A women orders sweets at a shop in downtown Muharraq
© Sarah al-Hamad
A women orders sweets at a shop in downtown Muharraq
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Last updated: June 12, 2013

Sweet salvation in Bahrain

Banner Icon Away from the high-drama of the pearl roundabout on a bustling street in downtown Muharraq it is business as usual. The trade in halwa - Bahrain’s very own, sweet jellied confection - continues at a brisk pace.

Jostling for attention from the frenzied staff, tourists from the Gulf queue up to sample and get their hands on the saffron and nut-studded sweet, a gooey local specialty made with sugar and corn starch that Bahrain is famous for, regionally and beyond. The ideal ‘thought-of-you-while-away’ gift for relatives and friends, few Khaleeji visitors will leave Bahrain halwa-free, especially in the months leading up to Ramadan. Bought in quantities, the cartons are tightly packed and often labeled for freight.

A close cousin of the Omani version, Bahrain’s halwa - which comes in saffron red or cardamom green - is best eaten warm, scooped up with some “datey” dibs flatbread and slurped down with a shot of bitter gahwa.  

Sales of the traditional sweet demonstrate that in sweetish, as well as in sour times, it is the locally distinctive and well-made artisan products that tend to stick.

Most of Muharraq’s halwa shops bear the family name Showaiter, a dynasty that has been synonymous with halwa in Bahrain for over a century. Still the most sought-after make, Bahrainis have come to call their national treasure halwat Showaiter.

ALSO READ The state of Bahrain’s economy

Sarah al-Hamad
Sarah champions Gulf cuisine and culture via Cardamom and Lime: Recipes from the Arabian Gulf and the freshly baked Sun Bread and Sticky Toffee: Date Desserts from Everywhere. When not travelling, she runs an Arabian chai supperclub and date tastings from her base in London.
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