Bahrain, meaning ‘two seas’ in Arabic, although which two seas originally intended remains in dispute! Today, the two seas are generally taken to mean either the bay east and west of the island, the seas north and south of the island or the salt and fresh water present above and below the ground. Bahrain is an archipelago of 84 islands and island groups situated in the Gulf of Bahrain between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It is 92% desert and dust storms transported by northwesterly winds from Iraq and Saudi Arabia are the main natural hazard. The King Fahd Causeway, 15 miles long, linking Bahrain to Saudi Arabia was completed in 1986 at a cost of $1.2 billion.

It was the first emirate where oil was discovered in 1932. Bahrain’s economic activity, has centred on the production of crude oil and natural gas and on refining petroleum products, making the country sensitive to fluctuations in the world oil market. It has however been more successful than some other states in the gulf in developing manufacturing and commercial and financial services. Before the discovery of oil, pearling was the economic mainstay of Bahrain. The quality and the abundance of the pearls in Persian Gulf waters are unsurpassed anywhere.

Bahrain has 4 protected marine environments; Hawar Islands, Mashtan Island, Arad bay and Tubli Bay. The breeding colony of Socotra cormorant (aquatic birds) on Hawar Islands is the largest in the world. In 2003, Bahrain banned the capture of sea cows, marine turtles and dolphins within its territorial waters.

Millions of tourists visit Bahrain each year and the highlights include Qal’at Al Bahrain or the Bahrain fort, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Bahrain National Museum, home to artefacts dating back to the island’s first human inhabitants some 9000 years ago, Beit Al Quran, meaning ‘House of Qur’an’ is a museum that holds Islamic artefacts of the Qur’an and the Tree of Life, a 400-year-old tree that grows in the Sakhir desert with no nearby water and is visited by approximately 50,000 tourists every year.

The cuisine of Bahrain is a mix of Arabic, Persian, Indian, Balochi, African, Far East and European food. Popular dishes include nekheh, bajelah and loobah (trio of spicy bean soups), Qoozi (lamb with rice), Khabees (date dessert) and Muhammar (sweet rice). I opted to cook their national dish, Machboos (spicy chicken and rice). It was relatively simple and quite tasty.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 25 mins
Cook time: 1 hour 40 mins

1 medium onion, diced
1 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
1 tbsp baharat (see below)
1/3 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp vegetable oil
400g chicken thighs, legs or breasts
1/2 hot green chilli, seeded and diced
1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
2 large cloves or garlic, thinly sliced
5 cherry tomatoes, diced
2 green cardamom pods
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 tsp salt
1 cup chicken stock
3/4 cup basmati rice (soaked for at least 15 minutes, then rinsed and drained)
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Rosewater for sprinkling (optional, but recommended)

For the baharat
1/3 tbsp black peppercorns
1/3 tbsp cumin seeds
2/3 tsp coriander seeds
1/3 cinnamon stick (about 2 inches long)
1/3 tsp whole cloves
seeds from 3 green cardamom pods
1/3 tbsp paprika powder teaspoon ground pinch nutmeg

For the Baharat:
Set the paprika and nutmeg powders aside. Place all remaining ingredients (whole seeds, cinnamon stick and cloves) in a small frying pan and dry roast over medium-high heat, tossing regularly to prevent burning, for 2 minutes or until very fragrant
Transfer to a spice grinder or pestle and mortar and let cool
Add the paprika and nutmeg and grind all the ingredients to a fine powder

Heat the oil in a casserole dish over medium-high heat and fry the chicken pieces on both sides until the skin is brown and crispy
Transfer the chicken to a plate and leave the remaining oil in the casserole dish
Add the ghee (or butter), reduce the heat to medium, and fry the onions until starting to brown, about 8 – 10 minutes
Add the ginger, garlic, and green chilli and fry for another 2 minutes
Add the baharat and turmeric and cook for another minute
Return the chicken pieces to the casserole along with the tomatoes, cardamom pods, cinnamon and salt
Add the chicken stock and stir to combine. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 40 minutes
Add the coriander, parsley and drained rice and stir to combine
Return it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for another 15-20 minutes until the rice is done and has absorbed the liquid
Transfer the chicken and rice to a serving dish (either leave the chicken pieces tossed in with the rice, or place the chicken on top of the rice), and sprinkling with 1-2 tablespoons of rosewater (optional)
Serve with a green salad and yogurt raita


Hawar Islands, Bahrain
Hawar Island, Bahrain
Tree of Life Bahrain
The Tree of Life, Bahrain
Bahrain sunset
Sunset in Bahrain

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