When I was living in Bahrain I used to always look forward to Ramadan over there. The island is such fun during the Holy month! With many Ramadan tents to hang out after Iftar, where everyone gathers to play cards, and nibble on delicious food all the while listening to live music bands playing music that ranges from classical arabic (Oud and Qanoon) to Um Kulthum and Abdil Wahab songs and old favourites. Bahrain Definitely has a Ramadan spirit that is unique and very amusing.
In the days leading to Ramadan and throughout the month the markets are filled with many varieties of food and ingredients as well as Ramadan special offers. The markets get so buzzing with people, that you actually have traffic inside the shops! Everyone is buying and stocking ingredients for Ramadan cooking, home entertaining and last minute cravings. It is such a pleasure to go and watch the beat of Bahraini markets during Ramadan.
I had asked Zain Zayyani – who is a Bahraini blogger – about the Bahraini Kitchen’s Ramadan preps to know what Bahraini cooks do to prepare for Ramadan, and she described that“In Bahrain, the consumption of meat quadruples during Ramadan. Therefore, orders are placed with butchers a week or so in advance, a fact that cooks have to take into consideration. You will see supermarkets start to bulk-display food that is only consumed in Ramadan. Another traditional preparation for the Holy month is when home cooks also start rolling samboosas (Bahraini term for Samosas) prior to the start of Ramadan, as it is a staple in most households’ daily Iftar menus. The preparation of Samboosas for Ramadan is often associated with friends gathering in the kitchen and ‘group-rolling’. This year I am planning on getting the help of my almost-five year old.“
When we talked about the most popular Ramadan food in Bahraini cuisine, Zain explained that the Iftar table features hearty dishes every day. She says that while she usually prepares meals that are healthy – including very little meat, mostly grills, brown rice, wholewheat pasta or quinoa – “during Ramadan it’s a different ballgame” she said and continued with explaining the makings of a Bahraini Ramadan Menu:“We break our fast with dates. A rice dish has to be served as the main course accompanied by Harees هريس (which is a delicious dish of wheat mashed with meat), Thireed ثريد (which is meat stew also known as Saloona صالونة with bread soaked in the stew) is another Ramadan Favourite. Fried bites are also regulars, mostly Samboosas and Spring Rolls, served alongside soup and salad. The meal is always accompanied by fresh juice or Vimto which is a very popular drink during Ramadan and is highly stocked in the markets due to this popularity. Last but not least, the desserts, which in Ramadan commonly consist of lgaimat لقيمات (or lo’mat al adhee) along with cups filled with custard and chopped fruit with jello on top. Cream caramel is another popular choice and so are desserts based on poundcake and/or biscuits.”
The connection between Saloonah & Thireed
Zain explains that Saloona صالونة is a staple Bahraini concoction, that is mainly a stew (find the traditional Bahraini Saloonah recipe on this link). The addition of bread to Saloona transforms it into Thireed, which is a dish that is had every day on the island during Ramadan. There are two schools to Thireed in Bahrain – those who add torn up bakers’ bread (khubiz khabbaz خبز خباز ), and those who add khubiz rgag خبز رقاق , which is a thin bread – “like a crunchy crepe” as explained by Zain. Rgag is baked fresh, locally and available in all supermarkets.
When I asked her about the difference between everyday cooking and Ramadan cooking, Zain seemed to share the consensus that during Ramadan people prefer traditional classic cuisine over being experimental and trying something entirely new. It seems that most people prefer to cook their home’s traditional food during Ramadan, a fact that I have come to realise through all the many people I have asked. Furthermore, the very few who have said they would experiment have all agreed that they would choose more familiar foods to experiment with if they must, and would avoid foods that are too exotic to their cuisines and/ or too different. Zain said she would avoid Pasta as it is not traditional Bahraini food, she would cook saloonah once in a while, and would leave Harees to devour at her mother’s or in-laws’ as it is complicated to make as well as time consuming. She would cook Thireed as her kids love it, and would include all the other trimmings from her traditional cuisine. In the same fashion as many others I have spoken with, Zain says she prefers cooking at home during Ramadan than going out to restaurants for Iftar. These were her exact words:“I will definitely be cooking at home. Working hours are two hours shorter during Ramadan, which will give me ample time to prepare a meal for my family. Since Iftar will be at around 6.30 or so it’s in line with my kids’ dinner so we can have a family meal together every day.” With that said, she also agrees that cooking for Iftar can often be rushed because one must break one’s fast at a precise minute and sometimes preparations go over the time you have set, which is why being prepared is crucial in Ramadan and this is where those preparations prior to Ramadan come in handy.
In Bahrain, most people breakfast with some dates and water. Then they pray the maghrib prayer (sunset) and then resume their iftar by having soup and salad followed by the main course and side dishes. Zain’s family sticks to this routine. However, some households eat the entire meal then pray, while others may have dates then soup after which they would go to the mosque then they would continue with their meal once back at home.“It differs from household to household in terms of prayer time, however, the concept of eating slow, and with small meals, then ascending to bigger meals is consistent.” She explains.
An evening gathering in Ramadan is called Gabga in Bahrain and is usually one that lasts until very late at night. This is usually when Suhoor is had as the last meal before starting the next day’s fast. If one is not going out for Gabga, then people tend to have some leftovers from Iftar for Sohour. “Personally, I prefer to have cereal as it is light, filling, and won’t make you thirsty the next day.” says Zain, who is also an advocate of healthy eating, and when I asked her how she maintains healthy eating during Ramadan she said:“No matter how healthy one is throughout the year, it goes without saying that Ramadan is not for the dieters. Eating tends to be excessive since the nights are long and people are out later than regular days. Sometimes, suhoor (which is when you eat before the time to start fasting again) can be eaten at a restaurant and can be a heavy filling meal. The only way to maintain ‘healthy’ eating during Ramadan is by cooking at home and choosing healthy alternatives, such as baked Samboosas instead of fried, using brown rice instead of white and quinoa also offers a good option…etc., leaving the heavy saloonahs for occasional indulgences and cooking healthier stews and roasts more regularly. The most important thing is limiting the sugar intake.”
Girga’on in Bahrain falls precisely on the 14th night of Ramadan. Gerga’on is a Bahraini Ramadan tradition, where kids go from door to door singing good wishes to neighbors and collecting candy, nuts and sometimes money from each home. Sometimes people would dress up in a ‘fraisa‘ (a festive looking horse) with drums and/or flutes and actually do a little act for each house they visit. While some often mistake it for a religious occasion, it is in fact a very traditional and cultural act that takes place in Ramadan.“We celebrate the start of the second half of Ramadan, 15 days away from Eid, after the last prayer of the day (and of course after Iftar), people go out and Girga’on begins. Homes are often decorated with lights in preparation for the ‘guests’. Supermarkets and roasters have huge containers of candy and nuts for distribution. A few years back, I felt the tradition was slowly dying out. However, I made a conscious decision to familiarise my kids with Girga’on and I noticed many others in my generation are doing the same. Girga’on is such a special occasion – it brings people together and gets you to mingle with your neighbors – something we don’t do that often (or ever).” Zain explained.
Zain Al Zayani is a Bahraini living and working in Bahrain. Besides her full-time career as a mother of two, she works in Telecom by day and is a food blogger by night, her blog is titled Restless In Riffa. We must admire the courage of women who follow their passions, even if that means alongside the demanding job of motherhood, and at times alongside a day job! Zain is an inspiration in that regard, her family comes first she says and continues: “I have just started blogging recently and I aspire to become a point of reference for many – recipes, inspirations and reviews.”
Food For Thought – “While we can’t control Destiny, it is our choice to work on the quality of the journey”
Hope you enjoyed getting to know the feel of Ramadan in Bahrain and the island’s popular Ramadan dishes. I would love to hear your thoughts. If you would like to shed more light on Bahraini Ramadan Traditions please do so I always love to know more.
While you are at it, let’s chat – Would also love to hear your thoughts about living a state of constant routine, how does that feel to you? Does it comfort or annoy you? How about trying to control everything and/or any thoughts on Destiny? :))
Find some Baharini recipes on these links:
- Bahraini Machboos Rubyan (Traditional Bahraini Rice & Prawns)
- Zain’s Bahraini Saloona (traditional Bahraini Vegetables and Meat Stew)