Officially known as the Kingdom of Bahrain in Arabic ‘Mamlakat al-Bahrayn,’ Bahrain, the Arabic word, means two seas or two sources of water. There are places in the north where fresh water bubbles up in the middle of the salt water! Bahrain is an Island archipelago of 33 islands located in the Persian Gulf. She is the smallest country in the Middle East of just 257 square miles. Her neighbors are Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The King Fahd Causeway joins Saudi Arabia and Bahrain; it offers a spectacular scenic drive, especially as the sun is setting.
The country is mostly Muslim, run by Sunni’s, even though Shiite’s comprise the majority of her people. Her constitution guarantees religious freedom and so there are also several churches and temples. She is an oil based economy, with the first oil in the Arabian Gulf discovered there in 1932. Also notable, Bahrain is a very important financial center for the Arab world. Before she was known for oil, she was prized for her spectacular pearls harvested by the many pearl divers. ,
It is said that Bahrain holds resemblance to an ancient area called Dilmun, which many scholars believe was the site of the Garden of Eden. Today there is a 400 year old mesquite tree that is a major tourist attraction. It is called the ‘Tree of Life,’ and it sits alone, engulfed by the desert landscape, with no known water source.
In the past, Manama, the capital city of Bahrain, was ruled by Portugal and the Persian Empire. More recently, Bahrain gained her independence from England in 1971, by the signing of a friendship treaty that terminated previous agreements between the two factions.
Bahrain can produce only a small amount of its needed food supply, as just one percent of this small country’s land is arable. Even so, she produces dates, bananas, citrus fruits, pomegranates, mangoes, cucumbers and tomatoes. There are only a few thousand head of cattle, goats and sheep but fresh fish from the Persian Gulf abound.
The essence of Bahraini cuisine is largely Middle Eastern. The national dish is a spiced chicken and rice dish called Machboos ala Dujaj. This dish uses a popular spice blend, called Baharat. The blend includes cardamom, coriander, cumin, peppercorns, cinnamon, nutmeg and paprika. I chose to make this dish for our main course so you can enjoy the complexity and richness of these flavors.
So let’s journey to Bahrain
Machboos ala Dujaj
(Bahraini Spiced Chicken and Rice)
The table centerpiece was set using racing flags, as Bahrain was the first Middle Eastern country to build a track and host a Formula One auto race. This was a fun motif for me as I used to be the general manager for a vintage car racing organization, and my husband was a championship racer in it. Needless to say, we are big auto racing fans. I can’t tell you how many times we would wake up at 4:30 am on a Sunday to watch the Formula One race on television. Thank goodness for DVR’s today!
Red and white were used as the table colors representing Bahrain’s flag. We began the meal with Gahwa (coffee) as that is the traditional welcome in Bahrain. The coffee is served in small cups called finjan. We only used our right hand for eating, drinking and passing the plates, as would be customary there.
The appetizer, Baba Ghanoush, was absolutely delicious with the homemade bread called Khubz. (I am really enjoying the different varieties of breads from the countries we have journeyed and Bahrain is no exception.) The bread puffs up during cooking making a pocket, sort of like a pita bread. It went beautifully with the eggplant, tahini and olives as our first course.
Next, the fresh Arabic salad and the main course were served family style and both were incredible. The spices of the Machboos were savory and intense and the fresh Arabic salad was the perfect complement.
We concluded our meal with stuffed dates (which have become one of my favorites,) they are so sweet and delicious and the perfect way to end our meal, while leisurely sipping our gahwa. We then shook our cups from side to side indicating we were full and satisfied.
I leave you with, how to say goodbye to your host, in Arabic,
You would say:
Ma’a salama “Peace be with you”
Your host would say:
Alla ysalmak “may Allah protect you”
Until next week,