the restaurant to enjoy the Bahraini style fish preparations.

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Saafi & Rice – Meal as simple as plain rice served with fish is what life is all about. Saafi fish is brought fresh from the sea, dried in the sun and salted and served atop plain rice. Tabreez restaurant offers the best Safi and rice that locals promise is finger licking good.

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Sambusa– This mouth- watering snack is perfect for any occasion and Bahrainis cannot think of a gathering without Sambusa. Stuffings for sambusa vary from meat, chicken, vegetable and cheese. Deep fried and serve piping hot, Sambusa can really turn a day around . The best Sambusas can be found at Abdul Kader in Manama opposite American Mission Hospital where they start serving them hot from 5 am onward and are always busy.

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Bahraini grills – Meat grills , kebabs are big part of the Arab food tradition. Bahrain has a grill shop every half a kilometer serving different types of grills like Turkish, Persian etc. However, the authentic Bahraini style grills are available at Tikka Abul in Exhibition road. Smaller in size, marinated in Bahaini spices, these flavourful grills are extremely popular among the locals. They are always crowded and visitors from neighbouring GCC countries flock their window for their share of what may probably be the only authentic Bahraini grill place in Bahrain.

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Sulaimani – Where there’s tea, there’s hope! Tea is a ritual across cultures that people take very seriously. Bahrain is no different when it comes to matters of their favourite hot beverage. Off late, Chai Karak has taken prominence but not many know that Chai Karak finds it origins in Qatar and not Bahrain. However, the good-old Sulaimani has evolved over centuries from the Indian style of tea preparation. Sulaimani uses no milk and is usually strong. Many local joints offer Sulaimani but none as fantastic as Haji Gahwa. Try their Sulaimani and feel the day turn better.

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Halwa –Festivals, family gatherings, trips to relatives, corporate gifts aren’t complete without the traditional Halwa. Prepared in large cauldrons in the narrow streets of Manama and Muharaq find their roots in  Zanzibar, located in Tanzania. Omanis, who have always maintained close commercial ties with Zanzibar, were the first to introduce this delicious Middle Eastern sweet in the Gulf countries. This dessert found its way into Bahrain probably 150 years ago. Halwa Shwaiter and Halwa Murooj Al Muharaq are the shops to visit if you want to have the authentic taste of Bahraini Halwa made with corn starch, sugar, nuts and spices.

In my six years of living on this island and observing the local food traditions closely, one trait stands out. Bahrainis are food lovers and love to try out different places. They do not care about how small the joint or restaurant might be but if they hear about the food being good, you are sure to find BMWs, Porsches and grand cars like that parked outside these humble joints. During the National Day holidays, when you are out and about with your families and friends and feeling adventurous, head to any of these local joints and be sure to try some of the recommendations.

Post to read if you want to turn vegan

I practised being vegan for a short while just out of curiosity. I wanted to know how difficult or easy it was and how this lifestyle shift would benefit my health. I am a vegetarian and so the only things I needed to cut out of my diet were honey and diary products. It the beginning I found it difficult to cut out yogurt but after a few days, it didn’t matter. Did I feel any different health -wise? I certainly felt my bloating had reduced but other than that I didn’t see any major change. I even tried vegan meals from a home -based vegan meals set up and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I felt I needed to know more about being vegan means and embarked on a research around the same. This is what I found- 

Veganism is being practiced widely these days and there is always a debate about whether it is just another food fad or whether opting for veganism has its own benefits. Before getting into whether it is fad or not, it is important to understand what being a vegan means.

“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

As per this definition, being vegan is not just about changing diet habits but is a major lifestyle change. More and more people are opting to be vegan due to dietary and health concerns than moral reasons because they are either lactose intolerant or as a weight loss measure. Turning vegan means shifting into a lifestyle where shopping for cosmetics, clothes, holidaying, dining out should be vegan-friendly.  

Generally, a proper vegan diet is considered healthy because it is plant based and omits meat, sea food, eggs, honey and all dairy products. But there is a chance that newly converted vegans may take time to adjust to quitting meat by replacing it with refined carbohydrates like pasta, rice, breads etc.  In that case, vegan diet may not necessarily mean a healthier lifestyle. Before going vegan there are few things to keep in mind –

  • You may need a vitamin B12 supplement and an iron supplement. These nutrients are more easily available in animal foods and cannot be obtained from plant –based diets.
  • In a community that craves meat for every meal, it can be quite challenging to follow a plant based diet. People around will ask all kinds of questions which may be annoying or amusing and they won’t stop anytime soon.
  • Sources of protein will diminish and soy and soy products become the go-to source. But there are health concerns related to soy based “vegan- meat “products and they should be used sparingly in the diet.
  • You will have to take time out to read all the food labels, cosmetic labels and clothing labels.

But all the above reasons should in no way deter anyone from trying this lifestyle because people who have switched to this kinder and healthier way of living life, swear by the benefits.

  • The average vegan diet is higher in vitamin C and fibre, and lower in saturated fat than the one containing meat
  • Vegans have a lower BMI (height-to-weight ratio) than meat eaters, which means they are skinnier
  • Vegans have lower cholesterol levels and lesser risk of heart diseases because the diet is lower in saturated fat.
  • Turning vegan is an opportunity to discover food flavours and recipes that you may not have tried before.
  • A vegan lifestyle is a kinder way to live on this earth.

In Bahrain, being vegan means you are certainly in the minority and  it is bound to raise many eye brows. However, there is a small yet strong vegan community that supports and strongly advocates the choice of being vegan. What’s more, many restaurants and hypermarkets have changed their outlook and have more vegan-friendly food and ingredients making life easier for this community. Here are some of the sources that may prove useful if you are planning to adopt the vegan way of life –

  1. Vegan meals at your doorstep – @veganmealsbh delivers healthy, homemade vegan meals at your doorstep. Follow them on Instagram and you would know the menu which changes week after week. Having tried this diet for a week by ordering vegan meals from Vegan Meals Bahrain, here are a few observations –
  • Felt lighter
  • No bloating
  • Portions are just enough to feel full and on more.
  • Vegan take on classic dishes like shepherd’s pie were refreshing to taste.

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  1. Vegans in Bahrain community – @veganbahrain is a community that provides all the necessary information about being vegan and where to find products and ingredients that are vegan – friendly.
  2. Vegan Blog – One Arab Vegan ( onearabvegan) is a blog you must follow, in case you are planning to try the vegan lifestyle. All information about how to tackle unfriendly questions about your vegan lifestyle to the most sumptuous vegan recipes grace this blog penned by Nada. Be sure to subscribe to this one!
  3. Vegan products – Lulu Hypermarket and Al Jazeera house vegan- friendly products. All it takes is some effort to read labels to ensure you are picking the right product.
  4. Eating out – Initially, eating out may feel daunting but there are many restaurants in Bahrain that offer vegan- friendly menus. Café Amsterdam, Orangery, Pauls Bakery offer many vegan choices to diners.

Adopting a vegan lifestyle does not have to be an overnight shift. It can be done in baby steps, allowing the body and  mind  the time to accept the change by first cutting out refined, in-organic and processed foods and including more vegetables, fruits and whole grains in the diet.

My favourite Bahraini Breakfast places

Bahrain has multitude of options when it comes to food. Food is sustenance, tradition and entertainment. For self-proclaimed food lovers like me, every single day is a food adventure. Five years and counting, on the island, I can boast about having umpteen food experiences that I share through my blog. However, I am stumped every single time when I come across yet another brilliant food story on the island. Bahrain’s rich food history, tradition and its culinary diversity never cease to surprise me. Last weekend, I took upon myself to visit some of the popular traditional Arabic breakfast joints in Bahrain. My objective was to bring to the forefront only the best places and their best offerings. So follow my food trail and try not to drool while you read.

First stop- Chai Café, Sanabis

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This neighbourhood café that is always jam-packed and the waiting is endless especially on the weekends. If you an early riser, it can work in your favour because Chai Café opens by 8 am. Their breakfast options are vast and varied with a huge selection of eggs to choose from. There is something special that makes me visit Chai Café often – the cheese- zaatar Khuboos, cream cheese and omani chips roti, and the karak in a biscuit which they call the “Karak biscuit’. The khuboos is made fresh and right in front of your eyes and you have wonderful choice of eating it laden with Nutella, Mehyawa ( tangy sauce made from fermented fish) and even keema (minced meat). The Chai Karak in a biscuit is karak tea poured into a short bread shaped as a cup and lined with luscious condensed milk. Omani chips which I discovered are a local favourite is the main ingredient of the sandwich that Chai café calls roti. Simple yet delicious flavours of cream cheese, chips and the freshly baked buns make this a wonderful indulgence for weekend breakfasts. On an average, you may end up spending 4 BD/ person on breakfast at Chai Café.

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Second stop – Café Naseef, Bab Al Bahrain

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It is when you go on an expedition, do you stumble upon such well-kept secrets on the island. Café Naseef in Bab Al Bahrain is located inside the souq and is one of the oldest eating joints in Bahrain. It was interesting to note that they have been operational since 1920 and initially started of as Bahrain’s first ice cream shop! Their line up on icecreams was very tempting to say the least but I was there to enjoy the traditional breakfast and that is what I did. Café Naseef has an extensive menu but it is wise to order the Bahraini breakfast platter for BD 6. It comes with piping hot khuboos( bread) and bread with Mehywana sauce too. The main platter consists of several pieces of falafel (patty made from ground chickpeas) with an appetizing tahini sauce, Balaleet ( sweet vermicelli noodles with an omlette), spicy potato mash, foule ( mashed kidney beans), boiled chick peas and shakshouka ( scrambled eggs cooked in tomatoes).All of this glorious food goes smoothly with Karak tea ofcourse. On weekends, it would be better to get into the souq a little early because as the sun rises higher, the waiting list to dine in at Naseef grows bigger.

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Third stop – Emmawash, Budaiyya

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The first thing that struck me about Emmawash was –‘This place is unique’. This impression stayed as I toured the inside of the restaurant, met with the owner and enjoyed my breakfast. Emmawash is warm and welcoming and instantly feels like home. The servers and the owner- Abdulla make sure you have a good time. It was a revelation as I sampled Emmawash’s breakfast platter that consists of chicken liver, Keema, Nashif ( chicken curry), lentil dal and fresh bread. I washed it down with some chilled laban. To balance the savory, I also tried their special honey, jam, cream cheese which is guaranteed to be a favourite among children. Breakfast at Emmawash can cost an average of 3 BD/ person.

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Fourth Stop – Saffron by Jena, Muharraq

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Saffron by Jena is extremely well –known among the locals and expats alike. A Time Out Award winner, this traditional restaurant is a shining beacon in terms of the authenticity. It is located in the heart of old Muharraq, Riffa Fort and the Souq ( Bab Al Bahrain). But to truly immerse yourself in the Saffron experience, you have to visit the Muharraq outlet. Saffron by Jena serves a set menu for breakfast for BD 6 per person but the portions are good for two people. The set menu  comes with Balaleet ( sweetened vermicelli noodles with omlette), Shakshouka ( eggs and tomato), Foule ( mashed kidney beans), potatoes, luba ( spiced baked beans) and a basket of bread with khuboos, zingabri ( buns slathered with a sweet and spicy preserve), another sandwich with vegetarian kebabs and a bread with Mehyawa. They also serve a complimentary chilled saffron drink which is refreshing and acts like a palate cleanser. Saffron is also a place where you can try traditional Arabic sweets such as Ogaili ( a sweet flavoured with saffron, cardamom and rosewater and studded with sesame seeds).

While I went over- the- top and covered all these fabulous breakfast places in a single day, you don’t have to do that. You can take your time and enjoy the local delicacies spacing it out for each weekend. Food is definitely wonderful but it is the cultural vibe that each of these places exude that make it worth it.

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Fifth stop – Haji Gahwa, Manama ( on another day)

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Haji Gahwa is an inconspicuous traditional set up in the heart of Manama. You can spot it in the alley next to the Mosque in Bab Al Bahrain, Manama souq. On weekends its is busy with patrons who have been visiting the cafe for years. The Cafe’s most attractive characteristic would be the way it is set up in the alley with ‘old-style’ benches and laminated photographs on the walls that encapsulates the Bahrain of yesteryear. The other highlight of the cafe is their impeccable service and their ever-smiling servers. These servers, despite having their hands full, find time to tell you about the restaurant and its traditions. The dishes that stood out for me particularly were the fasulya ( spicy baked beans), Foul medames, Mehyawa and the fresh-out-of-the-oven khoboos. Make sure you try their egg dishes as well especially the omelette. Haji Gahwa opens at 5:30 am until 11:30 serving fresh breakfast.From noon until 4:30 PM lunch is served and from 5:00 pm to 9 PM, dinner is served. There is a separate section for families

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Those are my Bahraini Breakfast outlet choices. Have I missed out any that you particularly adore? Let me know.

(Pictures courtesy – @sushil317)

Eid Mubarak with Phirni

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Eid Mubarak to all the readers of my blog. Eid has come and gone, and we are settling down to our 8-5 routine and trust me it is very difficult after being spoiled by the easy going Ramadan timings. Lots happened during Ramadan even if it is considered to be a slow month. All in all, I am grateful for all the time I have been able to spend when my parents were here and with Mimi. I am also grateful for the wonderful bunch of special people in my life who always steer me toward the brighter side of life. 

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IMG_0511 copyEid is a special time in Bahrain and so it is for us. Usually, we plan get- togethers with friends but this time since most of them were travelling it was limited to just us and a friend or two. My enthusiasm for Eid didn’t ebb because of absence of friends and I chose to celebrate it with ‘Phirni’

Phirni, a sweet milk-based dessert is served chilled and is made with  coarsely ground basmati rice and flavoured with rose water, saffron and ground cardamom. The dish is decorated with chopped or ground almonds or pistachio nuts. The history of Phirni goes back a very long way; it seems to have originated in ancient Persia or the Middle East; and to have been introduced to India by the Moghuls. Phirni is traditionally served in earthen pots. The recipe is a keeper and I really urge you to try this.

Phirni
Serves 8
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
2 hr
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
2 hr
Ingredients
  1. 1/2 +2 tbsp cup basmati rice
  2. 2 litres milk
  3. 2 cups sugar or as required or 1 cup + 3/4th
  4. 18-20 almonds/badam, blanched, reserve a few for garnishing
  5. 6-7 cardamoms/hari elachi (crushed and powdered in a mortar-pestle)
  6. 12-15 strands of kesar or saffron
  7. rose essence - 1 tbsp
Instructions
  1. Soak the basmati rice for 3-4 hours
  2. Rinse the rice a couple of times in water and wipe the grains dry with a kitchen towel.
  3. Take the rice grains in a dry grinder and coarsely grind it.
  4. Heat milk in a thick bottomed deep pan.
  5. When the milk becomes warm, take 1 tbsp from it in a bowl. Stir the saffron strands in this warm milk and keep aside.
  6. Let the milk reach to a boil. then lower the flame and add the ground rice and sugar.
  7. On a low flame cook the ground rice in the milk. do not cover the pan.
  8. Keep on stirring regularly so that the lumps are not formed.
  9. In a microwave safe bowl take the almonds and water and microwave it for 5 minutes
  10. When the almonds become warm, then peel them and slice the almonds. Keep a few almond slices aside for garnish.
  11. When the rice is almost cooked, add the almonds, cardamom powder and saffron dissolved milk.
  12. Cook the phirni until the rice cooks fully and it thickens. I usually keep the phirni on very low flame for a long time to get the desired consistency. Add rose essence once you have taken the phirni off the heat.
  13. Pour the phirni in serving bowls or earthen pots or glasses. garnish with the remaining chopped almond slices and/ or pistachios and saffron strands
  14. Cover the bowls/ glases and once cooled, refrigerate the phirni and serve chilled.
Sliceofmylyfe - a Food blog based in Bahrain http://www.sliceofmylyfe.com/

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Anita’s Date & Banana Medley for WaffleMeister, Bahrain

When I think of waffles, it brings a smile to my face. Therefore, it was exhilarating to create a Date & Banana waffle recipe for Wafflemeister Bahrain. Wafflemeister is a UK based waffle retail chain, which is expanding internationally. Off late, they have opened three outlets in Bahrain – In Galleria zinj, Seef Muharraq and Juffair Mall. Every Wafflemeister bakery serves handmade Belgian Liége waffles, Italian style ice cream (gelato), gourmet coffee and Thick Shakes.  

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The experience of creating a waffle in a professional kitchen was wonderful. On the designated day, I reached Wafflemeister in Galleria ( Zinj) to join a bunch of other bloggers to create our signature waffles. I presented the wafflemeister team with my date & banana waffle with a touch of cinnamon to be served with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.  It seemed easy enough to recreate this waffle in the professional kitchen because I practiced making it at home. The pictures that you see on this post are from my experiments at home. However, if you follow me on my social media accounts – Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat – @sliceofmylyfe, you will see several posts of the Waffle that is now on the menu of Wafflemeister – Anita’s Date & Banana Medley served with date syrup.

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The date & banana waffle uses a half cup of cinnamon infused, chopped dates for each waffle which is then pressed in a heavy iron waffle for that crisp outer layer and a soft insides.

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Now that my waffle is available at Wafflemeister in Bahrain, I would love for all who live in Bahrain to try it as soon as possible. If you have tried it, please let me know how you liked it. With each bite of the waffle, you will get a piece of date which will surely delight you. 

The recipe is fairly simple if you plan to recreate this at home. You will need a waffle press at home to make this. 

Date & Banana Waffle
Yields 8
Write a review
Print
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
35 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
35 min
Ingredients
  1. For the waffles -
  2. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  3. 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  4. 1 tablespoon baking powder
  5. 1 teaspoon salt
  6. 1 cup finely chopped dates
  7. 1-3/4 cups milk ( add as required to the batter)
  8. 2 eggs, separated
  9. 1/2 cup butter, melted
  10. 1 tbsp cinnamon
  11. To serve -
  12. Banana slices
  13. date syrup
  14. cinnamon powder to sprinkle
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Keep aside.
  2. Mix 1 tbsp ( or more if you like) cinnamon powder to the dates and let it infuse for a bit. Add it to the dry ingredients.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the milk, egg yolks and butter; stir into dry ingredients.
  4. In another small bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; fold into batter. Don't overmix
  5. Take ladle full of batter and pour it the preheated waffle iron and allow it to bake well until it is golden brown.
  6. Serve the waffles in a plate topped with sliced bananas and sprinkle cinnamon powder on the top. Serve hot with date syrup on the side
Sliceofmylyfe - a Food blog based in Bahrain http://www.sliceofmylyfe.com/