Tabreez, Bahrain

This traditional local Bahraini fish joint is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by scrapheaps and piles of dust nearby. It looks like nothing much from the car park - the massive Coca-Cola sign giving a totally misleading impression - then you enter into a garden courtyard with fountains and greenery. It was weirdly like stepping through a portal into a little oasis retreat. But it was goddamn hot outside (this was Bahrain in mid-June), so we headed inside through one of the many doors. Seriously, there was a mind-boggling number of entrances to this place.

Inside, it’s a large canteen-esque room, and all the walls are decorated with murals of local scenes and pretty little birds in trees. It was rather charming, actually. Little children kept appearing and running around out of nowhere - their families were hidden away next door in the family room - so it looked to us like these kids just popped out to get some grilled fish on their own accord. Especially this one tiny guy with slicked back hair and loafers on. He seemed totally serious about his fish.

We were handed floppy pamphlet menus speckled with grease and stains, while the waiters laid out thin plastic sheets over the table and showed us a selection of the fish available that day. Those tissue boxes were everywhere, you know the ones you can’t escape at restaurants in the Middle East. As a messy eater, I love them and their tacky box designs.

Kamal’s dad ordered us a selection of bahraini seafood treats, including lots of machboos. This is a rice and meat dish that everywhere in the Middle East has some version of, and is heavily spiced with fragrant flavours such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and saffron. Stuffed underneath all that rice was layers of chunky hammour and prawns, with almonds appearing throughout for that satisfying crunch! It’s the kind of dish you can easily eat a few tons of before realising what you’ve done, especially when adding garlic and hot sauces to the equation…

Fried spicy prawns with tomatoes were excellent. Most older Arab people are really into eating the heads of fish, which is smart as they are often the best part! Don’t shy away from them. I’ll admit that I didn’t even take my own advice on this occasion though, they just looked too crunchy, man! Kamal's warrior instincts took over however, and he expressed how great they were.

And best of all, the show stealer, grilled sea bream! Topped with diced red onion and tomatoes, soaking right up into the juicy flesh rather like a fried salsa, these babies were charred to the maximum, smoked up, and really, really tasty. Even our visiting pal Charles who claims to be “allergic to seafood” absolutely loved it. And suspiciously enough, he’s still alive…

As well as this, we had hammour and prawn curries, which were swimming in a scrummy soupy sauce. Well you know what I did with this… poured it all over my mountain of machboos, baby! And you know what else I did with this… scooped it up with a little khobez, baby!

These kind of places are made for communal eating, everything’s put in the middle, the table’s covered in it’s protective sheet, and you just go in hands deep. The fish is caught daily, so you know that shit’s fresh.

It’s safe to say that we destroyed this meal. What was left over were the scraps and bones of our discarded fishes, only but a memory. After the meal Kamal’s dad drove us around the village near by, giving me a chance to see a side to Bahrain I hadn’t yet experienced - it felt like a ghost town, totally untouched by the Western influence. Tabreez symbolizes just that; a simple fish shack providing traditional Bahraini cuisine. Without any pretensions, the food does it all. 

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