International Cooking: Food from Bahrain

Bahrain is a small island country in the Persian Gulf, near Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I found it difficult to find much to make, since most of the dishes I discovered weren’t really Bahraini, but originated in another Middle Eastern country. Then there were some dishes that seemed very authentically Bahraini, but I just couldn’t find enough information to actually make them. Still, I’m happy with the short list of dishes I was able to produce.

What Do People Eat in Bahrain?

The cuisine of Bahrain is influenced by a wide range of countries, since it has been an important seaport for a long time and has seen all kinds of people pass through. Biryani is a popular rice dish, which comes from India, and falafel is also widely eaten, though that is said to have originated in Egypt.

Main dishes commonly include meat of some kind, and fish is popular too since it’s easily accessible. Dishes often feature a wide range of spices, as is common in the Middle East.

A wide variety of cookies and cake-like desserts are available, with the preferred flavorings being rose water, cardamon, and saffron.

What I Made

Balaleet (Sweetened Vermicelli with Omelet)


Balaleet is a dish that is popular not only in Bahrain, but also in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and other countries in the region. It consists of vermicelli noodles seasoned with cardamom, saffron, rose water, and sugar, with a thin omelet on top. I followed the recipe from Tara’s Multicultural Table and it was very simple to make. I made sure to get proper Middle Eastern vermicelli too, unlike when I was making chorba beida for Algeria week. I have to say, I’m not sure I really enjoyed this dish. I think it turned out like it was supposed to, but I just wasn’t a fan of this particular version of sweet and savory. I encourage you to try it though if you think it’s something that appeals to you.

Chicken Machboos (Spiced Chicken and Rice)

Chicken machboos

Chicken machboos is considered the national dish of Bahrain, and I can see why because it’s delicious. It’s a rice dish with a lot of spices, including a few things most people may not be familiar with, such as baharat. Baharat is a Middle Eastern spice blend. The ingredients vary, but typically it may include black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, cloves, cumin, coriander, and paprika. I actually had a pre-made version already, which I got from the Spice House. It’s great with lamb or beef and, it turns out, in rice dishes too. The other unusual ingredient was dried lime. I was able to get a bag of these at my local Middle Eastern grocery store for only a few dollars. I’m not sure exactly how they contributed to the flavor of the dish, because there was so much other stuff going on, but I plan to experiment with them more in the future. One thing I will say; the recipe said to puncture them before putting them into the dish, so they can release their flavor. This was really hard to do, even with a sharp knife, so I suggest you take care if you ever attempt this.

The recipe I used is from Daring Gourmet and I’m sure I’ll make it again. Don’t be intimidated by the long ingredient list; it’s really not a difficult dish to make and it is well worth it.

Bahraini Kebab (Chickpea Flour Fritters)

Bahraini Kebab

You probably have a preconceived notion of what a ‘kebab’ is, and a bahraini kebab is nothing like it. These are deep-fried fritters made from chickpea flour, tomato, onion, chili, and spices. I served mine with a yogurt and cilantro sauce. The recipe I followed said to serve with a ‘cold coriander curd dip’ and since I know curd is a form of yogurt and coriander can also mean cilantro leaves, I decided to improvise. It turned out really good. The kebabs themselves were alright, but I don’t think I’m a fan of chickpea flour. It has kind of a strong flavor.

If you would like to make this, I used the recipe from Recipe Book. To make the sauce, I just mixed plain Greek yogurt, minced garlic, chopped cilantro leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. You can add a little water to thin it out if needed; from what I can tell Greek yogurt is much thicker than curd.

Zafaran Sharbat (Saffron Lemonade)

Zafaran sharbat

I know it’s not that long ago that I made sharbat for Azerbaijan, but I was having trouble finding enough recipes for Bahrain and came across this. It’s a little different because it includes rose water, and instead of making lemonade, this recipe creates a syrup. When you want a glass, you just mix a few tablespoons of the syrup with cold water. Like the Azerbaijani recipe, this is also based on lemon juice and includes saffron, which is what gives it its beautiful color. This was really good, but I would have liked it to be more lemony. I did like that I could just keep a jar with the syrup in the fridge and make sharbat whenever I wanted.

If you would like to make this, I followed the recipe from Cookpad. I believe I had to register to view the full recipe.

Khanfaroosh (Saffron and Cardamom Cakes)


Khanfaroosh are kind of like pancakes, but they are thicker and fried. I really wanted to make them because they sounded so good. They are flavored with cardamom, saffron, and rose water, and often served with honey. They are also made with a combination of regular wheat flour and rice flour, and I think this is something that made me like them less than I could have. I first used rice flour when making cookies for Afghanistan, and I thought those cookies were a little dry. Well, the same thing happened with my khanfaroosh. The flavor was good, but I just wasn’t keen on the texture. And this is despite me using extra egg, since I halved the recipe and didn’t want to use two and a half eggs so just used three. Still, it might just be me! If you want to try these, I got the recipe from Patterns of Humanity.

Final Thoughts

This was an interesting week, and one of the more difficult ones when it came to working out what to make. The chicken machboos was by far my favorite dish.

Next week, I’ll be cooking food from Bangladesh.

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