Healthy Eating for Expats in Bahrain

  in  Nutrition

Bahrain, a country comprised of anarchipelago of over 30 islands in the Arabian Gulf, is becoming an increasingly popular destination for expats. In fact, the Expat Insider's Survey listed it as its top destination for Expats in 2017, mostly due to "ease of settling".

Due to its location, Bahrain has been at the centre of major trade routes throughout history. Today the kingdom boasts astrong economy (particularly within the finance and construction industries) which also makes it an attractive hub for business and international corporations. Because of its diverse economy, English is widely spoken in Bahrain, further adding to its "home away from home" status among many expatsf or whom English is a lingua franca.

This article offers expats looking to move to Bahrain from western countries like the UK or US, an understanding of its cultures and habits to help prepare them for adapting to life in a new country.

Popular types of food and drink

Bahrain is a melting pot of cultures. As such, many of the neighbouring regions are reflected in its cuisine; Middle Eastern staples such as hummus, falafel and shawarma (grilled meat, often chicken, beef or lamb, served in a wrap with various accompaniments) are widely available. However, Bahrain has its own "beautifully simple yet distinctlydelicious local cuisine". This more traditional cuisine is comprised of fragrant rice dishes, tender grilled meats and even a selection of fresh fish, prawns and lobster caught from the surrounding Gulf waters.

In fact, a Middle Eastern-style diet has been hailed as having similar health benefits to one comprised of Mediterranean foods and dishes. With the focus being on lean proteins, healthy fats, whole grains,and an absence of large quantities of sugar and dairy, following a Middle Eastern diet could help to reduce the risk of coronary diseases, cancer and even Alzheimer's.

Eating Customs and Habits

Bahrain prides itself on being an open and tolerant place for people of all cultures, denominations and ethnicities. However,it is a Muslim country with its own traditions and values that reflect this. Pork and alcohol are not typically consumed by Bahraini Muslims, but pork is often available in supermarkets and alcohol can be purchased in licenced hotels and restaurants.

The month of Ramadan is one of the most important festivals in the Islamic calendar. During this time Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset. Some companies may provide space for non-Muslim employees to eat and drink during business hours,but it's polite to avoid eating and drinking in public during this festival.

Food and Drink for Expats with Health Conditions

English is the main business language and is commonly spoken outside of work and in shops and restaurants, it may be prudent for those with nut and shellfish allergies to learn the appropriate Arabic words and phrases to communicate these dietary requirements as Nuts and Shellfish feature heavily in Bahraini cuisine.

Bahrain has both public and private healthcare available and expats can access public healthcare with a Population Registration Card, but must pay for specialist procedures and emergency treatment. Generally, expats opt for private healthcare (either as aself-funded global health insurance policy or as part of their relocation package) as the standard of private hospitals is very high and most doctors are fluent in English.

5 Delicious and Healthy Dishes to Try

1. Machboos/ Machbous

A fragrant rice and meat dish. Often hailed as Bahrain's national dish, Machboos can be made from most types of meat but are popularly created with chicken and often flavoured with herbs and spices such as cumin, coriander, cinnamon and turmeric (think Bahrain's version of a Biryani). Machboos are also created with fish so can be a great source of Omega 3 fatty-acids.

2. Nasheef

Another meat-based dish but this one is not served with rice. Nasheef is stewed meat (typically chicken or lamb) and potatoes served in a tomato-based sauce; the meat can either be in pieces or minced.

3. Quozi/ Ghoozi

Aromatic lamb and rice. The lamb can be simply sprinkled with a mix of spices and nuts, grilled and served with rice or, more elaborately, stuffed with rice, nuts, boiled eggs, herbs and spices.

4. Tabbouleh

Bulgur and parsley salad. This is not a traditional Bahraini dish but is popular and widely available throughout much of the Middle East. Whole-grain bulgur (durum wheat) is mixed with chopped parsley and tomatoes. Variations can be found with cucumber and radishes for added crunch.

5. Dates and Dried Fruit

While not an entire meal, dried fruit, particularly dates (a good source of fibre) and apricots (great for vitamin A and potassium) are often served at the end of a meal. Dates are also commonly offered as a welcome gesture alongside Gahwa (coffee, sometimes spiced with cloves, cardamom or saffron).

It has previously been noted that the increase in availability of Western dishes and fast food chains throughout Bahrain and the surrounding Gulf states has led to an increased incidence of obesity. Having said this, with delicious, traditional Bahraini options widely available, as well as plenty of dishes influenced by the surrounding regions,expats should find it easy to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle while living in Bahrain.