Barely visible on a world map, Bahrain is a tiny island in the Middle East that I called home for eighteen years.
Although I am originally from India, I grew up in Bahrain and lived there until I moved to the US for college. My parents still live there and every time I talk to my mom, it feels like I am back in my childhood living room, drinking her hot tea and watching the silhouette of the palm trees turn to night sky as the sun sets.
The daily muezzin calls to prayer from the island’s mosques are so frequent that they become like any other city background noise, the first one greeting the day before dawn’s early light has arrived.
As the city awakens from its slumber, the local produce markets come to life, where you can buy fresh dates straight from the tree, or (my favorite!) dried medjool dates, with their deep caramel flavor that is prized in the Arab region.
Bakeries fire up their kilns to make hot ‘khubz’ bread topped with fragrant Za’tar. I have fond memories of accompanying my parents to buy khubz, tearing into the brown paper bag with eager hands and chewing off a piece of the freshly-baked flatbread before we even made it back home!
Walking through the local ‘souq’ (marketplace) is an adventure all on its own. Spices, gold jewelry and rich fabrics are everywhere and you feel like you are exploring a real-life Aladdin’s cave of wonders! Bahraini salesmen wearing ‘thobes’ (a traditional all-white garment) sit outside their shops, offering a hot cup of tea as you browse.
Bahrainis take hospitality very seriously and there is always a seat at the table for friends, both old and new. There is a saying in Bahrain, “Ahlan Wasahlan“, which represents Arab hospitality to strangers. It translates into something like, “You’ve come to stay with family, where food is abundant and to be shared with visitors.” During Eid, a festival to mark the end of Ramadan, we would visit our Muslim friends and be welcomed into their homes with generous homemade treats of all kinds, including ornate trays laden with pistachio baklava and rich, cardamom-infused coffee called ‘gahwa’.
Although a majority of the population is Arab, there are many expats in Bahrain from all corners of the world. At the international school I attended, kids would bring their own lunch from home and the diversity of Bahrain could really be seen during the food break, when every child would open up their box and it looked like a worldwide feast – chapati from the Indian homes, shawarma from the Middle Eastern homes, Filipino fried rice and even Chinese noodles.
My time on this sunny island played an integral role in shaping my love for food and sharing stories of the world through flavors of different countries. These are the experiences that would plant the seed in my mind and heart for the Spice Madam business model, years later.
All this love has been packaged up into our upcoming Spice Madam box: Destination Bahrain. Sign up for your box here by Nov 30th, to get your box with all the best of Bahraini spices and recipes, sent straight to your home kitchen!
As you enjoy the holiday season, may you too share a seat at your table with others, in true Bahraini style!
With love and spice,