Tag Archives: bahrain

The Exclusive Bahraini Halwa – A Workshop at the Showaiter’s

Would my Bahrain trip be a satisfied and complete one, without visiting one of those very popular Halwa Shops of the country? Certainly not.

Bahraini Halwa, is one of the most sort after sweets, during festivals and social gatherings, not only in Bahrain, but around the whole of Gulf region.

The strong resemblance the Bahraini Halwa has with the Bombay Halwa, that we savour back home, is a matter of cullinary research. I remember, when sweet boxes were brought by friends and relatives, while visiting our home, the Bombay Halwa wrapped in a transparent wrapper, orange or yellow in colour, would be the most sort after. It was always reserved for relaxed chewing. The highly glutenous texture of the delicacy, was the most attractive feature, I think. Chewing it slowly, enjoying the flavour it spread inside the mouth, still lingers in my mind.

Bahraini halwa is a direct descendant of the Omani version, introduced to the local cuisine more than 90 years ago following visits by Bahraini pearl divers and fishermen to Muscat.

The family modified the recipe to create a delicious local variety and then went on to establish a halwa dynasty which earned recognition beyond the Gulf. https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/sweet-dynasty-plans-uae-invasion-1.546296

The Halwa Showaiter – the Pioneer Sweet Shop of Bahrain, has been in the business of making sweets since 1850. When you travel, in and around Manama, as we did, one would come across a number of Showaiter Halwa Shops, which belong to the several cousins of the Showaiter family.

The factory of the Hussain Mohammed Showaiter Sweets, is located in an area called Muharaq, about 5-6 kms (around 15 minutes drive time) from capital Bahrain. A visit there, was a -‘ must do’ one, since they offer a gastronomic tour to their factory. Yes, the Showaiters are kind enough to allow tourists and connoisseurs, visit their kitchen, view, click pictures and take videos of the making of their speciality Bahraini Halwa.

I certainly didn’t want to miss the chance. It was not a dream come true, but a treat come true.

So, this was going to be my Halwa Workshop – to know about the making of the very famous Halwa of Bahrain.

Come along….it’s going to be an interesting, sweet journey..

First, the ingredients..

The basic ingredients that go in the making of the basic Halwa are,

  • corn starch
  • sugar
  • cardamom powder
  • corn oil
  • rose water
  • nuts

And, depending upon the variety of Halwa, for example pomegranate halwa, apricot halwa, fig or milk halwa – the speciality ingredients are added.

The two most popular Halwas are the Saffron Halwa which has cashew nuts, which is orange/red in colour, and the King of Halwa – which is green in colour loaded with almonds.

The Halwa is made with two to three members, taking turns to stir the mixture in the huge copper vessel, filled with ingredients.

  1. First, water is poured into the vessel, and sugar is added.
  2. After a boil, the other ingredients – corn starch, oil, rose water, cardamom powder, food colour and nuts – are added, one after the other.
  3. The initial thin liquid, becomes thicker and stickier with time. This process requires non-stop stirring and hence, is a tedious one.
  4. Once, the required consistency of the halwa is achieved, the halwa is poured in large containers and taken for packaging.

The videos below, show the making of the Halwa – the stirring and the continuous process of making several batches.

This video below, shows the packaging of the two special types of Halwa – saffron and almond halwa.

the packed boxes, ready to be transported…

and the super delicious gooey halwa…

The packed halwa, sets well inside the box..

when cut…

On the way to the entrance of the office of the Showaiter’s in Muharraq, there is a shop which displays the century year old tradition of halwa making, that is exclusive to the family.

They have preserved the utensils used during the initial years, in the making of Bahraini Halwa.

Halwas to taste and the different types they make-

This Halwa workshop, indeed made my Bahrain trip a complete one- opening new windows to my primary interests -history, culture and cuisine.

Exploring Culture of Bahrain – Pottery Demonstration at Al Jasra Handicrafts Centre

After visiting places of historic interest in and around Manama, it was time to delve into some cultural aspects.

Bahrain’s rich cultural heritage can be seen through various lenses. Though history and cuisine too fall under Culture in a broader sense, I chose to visit the Al Jasra Handicraft Centre, which displays the country’s indigenous art forms and creations. It was established in 1990. The best artists of the country are brought under one institution, to display their skills and pass theirs to the next generation.

The centre’s website explains its focus and goals.

The center embraces many traditional handicrafts, in order to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Maintaining traditional crafts and industries from extinction, in light of the steady growth in the world of automated industries.
  2. Educating Bahraini youth, and giving them the opportunity to explore industries and crafts that were practiced by their ancestors.
  3. Highlighting the traditional industries and handicrafts as an interface of the country, where foreigners visitors can learn more about our great past.
  4. Encouraging the craftsman and artisans, urging them to continue working in this distinctive field which requires major effort, and precise skills, by providing  support  to ensure the development of this industry  while maintaining the original characteristics of the Bahraini products.

http://www.btea.bh/aljasra-handcrafts

To me, this is the need of the hour for any society, especially societies where modern life style has become synonymous to neglecting the traditional past.

Additionally, what I learn from their website is-

Each village or town in the island has become known for a particular crafts such as the textile industry in Bani Jamrah village, basket weaving in Karbabad village, pottery in Ali village and AlSaffah in  Jassrah village, while Manama and Muharraq cities are famous for vessel industry and related tools.  http://www.btea.bh/bah-handcrafts

Al Jasra Handicraft Centre has different rooms for different crafts. It is not only a display or an exhibition house, but also a place where workshops are conducted. Tourists and visitors are given patient explanations on the specific art work. When we went there, we could find young students learning the beautiful craft forms, from experts.

Here are a few hand made wonders by specialist artists of Bahrain…

Traditional Chests

The metal chests with intricate carvings were beautiful.

Basket weaving

Basket weaving is a traditional handcraft, with the abundantly available native palm leaves. Apart from baskets, there were more innovative pieces made too.

Ship Building

Ship building is like a life-line expertise, as far as Bahrain is concerned. Fishing and Pearl Fishery, being two of the foremost occupations, Ship building is an integral part of Bahrain’s traditional livelihood.

Textile Weaving

The textile village Bani-Jamrah in central Bahrain, is known for its traditional cloth weaving.

Gypsum Craft

This place was mesmerising. The artisan Mr. Ali Abdulhusain, a very patient personality, explained his art. Though, we didn’t follow each other’s language, art didn’t need communication through language. His craft revives Bahrain’s medieval heritage. Now, we know that, the patience that he exhibits, is transformed into such fascinating pieces.

Pieces of gypsum art pieces, ready to be given colour

the artist and his art

finished piece

transformation from paper to gypsum

tools …

and the piece of art

Pottery

The video below shows, how much hard work and muscle power goes into making the clay pliable for different articles.

Incredible Artistry in those hands – the making of a pot

Such delicate craftsmanship – Removing the pot from the place of making

The great respect and adoration that I always had, for those craftsmen and their craft, seems to have grown multi-fold in my heart. The ingenuity and expertise that dwell in their humble personalities, deserve a higher and bigger adulation in this world of worldly pleasures.

A trip to Bahrain – Dilmun Civilisation and the First Oil Well in the Gulf Region!

Everyone loves to travel. The choice of things to explore is enormous, but, it is the traveller who selects the best preferred way of exploration. When I travel, first, I like to explore historical places. Since I am amazed by the unique cultures of different countries, next, I hunt for places where the culture of the place of travel is displayed. Then, I like to know about the culinary specialities of that place.

So, these are the main aspects that I concentrate while I plan…

  • travel extensively
  • explore thoroughly
  • know the history of the place
  • understand their culture
  • learn about the cuisine

Well, I tried to squeeze my above mentioned priorities in the best possible pattern, in our recent trip to Bahrain.

While we were getting ready for the journey, I started exploring Bahrain through the eyes of google.

When we landed in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, and came out of the airport towards our place of stay, it was past sunset time. The city seemed like a relaxed holiday spot. Why did it seem so? Manama was noticeably calm. No heavy traffic, there were no vehicles trying to breeze past each other on roads. The air was pleasant and cool, since it was November. There were high rise buildings, but with enough breathing space between the sky scrapers. This was the initial feeling, travelling to the Hotel. But, this didn’t change much, even after the busy scheduled stay. Bahrain is a relaxed city.

We set out to explore Bahrain’s ancient, medieval and modern history, within the short stay, through these places…

1. The first Oil Well of the Middle East

The first trace of oil in the Gulf region, was discovered in Bahrain. The area, below Jebel Dukhan, is about 40kms from the capital Manama. There is a well and a stone pillar, where the detail is carved. The carving says, Oil first spurted from the well on 16 October 1931, and started striking oil from June 1, 1932.The Oil museum, which is a building close to the well, was closed. So, had to give it a miss.

2. Ancient Burial Mounds

The Dilmun Burial Mounds, were built between 2200 and 1750 BCE. The burial mounds are evidence of the Early Dilmun civilization, around the 2nd millennium BCE, during which Bahrain became a trade hub whose prosperity enabled the inhabitants to develop an elaborate burial tradition applicable to the entire population. These tombs illustrate globally unique characteristics, not only in terms of their number, density and scale, but also in terms of details such as burial chambers equipped with alcoves. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1542/

3. Barbar Temple

4. Bahrain National Museum

National Museum of Bahrain in capital Manama, is a store house that exhibits the country’s ancient, medieval and modern history. A normal tourist would be awe struck by the exhibits that open doors to the very ancient Dilmun Civilisation. Dilmun Civilisation dates back to 3rd millennium BC.

Here are a pictures of a few exhibits, from the national museum, Bahrain…

Dilmun Seals

5. Al Khamis Mosque

6. Bahrain Fort/Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

Qal’at al-Bahrain is a typical tell – an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation. The strata of the 300 × 600 m tell testify to continuous human presence from about 2300 BC to the 16th century AD. About 25% of the site has been excavated, revealing structures of different types: residential, public, commercial, religious and military. They testify to the importance of the site, a trading port, over the centuries. On the top of the 12 m mound there is the impressive Portuguese fort, which gave the whole site its name, qal’a (fort). The site was the capital of the Dilmun, one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region. It contains the richest remains inventoried of this civilization, which was hitherto only known from written Sumerian references. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1192/

These were the few places that we visited, among the numerous venues of historic interest in Bahrain. Our next journey would be a cultural trip to the Al Jasra Handicraft Centre, with a varied display of rich artistic heritage. I can’t wait to share the Pottery Demonstration!