Bahraini artisans toil to preserve sugar-coated tradition

Head of stores and sales at Hussain Showaiter Sweets Mohammed Ghareb shows the various kinds of Bahraini sweets on Muharraq Island. (AFP)
Head of stores and sales at Hussain Showaiter Sweets Mohammed Ghareb shows the various kinds of Bahraini sweets on Muharraq Island. (AFP)
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Updated 23 April 2022

Bahraini artisans toil to preserve sugar-coated tradition

Head of stores and sales at Hussain Showaiter Sweets Mohammed Ghareb shows the various kinds of Bahraini sweets on Muharraq Island. (AFP)
  • Traditional confectioners innovate to make the sweet appealing to younger clientele

MANAMA: Bahrainis with a sweet tooth have long been spoiled for choice between a wide array of dessert franchises, but traditional confectioners still hold their ground, especially during Ramadan.

At the back of his modest shop in the capital Manama, Mohammed Gharib stirs a thick mixture of sugar, saffron and freshly blanched almonds, transforming it into a uniquely Bahraini version of the ubiquitous Middle Eastern dessert: Halva.
“Bahrain became famous for its confectioneries by being a pioneer in this industry in the Gulf region,” Gharib said, adding that their popularity of its establishments “continues until today.”




Workers prepare Halwa, a Bahraini sweet made primarily from sugar, corn starch, saffron and nuts at Hussain Showaiter Sweets. (AFP)

Clad in Bahrain’s traditional “shemagh” headdress and white “dishdasha” robe, the 70-year-old runs one of the country’s oldest confectioneries, named after its founder Hussain Mohammed Showaiter, who established it in 1850.

HIGHLIGHT

For Mohammed Fardan, the familiar Bahraini confections remain a fixture on tables for the iftar meal, in which the faithful break their dawn-to-dusk fast.

“Hussain Mohammed Showaiter was keen to develop this craft, and passed it on to his children and grandchildren,” Gharib said.
As Bahrainis celebrate Ramadan along with the rest of the Muslim world, the holy month is a period of appreciation for traditional sweets.
For Mohammed Fardan, the familiar Bahraini confections remain a fixture on tables for the iftar meal, in which the faithful break their dawn-to-dusk fast.
“Their presence is a reminder of Bahrain’s heritage and sense of hospitality,” the 51-year-old banker explained.
Though the Gulf region has been swept by a deluge of fast food chains, Fardan is quick to point out that “modern sweets contain preservatives, unlike traditional confectionery.”
But while the preservation of heritage is at the heart of the confectioners’ craft, they are not averse to innovating to appeal to a younger clientele.
Saleh Halwaji, who works in his family-owned shop, says: “My father used to work in confectionery and I used to help him after school.
“Today, we work in the same field with our own children,” he said.

Their presence is a reminder of Bahrain’s heritage and sense of hospitality.

Mohammed Fardan, Banker

Halwaji says he “strives to evolve the sweets and keep up with the times while maintaining their popular character.”
“We still make everything ourselves and perhaps that is what attracts so many of our customers, who come to buy sweets but also to watch us make them behind the glass,” he said.
Dalal Shrouqi, an expert in Bahrain’s popular heritage, says that “today, technology helps us disseminate everything we want to preserve of our popular heritage by making it known to future generations.”
Shrouqi, who has written several books on her country’s traditional cuisine, said that while innovative twists are popular, people still prefer “the sweets in their traditional form.”
“Things evolve, but the original is still the basis.”


Award-winning Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi looks to reinvent Gulf cuisine

Award-winning Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi looks to reinvent Gulf cuisine
Updated 12 August 2022

Award-winning Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi looks to reinvent Gulf cuisine

Award-winning Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi looks to reinvent Gulf cuisine
  • The chef patronne at Fusions by Tala trained in Switzerland at the Michelin-starred Prisma
  • She was recently named Best Female Chef in the Middle East and North Africa by 50 Best

TORONTO: For 33-year-old Tala Bashmi — chef patronne at Fusions by Tala in the Gulf Hotel, Manama — modernizing Bahraini and Khaleeji cuisine feels like a “responsibility.” 

Bashmi grew up in Bahrain, and actually began her career at the Gulf Hotel, before heading to Switzerland to train at Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois and the Michelin-starred Prisma. 

Fusions by Tala in the Gulf Hotel, Manama. (Supplied)

She returned to Bahrain in 2014 and worked her way up through the ranks at the Gulf Hotel to eventually head Fusions by Tala, where she’s determined to reinvent Gulf cuisine. She was recently named Best Female Chef in the Middle East and North Africa by 50 Best.

“I always saw a gap for a different version of Middle Eastern and Khaleeji cuisine,” Bashmi tells Arab News. “I want to compete on a global scale by elevating our cuisine technically, visually, and flavor-wise,” she says. 

Here, Bashmi offers some advice and a delicious fish recipe to try at home.

Tala Bashmi's Seabream Carpaccio. (Supplied)

What’s your top tip for amateur cooks?
Don’t rush things. For the first two years of my career, I wasn’t even allowed to cook. It was purely preparation. I believe all young chefs should start that way and not jump the gun. When you rush things, you end up burning something. You (eventually) want to combine perfection and speed, but speed alone is not beneficial. 

Also, there’s nothing more dangerous than a dull knife. A dull knife will slip and, most likely, cause injury. So, invest in a good quality knife and keep it sharp. 

What's one ingredient that can instantly improve any dish?
I can think of a few. There’s olive oil. And invest in good salt — not iodized table salt! Whenever I travel, I always get salt that’s local to the region. I’m a firm believer in the fact that the simplest local ingredients can elevate or transform a dish.

What is your favorite cuisine?
Currently, it's Korean. The entire experience of making your own Korean barbeque is fun. With its fermented and pickled elements, it relies heavily on the traditional umami taste, which I enjoy a lot.

What is your favorite dish to cook?
I really enjoy cooking seafood, especially when it's fresh from the market. I love clams. I make a type of curry that has clams and local crabs in it, which you leave to simmer on the stove. When you cook all day, every day, you want to make your meals quick and tasty. 

What’s the most difficult dish you prepare?
Desserts at the restaurant have a lot of elements and are relatively time-consuming. There is the cooking, chilling, setting, assembling, and layering. I’d say my lavender dessert — lavender sponge, blueberry jelly, white-chocolate mousse, and lemon crème brûlée — is the most difficult to prepare.

What are you like in the kitchen? Are you a disciplinary or are you more laid-back?
I was lucky enough to work under a second chef who showed me that you can be kind, gentle, and forgiving in this environment, without being disrespected. So, I follow his example. I don’t like to put people down because everyone learns differently. I want my team to feel happy, comfortable, and confident when they come into the kitchen. Patience and learning to deal with different personalities are important. 

RECIPE: Chef Tala’s pan-seared faskar with vine leaf risotto

Ingredients

90g Faskar fillet; salt; pepper; 30g butter; 3g thyme; turmeric (optional); 150g of Arborio rice; 20g onion (finely chopped); 70g vine leaves; 10g lime juice; 10g parmesan cheese; cooking oil; vegetable stock or water

 

Instructions (fish):

Pat your fillets to dry them. Season with salt, pepper, and turmeric (optional).

Heat a non-stick pan to almost smoking point. Add 2 tbsp of oil per fillet.

Place the fillet (skin side) with a weight on top.

Cook for one minute, until skin is golden-brown. 

Turn the heat to low, add thyme and 10g of butter. 

The residual heat will finish cooking the fish (time depends on thickness of fillets)

 

Instructions (risotto):

On low-medium heat, melt 10g butter in a pan, add onion, sauté until translucent. 

Stir rice into the mix.

And one ladle of veg stock (or water) at a time, making sure broth is fully absorbed.

Meanwhile, blanch the vine leaves in hot water for one minute or until softened. Finely chop.

Cook risotto for 20 minutes, stirring regularly. It should be al dente, but creamy.

Add remaining butter, cheese, vine leaves, salt, and lime juice. 

Serve hot.


Review: Sleep app Loóna will give you a restful night

Review: Sleep app Loóna will give you a restful night
Updated 12 August 2022

Review: Sleep app Loóna will give you a restful night

Review: Sleep app Loóna will give you a restful night

Having good, uninterrupted, and peaceful sleep is essential for proper health because that is when the body is in recovery mode, a good sleep, or lack of it, directly affects the immune system.

A lack of good sleep has become a common problem with the overuse of mobile phones and poor lifestyle choices.

I found an app that improved my quality of sleep so much. Loóna introduces calming activities to keep and hold your focus long enough to slow down your racing thoughts. It takes you to sleepscape visuals with the theme of your choice: Oriental garden, fairytale castle, legendary temple, serene glade, a secluded harbor at night, or tranquil suburbs.

The sleepscape sounds are divided into five categories: Nature (campfire, rustling leaves, nighttime), water (rain, waves, river), wildlife (chirps, cicadas, whales), urban (coffee shop, humming downtown), and ASMR (vinyl crackle, cat purring, raindrops). You can choose your narrative style: Realistic, fairytale, sentimental, mysterious, nostalgic, and adventure.

After choosing the preferred themes and sounds for the customized sleepscape, you set your sleep schedule, your bedtime, and when you wake up. It counts your sleep duration and starts powering down for bed around your desired bedtime.  

So, if you choose to have your bedtime at 10:30 p.m. Loóna will gradually relax your mind around 9:30 p.m. through a wind-down zone. At 10:30 p.m., you leave your phone, stay away from bright lights, and fall asleep to the sleepscape stories. When you wake up at 8:00 a.m., you gently transition from being asleep to being awake. I enjoyed the interactive and calming activity the first time I used it. It was a 15-minute dive into Chinese myths and legends where I focused on coloring paper lanterns, origami birds, the shrine, and the dragon. It quietened my mind.

I played a calming story afterward and dozed off to sleep.


Where We Are Going Today: THAT Cafe

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Updated 09 August 2022

Where We Are Going Today: THAT Cafe

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When you enter the glass doors of THAT Cafe in Riyadh, one word comes to mind: serenity. If you’re looking for a new place to have intimate discussions with friends, work remotely or even spend some alone time with a good book, this is your spot.

THAT Cafe, which opened in January of this year, is a specialty-driven coffee shop offering a diverse selection of drinks inspired by both Saudi and Japanese culture, ranging from traditional Saudi coffee to Bom Ji lattes.

You’re met with an endless array of local and international drinks and a full menu of drip coffee — your choice of single-sourced or limited yield — that you can top off with any plant-based or dairy milk.

The iced Saudi coffee is an option you won’t easily find anywhere else, as is the iced Hojicha latte, a type of Japanese green tea.

On the Zen garden-style upper floor, the ambiance is set by the melodic sounds of oud playing in the background.

The sleek coffee shop design and workspace tables make it perfect for any purpose, whether that’s work or pleasure.

THAT Cafe’s dessert menu makes it difficult to choose just one option. A must-try is their muhalabiya cheesecake — a piece of Middle Eastern heaven bursting with the flavor of sweet rose water.

As you leave, you’re welcome to take a small packet of fresh coffee to try later — all you have to do is add water, and you can enjoy the taste of THAT Cafe from the comfort of your own home.


Where We Are Going Today: Chatime

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Updated 07 August 2022

Where We Are Going Today: Chatime

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  • They offer interesting fruit-mixes in their teas too, such as mango, grapefruit, lemon, and peach passionfruit to go with green and black tea

Bubble tea is my favorite drink whatever the season, and Chatime is one of the most popular bubble tea shops in Jeddah, with a branch in Jeddah International Market in Al-Rawdah district, and another in Corniche Center in Al-Balad.

Chatime offers a variety of milk teas, fresh teas, espresso, fruit teas, tea lattes, smoothies and juices, using real tea leaves.

The milk tea flavors include Chatime milk tea, pearl milk tea (with brown sugar as an option), taro milk tea, taro red bean milk tea, superior cocoa, grass jelly milk tea, jasmine green milk tea, winter melon milk tea, QQ milk tea, hazelnut milk tea, and cocoa hazelnut milk tea.

They also offer mousse in jasmine green tea, black tea, matcha, and chocolate.

Their fresh teas and refreshing juices include jasmine green tea, black tea, lemon juice, winter melon dew, and winter lemon juice.

Chatime also offers smoothies in different flavors, such as mango, passionfruit, coffee, matcha red bean, chocolate, banana and chocolate, peach, strawberry, and mango with banana.

They offer interesting fruit-mixes in their teas too, such as mango, grapefruit, lemon, and peach passionfruit to go with green and black tea.

Chatime also offers fruity, chewy toppings, including Taiwan mango, passionfruit, grapefruit, lemon, peach, grass jelly with milk, and winter melon with milk.

Their coffee options include superior blended coffee, americano, lattes, cappuccinos, and mochas.

My favorite drink at Chatime is the taro milk tea with tapioca pearls, because taro has such a unique, balanced flavor — not too sweet but not at all bitter. The tapioca pearls are satisfyingly chewy, and add so much to the experience.


Where We Are Going Today: Siblings Restaurant and Cafe

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Updated 05 August 2022

Where We Are Going Today: Siblings Restaurant and Cafe

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  • The outlet is open daily from 8:15 a.m. to 12 a.m., and until 1 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays

Breakfast is one of the most popular meals of the day for bringing families together, and Siblings Restaurant and Cafe in Jeddah is a well-known meeting place for brekkies, and brunch.

Established in 2019 by siblings Tarek, Ibrahim, Farah, Haneen, and Talal Naaman, the eatery offers a varied menu to suit most palates.

Located on Al-Imam Malik Road in the Red Sea port city’s Al-Rawdah district, the premises provide a relaxed environment to gather with friends and family, with white walls, wooden floors, tables, chairs, and mirror frames, and decorative pieces. Coffee and food are served by friendly staff using pink and blue mugs and plates.

My sister and I enjoyed a breakfast of black truffle toast; a brioche with scrambled eggs infused with truffle oil and a mix of mozzarella and parmesan cheese topped with fresh black truffle and black grape juice.

We shared the restaurant’s popular vanilla French toast for dessert, with a top-notch cappuccino.

The outlet is open daily from 8:15 a.m. to 12 a.m., and until 1 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays.