International Cooking: Food from Bahrain

I found it difficult to find food from Bahrain to make this week! Most of the dishes popular in Bahrain originate from another Middle Eastern country, and when I found actual Bahraini dishes, it was hard to find recipes for them.

Bahrain is a small island country in the Persian Gulf, near Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It consists of 50 natural islands and 33 artificial islands, with Bahrain Island accounting for around 83% of the country’s landmass.

Bahrain used to be home to the ancient Dilmun civilization, which established an important trade center during the Bronze Age. The country was known for its pearl fisheries, considered the best in the world even during the 19th century.

Bahrain was one of the earliest adopters of Islam, in 628 AD. The country has been mostly under Arab rule since then, except for about 80 years during the 16th century when the Portuguese took control. Bahrain became a protectorate of the United Kingdom in the late 1800s but declared independence in 1971.

Bahrain spent decades investing in the banking and tourism sectors, leading it to develop the first post-oil economy in the Persian Gulf. Today, the country is considered a high-income economy, and provides universal healthcare for its citizens. However, the current ruling party has been criticized for alleged human rights violations.

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

Scroll down to read about other popular Bahraini dishes I didn’t make!

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.

The recipe I followed is from Tara’s Multicultural Table and it was very simple to follow. 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 some 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, 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 difficult 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 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 made with a combination of wheat flour and rice flour, and flavored with cardamom, saffron, and rose water. Usually, they are served with honey.

I think I would have liked these more without the rice flour. 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. This is despite 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.

  • Tikka – this is similar to the kebabs found in neighboring Middle Eastern countries. It is made from lamb or beef, marinated and rubbed with crushed dry black lemon then grilled on skewers over an open fire. It’s usually served with flatbread.
  • Khubz – a yeasted flatbread, popular in other countries too such as Morocco.
  • Chebeh rubyan – balls made mostly from pureed shrimp, cooked in a spiced tomato and tamarind sauce.

Final Thoughts

I found food from Bahrain interesting and I would love to try exploring it further one day. The chicken machboos was by far my favorite dish.

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

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