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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.

The Diabetes -Friendly Dessert Series with Aster Medical Centre – Shrikhand

Happy Diwali folks!

Such a special time of the year. A time to celebrate with your family and friends. As expats in Bahrain, we make sure that we have some kind of celebration planned to feel the same vibe and spirit as back in our home country. Ofcourse crackers aren’t a possibility but lighting diyas (lamps) and preparing sweets and desserts make it just as special. 

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 While the scale of celebrations remains unaffected, this Diwali is going to be slightly different.

I am going SUGAR -FREE!

But does that mean that I won’t be enjoying any desserts or sweets? Absolutely NOT! What are festivals without the usual burfis, pedas, kheer and halwas! An opportunity came along that made me more resolute about keeping this Diwali sugar -free. At Aster Medical Center , the month of November is all about diabetes awareness and they reached out to me to create diabetes- friendly desserts for this festive season. It was challenging to create recipes that not only taste good but also diabetes-friendly. IMG_6232 name

 In the coming few days, you will see a series of sugar-free, low calorie desserts that are easy to prepare and enjoy, guilt-free. The first of the series is Shrikhand.

Growing up in Gujarat, a state in the western part of India, Shrikhand – a yogurt based dessert- was a regular for festivals. Until now, I never realized how easy it is to make it at home especially when you can buy Greek yogurt. Traditionally, Shrikhand is made using hung yogurt – yogurt that is strained to drain all the water overnight. This allows the yogurt to be creamy and just right for Shrikhand. IMG_6226

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 Aster Medicals Centers intentions are backed by efforts where they are holding a camp for free check up at Lulu Hyper Market in Riffa between 6 pm – 9 pm. You can get your diabetes checked for free until the 12th of November. For more information you can check Aster Medical Center’s social media channels and search using #AsterAgainstDiabetes – Facebook, Twitter , Instagram.

Now for the recipe – I replaced the sugar from the recipe with ‘Stevia’. Stevia is a super sugar that is natural and has no side effects. It is wonderful for diabetics and people who want to stay off processed sugar. It does take some getting used to since the after taste is vastly different from what we are used to. Having said that, there are ways to mask that after taste with slight addition of honey or other alternate sweeteners like agave nectar.

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 (photograph courtesy: Sushil Sasheendran)

Recipe Card

 

Diabetes -friendly Shrikhand
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups Greek Yogurt,
  2. 2 tbsp milk, warmed,
  3. generous pinch of saffron threads,
  4. 5 tbsp of stevia,
  5. 1 tbsp of honey,
  6. pinch of nutmeg,
  7. 1/s tbsp of cardamom, crushed,
  8. 3 tbsp of cocoa powder,
  9. nuts to garnish,
  10. chocolate shavings to garnish,
  11. more saffron threads to garnish
Instructions
  1. Place the 2 cups of Greek yogurt in a bowl and beat it well to make it smooth and creamy
  2. Add crushed cardamom and mix it well with the yogurt.
  3. Add the stevia and mix well ( add honey if you are not used to stevia's taste or do a half and half to mask stevia's taste)
  4. At this point your cardamom / Elaichi Shrikhand is ready. Fill small mason jars with Elaichi Shrikhand.You can garnish it with nuts and put it in the refrigerator to chill.
  5. Take the warmed milk in a small bowl. You can heat it for few seconds in your microwave. Add the saffron to it, give it a quick stir and let it sit for about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the saffron to the Greek yogurt and mix well. This is your kesar/ Saffron Shrikhand. Fill it in a small jar and garnish it with nuts and refrigerate it.
  7. Finally sift the cocoa powder and mix it well with the remaining quantity of Greek yogurt in the bowl and mix well. You will have to add honey to chocolate flavoured Shrikhand to mask the taste of stevia. Do not miss this step for chocolate shrikhand.You can add diabetes -friendly dark & milk chocolate pieces if you like in the Chocolate Shrikhand. Garnish with nuts and place it in the refrigerate to set.
  8. Shrikhand takes a few hours to set and the flavours to meld. It tastes the best the next day.
Notes
  1. If you do not have Greek yogurt, you can use normal yogurt and hang it in a muslin cloth overnight to drain all the water.
Sliceofmylyfe - a Food blog based in Bahrain http://www.sliceofmylyfe.com/

Celebrating Deepawali with Jalebis

Another one bites the dust!

Well, not literally.

These days I am obsessed about my culinary bucket-list and am focusing on getting them done before the year ends. I finished with the Pavlova and the bbq, done with the oysters too. Then I thought since its festival time, why not attempt jalebis and see how I fare. I googled plenty of recipes – with yeast and without yeast.  Finally I settled for a recipe on Showmethecurry site. If you haven’t seen this site before, you should definitely see what a treasure cove of video-recipes it is.

Jalebi is “made by deep frying maida (all purpose flour) batter in pretzel or circular shapes, which are then soaked in sugar syrup”

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A good jalebi depends on:

1. The consistency of the batter

2. The temperature at which it is deep fried

3. The sugar syrup’s richness and flavour ( cardamom /saffron)

I read about all the dos and the don’ts before attempting the recipe to be very sure about getting it right the first time. The only investment I made was in on an empty squeezy bottle ( the ones that you would use for filling up ketchup and mayo)

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Dipped in saffron infused sugar syrup

Just before I get on with the recipe and other formalities, I would love to wish each one of you a beautiful Deepawali. I hope this Deepawali ushers in light, joy, prosperity and luck to all your lives. Usually during Deepawali we are in Delhi where we celebrate it with my in laws and extended family. It is a wonderful time to have family get togethers, dinners, shopping, gifts and food. Delhi is a land of wonderful food and once you get a flavour of Delhi food, its difficult to love food anywhere else ( Ahmedabad comes a close second). This year we aren’t travelling to Delhi and we will miss the crackers, the sweets and all the family gatherings. Mimi will miss being with her cousins and bursting crackers.

But munching on this juicy, crunchy jalebis provides succor to our Delhi-Deepawali-deprived souls.

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Click on the image to view the recipe
Click on the image to view the recipe

The only hitch I thought was that the sugar syrup wasn’t enough. Otherwise the recipe is top notch.

 

Once again, a very happy Deepawali!!!

Saffron- Mango Ice cream for all Seasons

With the Summers slowly disappearing all around the world, I see plenty of fall desserts on everybody’s blog posts. The thing about living in the middle east is we are blessed with intense sunshine all round the year. The weather does cool down a little bit towards Nov-Dec- Jan but the Sun is ever so kind be spreading its cheer all the time. There is no Fall or Spring either. Weather-inspired desserts and food have limited scope in this part of the world. So I have decided that there is no reason to bake according to any season. Good food is good food!

In this post I share with you,  this gorgeousness of an ice-cream that uses two of my favorite ingredients – Mango & Saffron.

It may sound funny, if I tell you that both my husband and daughter do not like Mangoes. When 2 out of 3 people do not like something, automatically it gets cut off from the grocery shopping list. But this time, I made it a point to buy some end of season Mangoes and get them both to eat some. On their own, the mangoes weren’t the best since they were the last in the market, but that didn’t stop me for making some fabulous ice cream that all of us could enjoy. My endeavour was met with great success and I managed, well technically managed to get my hubby and daughter to have some mangoes.

I used a recipe from Monika’s blog whose homely recipes have me visiting her blog again and again. She had blogged about  Mango-Pistachio ice cream and I was instantly taken since it did not call for an ice cream maker. I had to try it with Saffron since it is one of my favourite flavours.

The Recipe for Saffron – Mango Ice cream

Adapted from sinamontales
Ingredient
Medium sized  mangoes -4 nos.
Sugar  – 3 tbsp
Condensed Milk/Milkmaid – 1/2 cup
Milk – 2 cups
Lemon juice – 1 tsp
Saffron – a few strands

Preparation

1. Puree the mangoes and  sugar together and you could use a little milk if you like.

2. To the puree’d mangoes add the condensed milk, milk and whisk together well . Add the lemon juice and whisk some more. Add a few strands of saffron and retain some for garnish. Transfer the same to a container

3. Cover the container with a foil and put it in the refrigerator for freezing.

4. When it is almost frozen take it out and blend it will in a blender or mixer. In case you find there are too many ice crystals formed, then you could add some more condensed milk and blend again.

5. Put it back for freezing. When it seems done, you can scoop out into individual moulds and  add saffron threads to garnish.