Historic Diet: Dates
Since Bahrain is an island which is covered with desert, the number of foods they have available locally is limited primarily to animal life. The most commonly used land animal in the region is the camel; for centuries camels have been used for their milk, but also used for meat on special occasions. More prevalent in the historic diet is the sea life in the surrounding waters, which include grouper, mackerel, nagroor, shrimp, crab, and lobster among other sea life. Among the plant life the only true source of food is the date.
For most of history there were few alterations to the diet of Bahrain, but few people lived here permanently and it seems the Bedouin desert-dwellers who came and went dictated the diet in Bahrain’s early history. This meant little was eaten other than the sea life, dates, and camel milk, plus whatever could be found. Later in history, as the land became a trading post the diet was substantially changed due to the influx of foreigners.
The most important influence on Bahrain’s food came with the arrival of other Arab people as Levantine (also known as Lebanese) cuisine arrived. This brought hummus, tabbouleh, and spices that are now common in Bahrain and throughout much of the Middle East.
The region also changed its food due to the influence from others who came and went with the trade. The Persians, Indians, and even the Europeans arrived with new ingredients and ideas. This led to the greater prevalence of rice in the dishes and again new spices and ingredients arrived in greater numbers.
In the modern age foods from abroad have again changed the food of Bahrain, but not in the sense of changing the traditional foods, but rather in the addition of new “ethnic” foods. Most traditional dishes remain the same, but ethnic foods are now more common and available, including Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Italian, and American foods. These foods are growing in popularity partially due to the fact that people from these countries live and work in Bahrain and partially due to the fact that the locals also enjoy these foreign flavors.
Bread: Bread in Bahrain is fairly common, but it is generally more of a flat bread.
Hummus: A dip consisting of mashed chickpeas (garbanzo beans), tahini, garlic, and lemon.
Tabbouleh: A “salad” generally made of parsley, bulgur, tomatoes, garlic, and lemon.
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Falafel: Fried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) balls served with vegetables in bread.
Machboos: The national dish is rice topped with meat or fish and sometimes also a tomato sauce.
Muhammar: Rice served with dates and/or sugar.
Qoozi (or ghoozi): Grilled lamb stuffed with rice, eggs, onions, and spices.
Shawarma: Lamb or chicken kebab seasoned and grilled, then served in pita bread.