One of the surprising pleasures of a trip to Bahrain is the quality of the food. There is a whole range from Bahraini and Arabic cuisine to international food. And you can choose anything from cafes and coffee shops to Michelin starred restaurants, mostly at very affordable prices.
Arabic and Bahraini Cuisine
You can find all the staples of Arabic cuisine here. Hummus, foules (broad beans mixed with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic) and felafel appear everywhere, always accompanied by lots of bread. There are meat skewers and grills, and lots of salads. Then there is the traditional Arabic coffee, made from lightly roasted coffee beans and cardamom pods, and usually served with a dish of dates.
But there is also a distinctive Bahraini cuisine, based upon fish, meat (chicken and lamb) and rice. A traditional dish is machbous, a biryani style meal with fish or meat, rice and spices (you can also find vegetarian versions). Local snacks are often based on bread or pastry, filled with meat or cheese. Breakfast is an important meal here, often served until lunchtime. Look out for lots of egg dishes, combined with beans, cheese or other ingredients.
Bahraini food is made for sharing, and it is customary to order several dishes to be shared at the table.
Drinks and Sweets
Apart from the Arabic coffee, most restaurants will offer a variety of fruit juices, teas and infusions. Desserts are often sweet and sticky: honey cake is popular, as is Umm Ali, a sort of bread and butter pudding.
Sweets are also very popular, and there are sweet shops everywhere. Even if you don’t buy, stop to enjoy the extravagant window displays of Turkish delight, halwa (a very sweet confection based on carrots, milk and spices) or dates stuffed with chocolate, nuts or honey.
Where to Eat Bahraini Food
My favourite Bahraini restaurant was Saffron, with three restaurants across the island. Here you can choose items from the all day breakfast – lots of eggs, but also beans, pastries and a cheese platter with jam and honey. The Arabic coffee here comes with a dish of tahini as well as the dates.
Other good choices are Emmawash for breakfast, and Lumee for a wide choice of Bahraini and Arabic food. Note that the local restaurants are more likely to display menus and other information on Instagram than on traditional websites.
International Food in Bahrain
If you want a change from the local cuisine, there are lots of options for international food. You will find chains such as Wagamama and TGI Fridays, as well as individual cafés and restaurants serving just about any cuisine you can imagine. Many restaurants are situated either in hotels or shopping malls (eating in a mall here is a more upmarket experience than it might be in some countries…)
As elsewhere in the Gulf region, Friday brunch is an institution in Bahrain, with massive buffets to suit every taste (here is a list of some of the best brunches…)
Around 30% of the population is of Indian descent, part of a community that has existed in Bahrain since the 19thcentury. This means that there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy Indian food. Look for authentic restaurants in the Little India area of Manama (close to the Shri Krishna Temple). Alternatively, treat yourself to excellent Michelin-starred Indian food at Rasoi in the Gulf Hotel.
Alcohol is not widely available, but can be purchased in hotels and some other licensed premises. Note that it is illegal to drink in public and that there is zero tolerance towards drink driving.
Markets and Food Festivals
In the winter months there is a Farmers’ Market in the Budaiya Botanical Gardens every Saturday morning: it is worth visiting to marvel at the amount of fresh produce that can be grown in this desert state. You can also enjoy a stroll around the food and spice stalls in the Bab el-Bahrain Souk in Manama.
The Bahrain Food Festival takes place each year in February and March. This is an extravaganza of varied cuisines, street food and entertainment.