Saffron-infused chai. Cheese samosas. Savory kabobs. Just the mere mention of these foods makes my heart flutter. As an international student from the country of Bahrain, I carry these foods so close to my heart, and I can find them all in one place: the Manama Souk.
What is a souk you ask? In Arabic, souk is the word for marketplace but to me the Manama Souk is so much more. It is an open air trading centre where one can soak up on authentic souk culture while diverging into Bahrain's historic past.
As soon as I step inside the cobbled walkways of the souk, I am revitalized. The bustle of energy and the everyday hub of the souk revives my every nerve. Tailors carrying vibrant cloths, cafes filled with happy chatter over the scent of cardamom infused arabic coffee, stands selling colorful pots and pans with sellers calling for your attention-this is the ball of energy that I have loved my whole life.
Now you may be wondering, what is this girl's deal with this souk? The food, my friend. The food. What's so tear-jerkingly beautiful about the Manama Souk is that it offers a plethora of different foods that would satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. However, I will divert my focus on the true love of my life- traditional Bahraini foods.
There is definitely no shortage of traditional foods in the Manama Souk. Saffron by Jena is part of the newly renovated indoor section of the souk and it serves a traditional Bahraini breakfast in the typical Bahraini fashion- fit for a feast. Or you can opt for the even more traditional Aloo Basheer which is located in the heart of the Manama Souk. Aloo Basheer is also said to have been in business for more than 50 years, serving their famous and flavorful vegetable samosas.
It would be a travesty if I wrote this article without even mentioning the gahwas, or traditional coffeeshops, located in the Manama Souk. One gahwa that strikes close to my heart is Bahrain's oldest cafe: Haji Gahwa. It's been run by three generations of Hajis and the gahwa proudly sports vintage photographs of the the "old souk".
One of my all time favorite drinks to get at a traditional gahwa is the chai karak. It is a kind of chai that is heavily infused with cardamom and it tastes sweet and spicy at the same time- like happiness in a cup. What's interesting about Haji Gahwa is that it's located on the same road where two of Bahrain's biggest commercial banks are. This means that the souk constantly attracts people of different cultures, nationalities and identities.
Besides the many gahwas and restaurants available at the souk, the Manama Souk has so much more to offer: a gold market, a market for traditional Bahraini clothing such as thobs and jalabiyahs, but my personal favorite is the spice market. The feisty and delicious smell of spices hits you before you even see them.
As you walk into the spice market, you are not only enveloped by the savory aroma of spices but you are welcomed by a rainbow of colors. Coriander Powder, Cumin Powder, Turmeric, Bzaar- a Bahraini curry powder, and Saffron are only a few of the notable spices that the Manama Souk's spice market offers. In fact the spice vendors sell spices from all around the world. If there's anything in particular that you're looking for- these vendors will have it for you.
The vibrant colors, the heavenly foods, the energy of the community, the passion of the vendors- the Manama Souk is electrifyingly beautiful. As I am studying abroad, I continue to carry Bahrain and home with me in everything that I do. As an international student, you always get the same question, "Is it hard being so far away from home?" Yes. Do I sometimes want to just hop on a plane and forget about all my midterms? Yes. Do I sometimes just want a hug from my mom? Yes. But being abroad has taught me the importance of feeling uncomfortable and the significance of being brave. More importantly, its taught me how truly amazing I have it back home. Whatever happens, wherever I go, Bahrain and the Manama Souk will always be there. My love affair will always be present.