Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Falafel: fried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) balls served with vegetables
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
When eating with the Bahrainis there are a few etiquette
rules you must know and follow, the most important of which are related to the religion
of the majority (of the citizens), Islam. If you follow these most important rules,
the people will be rather forgiving of minor mistakes you make. If your dining hosts/guests
are not Muslim, which is the case often times as the country is quite diverse, follow
the dining rules of the host or just follow formal Western European dining customs.
First, dress on the conservatively side (see our
Bahrain Culture Page for more details). Second, in conservative homes and
even some restaurants, it is not acceptable to eat with a person of the opposite
sex unless it is your child, sibling, or spouse. While this is very uncommon today,
to some conservative Muslims this is important so observe the local restaurant's
situation and follow their lead. Often times men dine only with men and women only
with women so don't bring a guest of the opposite sex to any meal unless you
are specifically invited to do so.
If you dress appropriately and bring, or don't bring as the case may be, the
right guests you've already cleared two of the largest hurdles. Try to arrive
on time for a meal and if eating in a local's home remove your shoes at the
door if others have done so. Greet the elders first then follow your host's
lead. You will likely be offered coffee or tea and you should accept one of these
beverages; this may be in the dining room or elsewhere, but eventually you will
make your way to the dining table. Let your host seat you and when sitting be sure
to keep your feet flat on the floor or pointed behind you as pointing the soles
of your feet at another can be offensive.
The next two important rules are two you probably won't have to worry about:
conservative Muslims don't drink alcohol nor do they eat pork so avoid these
foods. If in the home of a local they simply won't be served, but if eating
out with locals, don't order them if they are available (pork most likely won't
be found anywhere, although alcohol is in most hotel restaurants).
Once the food is served, again follow your host's lead as either you or the
elders will likely be served first. Try a bit of everything offered as turning down
food is rude, an unpleasant thought when you realize sheep's head is a delicacy
often reserved for guests (although it is rarely served).
Eat as the locals eat; in most settings this means eating in the continental style
(knife in the right hand, fork in the left), but on some occasions and with some
foods you may eat with your hand, but only your right hand; don't touch any
food with your left hand. As you finish your food, leave a bit on your plate to
show there was more than enough and place your fork and knife together in the 5:00
If dining in a restaurant be sure to check the bill for a service charge. Most restaurants
include a service charge that will replace the tip, but if no service charge is
included, leave a tip of 10-15%.
Celebrations & Events
There are two major food holidays in Bahrain, along with
dozens of minor celebrations. The two major holidays are both Muslim holidays, including
Eid al Fitr, which takes place after Ramadan, a religious holiday that
requires fasting for 30 days. To celebrate the end of this fast, Eid al Fitr
offers numerous foods, which differ from family to family, but generally consist
of various meats and fish as a base with other grains and vegetables.
The second major food celebration is Eid al Adha, which is only celebrated
after a pilgrim returns from haj, the mandatory journey for every able
Muslim to go to Mecca. Again, this festival contains a large number of rice and
meat dishes, including many of those served during Eid al Fitr.
When welcomed by anyone in Bahrain you will likely be offered
coffee, the country's favored beverage. However, this doesn't mean the drink
options in the country are limited; in fact Bahrain has an incredible selection
of drinks as the numerous foreigners living in the country demand drinks from their
home countries. Due to this, all major international brands of soft drinks are available
and there are also dozens of juices, tea, milk, and nearly any other non-alcoholic
drink you can think of.
As a primarily Muslim country, Bahrain has very little alcohol
available, but it can be purchased in many hotels catered to foreigners, although
it is banned for Muslims to drink.
There is debate as to the cleanliness of the tap water in Bahrain.
The most cautious course of action is to entirely avoid the tap water and items
that could be made from or with the water, such as ice, fruits, and salads. If you
do decide to drink the local tap water, first check with your local hotel or guesthouse
to learn the cleanliness of the water in that area. If the water is safe, remember
that many people may have trouble adjusting to the local tap water as it will most
certainly be different from what your system is used to if you are not from the