BIDEC 2017

From the pre-show press conference of BIDEC (Bahrain International Defence Exhibition and Conference) on 15 Oct 2017, Bahrain:

Brigadier General Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Commander of the Royal Guard, Chairman of the High Organizing Committee of the Bahrain International Defence Exhibition and Conference said: “Bahrain’s hosting of the first edition of BIDEC underscores a number of important facts. The exhibition industry in the Kingdom of Bahrain has been very successful and the BIDEC exhibition and conference is one more example of this success. This will give the Kingdom a foothold on the international map in this vital investment and promotional field, with the aim to achieve excellence and produce creative ideas in the industry.

HH Brigadier Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, noted that a number of important events will be hosted at the exhibition, which will enhance Bahrain’s position as a leading destination in hosting international events and enhance the exhibition’s role. The exhibition will include many spectacular shows in various locations in the Kingdom, offering parachute, archery, military vehicle and combat shows.

HH Brigadier Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Chairman of the Supreme Organising Committee, said that the participation in the exhibition is broad and includes major international companies specialized in the defence industry. More than 50 senior military and political leaders, politicians and decision-makers from various fraternal, friendly and allied countries will take part with over 180 international exhibitors, manufacturers and providers of the latest equipment and technology and military systems. There are 115 platforms in the exhibition that will attract decision makers from governments, armies and defence industries from more than 60 countries. The conference will additionally feature 800 participants from within and outside the Kingdom. More than 20 expert speakers from around the world will participate in the conference, and more than 3000 visitors from inside and outside the Kingdom will attend the exhibition.

H.E. Shaikh Abdulla bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the Chairman of Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (DERASAT), the Chairman of MEMAC, and the Spokesperson of BIDEC, said: The Conference is an important event in today’s changing world. Through this international Conference, we hope to establish platforms for open discussion and strategic ideas to build bridges of understanding so that we can find acceptable solutions to existing challenges and work towards regional and global peace, security and stability, as capacity-building and sharing of information is critical to building such a common vision.”

The CEO of Bahrain Authority for Tourism and Exhibitions H.E. Shaikh Khalid bin Hamood Al Khalifa said that the Bahrain International Defence Exhibition and Conference 2017 further positions the Kingdom on an international level. Such large scale events portrays the Kingdom’s capabilities among the Arab and international markets. The event will act as a platform to exhibit the latest trends within the defence and military sector that can contribute to the growth and development of the military infrastructure in the MICE sector.

Mr. Tim Porter, the Managing Director of Clarion Defence & Security Clarion Events, the largest organiser of defence and security events in the world said, “As a launch event into a new market, BIDEC has surpassed our expectations across all areas, and we are expecting a fantastic turnout from visitors across three days.”

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Hidden Gem

Muharraq is where one can find a place many casual cafés and restaurants that serve brunches with Kadak Tea and Turkish Coffee. Though some places are not advertised much, a wanderer-of-streets finds them anyway; either by chance or through a casual recommendation from a friend. But the one located in a narrow by-lane, that just let a car pass by, blew away most of the cafés in terms of ambience, authenticity and the traditional food served.

The place serves only traditional Bahraini breakfast which includes ful, eggs with tomato, balaleet, beans, breads and more. Fresh juice or coffee compliments the food served.

Lanes of Muharraq are also best places to hone the art of driving while they offer several photo opportunities to those interested in photography.

Harissa

Roses are red.
Fragrant, too.
Roses can touch your heart.
They convey deep feelings.
Sometimes even make you cry.
So is Harissa (həˈrēsə).

The words Harissa dances and flows in the mouth quite effortlessly.
It brings many cherished images to the mind.

But what is Harissa?
Harissa is a fiery hot condiment and seasoning from North Africa and the Middle East. It is a paste of dried red chilis, garlic, and olive oil, with other spices such as ground red pepper, caraway, cumin, caraway, coriander, fennel and mint. It is most closely associated with Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. Makes Tabasco and Sriracha take a distant second and third places when it comes to a chili sauce contest.

[Recipe for Harissa cannot be more simpler than this…

About 50gm dried red chilies
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dried mint leaves
Salt
Olive oil

Mix all together].

But the fiery red sauce is not for the faint-hearted.
Not even for the moderately-brave.
It takes a real courageously-daring one to even attempt to even think about making Harissa paste at home.

Therefore
I decided to make the recipe at home amidst all the usual naysayers.
“Can’t be done”.
“Not for Indian cuisine”.
“You need special ingredients… secret ones… how will you find them”.
“Why bother yourself when you can just add chili powder?”.
“We got SriRacha in the fridge”.
“Since when did you started experimenting with North African cuisine”.
So on.

First things first.
How many types of chilis are there in the market?
A few.
Wrong.
Many many.
Wanted to learn all about them before deciding which one to buy.
World of chili was so exciting that the first learning was that it might take longer than a weekend to learn.

So decided to choose
a dark, long one,
a reddish-brownish medium one and
a cute, round one.
(The intended ones were Pasilla, Guajillo & Cascabel. Must learn which is which).
Also used four different types of chili powders: Cayenne, Paprika, Red chili and Kashmiri chili.

Soaking the chilis in hot water was easy.
But the deseeding and destemming part took a toll as a not-so-easy burning sensation on the face.
Food-grade gloves and medical-grade face mask were used.
Not to mention industrial-grade eye-glasses.

While the chilis were soaking, garlic was de-skinned and crushed.
Coriander, cumin, fennel, caraway seeds were ground using pestle and mortar.
The four-chili paste was prepared.
Dried mint leaves kept aside.

From now on, it must be a breeze. So I thought.
Soaked chilies, drained well, went to the food processor.

Warning: The first buzz will fill the kitchen with the volatile component of the chili oleoresin that one must expect and take precautions.
From mildly uncomfortable runny nose and eyes to uncontrollable sneezing could occur.
So please be forewarned.
(Note: Harissa preparation will make onion slicing chore feel like a seventh heaven).

Having survived that grinding to paste stage, spices and mint were added and mixed.
Some balsamic vinegar was added to the paste. Lemon juice, if you so prefer.
Finally, the food processor was run at very slow speed while a stream of Olive oil was mixed in the emulsification process. The processor was stopped once the mixture achieved the desired consistency.

Due to the watery-eyed environment, many photo opportunities were missed.
But the few that were taken can be found here.

In short, the home-made sauce was a real unforgettable experience in the kitchen.
But if you ask em if I would repeat the experience, I would not reply without a bit of hesitancy.

While the runny-nose tells me no, the beyond-the-words taste of Harissa in fish and chicken urges me “you must”.

Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomato

Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomatoes or Shakshouka

Scrambled eggs in tomatoes is quite common for breakfast or dinner.
Mostly with dry chapatis or khubooz.

A recipe got from a friend recently took the dish to a completely different dimension.
A bit of ground Cumin and a few Chilies made the difference.
The recipe originally included the delightful Harissa* paste.
Since the home had a stock of Cayenne Pepper, Sweet Paprika, Red Chili and Kashmiri Chili, thought of replacing Harissa with the chili powders.

(Harissa: a hot, spicy condiment made from mixing dried chilies soaked in hot water and roasted- or sun-dried tomato paste, widely used staple in North African and Middle Eastern cooking).

Chopped onions were sautéed on medium heat with minced garlic in Olive oil.
Diced green bell pepper is added.
Once softened, all the spices were added ensuring that the raw taste is gone with frying.
Care was taken not to burn the delicate spices.

Chopped, ripe tomatoes were then added.
Season with sea-salt flakes and crushed black pepper.
Pan was covered on medium heat and cooked for 10-15 minutes.
The contents must be stirred a few times to avoid burning in spite of seeing enough water in the pan.

Small indentations (actually they are “wells”) are made as the number of eggs.
Eggs are cracked raw into these wells.
Cooking for another 10 minutes would just see the eggs settle from being runny to semi-solid.
Garnish with fresh Cilantro and the dish is ready to be enjoyed.

The next week-end project?
Shakshouka with the best-ever home-made Harissa paste.

Baking a Bread

One day, quite recently…
Me: “I am going to bake a bread”
Family: “Bake a – WHAT?”

The entire household was practically paused for well over a few minutes.
In total disbelief.

“Why bother making something you can easily get for BHD 0.100?”*
“Bread? One can NEVER bake a bread at home!”
“Baking a bread needs special equipment. Forget it!”
“Hmmmm…. you’ve found another way to waste money, time and effort…
But
The above comments could not dissuade the baker from chasing, and later achieving, his dream.

*BHD 1 = USD 2.57 appx.

Let me take you back to another day, many many years ago…

The idea of baking a bread at home was toyed since childhood.
The inspiration was the small local bakery near the place of domicile.

Around mid-afternoon, the heavenly aroma of the nearby baker baking his loaves will find its way to our home. Giving the baker a few more minutes to finish his work, a fresh loaf will be at home soon. The family gathers around, being a Sunday, marvelling the freshness and softness of the bread. Baker refuses to slice the bread as he maintains it is too early to slice a bread straight from the oven. There were many times when the bread was enjoyed without being sliced. The experience was always worthy of repeating a million times. That is when the idea of baking bread at home was born.

During those years, my Mother used to cook many dishes. Most of them could be categorised as nothing short of “complicated”. List of ingredients, the processes included in preparation and cooking, adjustment of heat by adding or removing firewood from the stove (those were pre-LPG days) were some reasons for the complexity. Delicious sweets which require hours on fire were made only during festive seasons: Easter or Christmas. Whole family chips in and the house maids also join to support but the main cook was always Mother.

Yet another day, couple of years back…

The childhood idea was put to action quite recently. May be a couple of years back when the first bread was baked in-house. Only few super markets carried bread flour. The recipe said bread flour specifically. Some of them mentioned using all-purpose flour but the fear of failure in first attempt prompted the would-be baker to travel to the edge of the world to find the perfect bread flour. He found it in a super market in the Amwaj Island.

Other ingredients were a fairly easy to come through: yeast, egg, milk, honey, salt. The 10-year old Italian-made oven with an external temperature gauge were the major components towards the first bake. Stove-top cooking was for every day but the oven was rarely used.

All the ingredients were mixed with yeast added in to the traditional well in the centre. The mixture was far from promising. Sticky, without any form or shape.

Baking a bread is all about proving. First the yeast has to prove itself. Then the dough. Then the dough in loaf-tin, again. But the real proof is in the pudding which is the proof of the baker himself. Yeast was over-energetic. It was excited to thrive in the 114 degree Fahrenheit water mixed with honey. In less than 10 minutes, the yeast-proofing was done.

Slowly, the dough began to transform itself as if by a magic spell. The mix was then kneaded by hand. Five or ten minutes, I do not remember. But the kneading stopped only when the dough felt pliable and soft. Time for the dough to prove itself. Well oiled glass bowl, the recipe did not specify which oil, was used to store the dough “for an hour or until it doubles in size in a warm, dark place”.

Slowly lifted the tea-towel that covered the dough-bowl. Could not believe own eyes. The dough had proved itself!

Followed the recipe to the t and inflated the dough after a bit of hesitation. Baker is still not confident. Is it not the first attempt to bake a bread? Pardoned.

Left the dough in a loaf tin this time in the warm dark place to prove again. The dough took the challenge well and overflew the standard bread tin thus ensuring the classic champagne-cork shape.

Meanwhile, in another part of the kitchen…
Pre-heating the oven was meticulously done. Temperature was monitored to the degree. The risen-dough went straight into the oven. Half-way into the baking process, the rich, heavenly aroma of the bread began to fill the apartment. The crust was light brown. There was no way to test the doneness of bread without opening the oven door. Door was open, crust was knocked for that reassuring hollow “thud” sound.

A home-made bread was born.

Family, who were nearby since the aroma started filling the air, now gathered around the bread.

Some suggested butter. Others jam. How about chicken curry? Plain bread taste as good, came in another revelation. Olive oil and salt. Creativity is beginning to cross boundaries now.

Five minutes later, I thanked the heavens for the family leaving the loaf tin alone.

A question came up… when are you going to bake the next bread?

Soon, the baker said, and smiled to himself.

A few weeks back, a Challah was baked.

Blue Crabs

Anticipation grows in the shores of Hidd fishing port, north-east of Bahrain.
But the air is kept light with smiles and laughs.
Amazing to see how the human spirits could soar so high on a long, hot summer day.
Weather-beaten faces perfectly blending with the day’s hard work.

And then someone sees the boat approaching from the seas.
Somehow they know it was a good catch indeed.
Blue Swimming Crabs are wild caught from seas around Bahrain by using traps.

A boat carries 6 to 8 crates of freshly netted Blue Crabs.
After a quick rinse, the crates are brought ashore.
Experienced eyes picks few bad ones and promptly removes them.
Dilip and his team effortlessly moves in sync as a well-rehearsed drill.

Rest are chilled with crushed iced, ready to be transported to the factory in refrigerated trucks.
The cluster portion of the crab with claw and legs untrimmed is the final product that carries a shelf-life of up to 2 years.

Extremely Useful Emptinesses

“We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.”
– Lao Tzu

The Potter, a man in his forties,
sat there on the wooden, tall stool
by a table
with a shapeless lump of clay.
Smiling.

He had a few kids and their parents as his audience.
Wide-eyed kids.
I’ve-seen-it-all-eyed parents.
Deep inside,
the parents wanted to mould the clay as much as their kids.

But
being elder to the kids, they appeared to show more restraint
and even scolded the kids for their impatience.
Potter smiled.

While his fingers and palm
moved around the wet clay,
and the people thought of how relaxed the man was,
his legs were tirelessly working.

Pushing the heavy flywheel
under the table
that held the platform
that rotated
the clay…

I wondered
how many kids must have seen the hard work
of the legs
that is needed for a clay pot?

Potter continued to smile.
Perhaps he could listen to everyone’s thoughts…

National Museum

Located in the waterfront near the Marina Club, Diplomatic Area, National Museum is one of the popular monuments with visitors. A few hundred meters away resides the newly built National Theatre. Exhibitions and cultural talks see the National Museum as its venue attracting the art lovers of Bahrain and from neighbouring countries. The entrance leads to a vast hall almost covered with the sharp aerial photograph of Bahrain.

National Museum
National Museum

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National Theatre
National Theatre

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National Museum, left
National Museum, left

A complete detailed visit could easily take about half-a-day. Exhibits are meticulously labelled in Arabic and English.

Ghriyba Marocaine aux Amandes

Weekends are cooking days. Sometimes the daughter joins in but mostly it is alone.
Bahrain feels like the best-of-Europe with it’s mild weather. While sunny and bright in the day time, the temperature stays at around 12-14 deg C. The weather was never lovelier before than today.

Rib-eye Steak with Mushroom Sauce served with Mashed Potatoes and crisp, sautéed Mangetouts for the lunch.
Thai Green Seafood curry with Jasmine Rice for dinner.
[Ed: Those posts are for another day].
But the highlight of the day was Moroccan Almond Cookies or Ghriba.
The sweet from Marrakesh took everyone by storm.

Most of the dishes tried at home were tried before in a restaurant or at a baker’s.
Ghriba was an exception. Came to learn about the sweet from a beautiful blog in WordPress https://thetaste0flife.wordpress.com/

Ghriba is something unlike any of the sweets.
It does not use any flour (wheat or rice, eg.)
Sites those talked about Ghriba mentioned the Moroccan Mint Tea that goes well with the sweet.
[Ed: Forgotten to make mint tea, by the way].

Almonds eggs caster sugar lemon zest lemon juice almond extract orange blossom water.
The taste was much beyond the realms of any sweet tried so far.

Started off with zesting the lemon after keeping the oven to heat-up to the required temperature of 350F (180C).
Prepared the baking tray with parchment paper and kept aside.

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Almond flour and sugar were then blended in a food-processor briefly.
Baking powder, vanilla extract, almond flavour, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest were whisked in.

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Egg yolks were then added to the above mixed using fingers taking care not to knead towards bread consistency. However, as the four eggs were added, the dough was bit like a bread dough.

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Added less caster sugar though the recipe asked 125 gm as the cookies are going to be rolled on icing sugar before baking.

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Baked at 350 deg F just till cooked… a cookie unlike any cookie. Inside the oven, the cookies began to crack about 12 minutes into the baking process.

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The oven was switched off soon after the cookies started to crack.
Rest of the baking happened in the subsiding heat and for about 18 minutes.

Final note:
Mildly crunchy outside and soft,chewy inside, the Ghriba was loved instantly at first bite. There sure is a lot of room for excelling and the pursuit of excellence makes the baking process more challenging and therefore enjoyable.

Reviews say that the cookies can be stored in airtight containers for 2-3 weeks. May not be applicable at our place. Confluence of flavours will take several hours was a maxim seldom listened to by the end users. Thus, the cookies finished fast. But their taste remains.

Stranger to stranger, with kindness

Alleys of the village
may not have the flourish of sophistication
urban-dwellers often take for granted.

Instead
all you get would be a smiling face
of a complete stranger.

An invite to a cup of tea.
And more than a few helpings of kind words.

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Playful kids
that follow a wandering photographer
with an amusement
lacing their merry laughter.

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Babies that coo for no reason whatsoever
and jump to reach for the camera lens,
often with their lavishly-salivated tiny fingers,
wondering what on earth is going on
in a world so new to them.

kid

From one stranger
to the other.

Everyone, same-same
and
miles and miles away from their homes.
Homes, they call their home.

@ Restaurant in Muharraq

The succulent chicken came marinated in yoghurt and lime real hot from the charcoal oven.

tikka

And the Turkish bread was thick, soft and warm.

bread

Date palms lining the restaurant swayed in evening breeze. Somewhere inside the open courtyard, the gurgling of a fountain cold be heard between the infrequent silence of the kids. Bell rang several times from the kitchen counter keeping the boys on their toes.

Quinoa Salad with grilled chicken and sliced almonds was served first. Forgotten to take a snap… food sometimes makes the mind blank.

Middle-eastern cuisine with the mild herbs and spices, plenty of green leaves, oil-less breads and grilled meat could be undoubtedly the healthiest. However, most of my Bahraini friends say they prefer the hot, spicy Indian food.

The Mall and the Shamal wind

Come evening and the multi-storied car parks of the mall becomes full.
The rows of cars approaching the mall never seem to end till late into the night.
From the car park heated by the summer sun and idling engines to the coolness that embraces you stealthily from all sides.
Walk into the mall with soft and bright lights…

Food courts overflow with long queue of families waiting for a seat in their favourite restaurants.
Movie theatres run in full capacity.
Boutiques with up to 70% sale got no space for another potential customer.
Children play in the designated space seen with their Nannies in pale blue or pink uniforms.

Paper-bags, huge ones, with thin rope-like handles, find it difficult to accommodate themselves in the hands of shoppers.
Occasional lost kids calling “baba, baba” looking for their Daddy, almost in the verge of a tear short of bursting out. Mall securities nearby with their crackling Motorola handsets.
Sales professionals getting busier by the minute at their kiosks of perfumes, white gold and silver jewellery, mobile accessories, spa promotions, teen watches and many more.

Credit cards rake up unpaid debts shaming the speed of light.
Notion of happiness is thus for the chosen few.
Who is sleepy?
It’s only 3AM.

Meanwhile, in another part of the city.

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No malls.
No car parks.
No sale on-going.
No small, rectangular, plastic cards with or without a cute chip.

Just plain talks and laughter, when someone makes a remark, mostly funny.
Laughter even when one opens his mouth to say something.
And then the beverages are served from a nearby tea shop.
A small break from roasted sunflower seeds.

No malls could ever give that feeling being with friends out in the open with the Shamal winds.
Or could they?

Baker

Succulant Chicken Tikka.
Freshly grilled Riyash (Lamb Rib Chops).
Tabouleh, the great salad made of Flat Parsley, Mint, Tomato, soaked Burgul wheat and Lemon.
Hummous, the chick peas and garlic dip with olive oil.
Kubooz from the Tandoor (a brick-and-mud oven) completes the list.

Kubooz bakeries comes alive as the sun sets.
The baker remembers who came first and what he had ordered.
No notepads and paper slips.
Everyone is served.

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