Back when I lived in the Middle East, it took a long time for our family to get used to the different brands of food found in Bahrain’s grocery stores. Growing up, I was a regular milk drinker and my mum made my sister and I drink a glass with every dinner we ate. We didn’t complain – we’d been doing it ever since we could remember.
Our trek over to the Middle East put an end to that. While I’d still put milk on my cereal occasionally, I could never drink it straight-up. Something about the taste wasn’t right at all, and while this could be easily masked by the taste of Trix and Froot Loops, I just couldn’t take it on its own.
It seemed dairy products took the most getting used to, and perhaps that’s why I have an aversion to most dairy today. Rather than Nordica, Dairyland, Yoplait, Liberte, Stonyfield and Chobani (just to name a few of the common North American brands), our fridge was stocked with Almarai yogurt and butter, Nada milk, and eggs stamped with neon pink numbers – possibly corresponding to the matching chicken? I never found an answer to that one.
For expatriates that really missed their western brands, there was a grocery store called Alosra that carried a lot of familiar North American and British products. (Think Kraft, Kelloggs, Nabisco, Tesco, and Unilever.) The drawback was that we had to pay tons for them. Household brands aside, one thing that the east and west do have in common is cheap fast food. Craving McDonalds, KFC, Dairy Queen? No worries – rest assured that you can still get your dose of quick greasy food for next to nothing.
As you may have expected, I was not a frequent customer in any of these places, but I’ve been inside plenty of them with friends to know how they work. Many of the menu items are the same as we have here in North America, with the exception of pork dishes because Muslims aren’t supposed to eat it. All meat must be ‘halal’, which means it is prepared according to Islamic laws, as opposed to ‘haram’ which means it’s forbidden.
You’ll also find some localized menu items, like the McArabia Chicken at McDonalds – two grilled chicken patties, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and garlic sauce, “lovingly” (and that’s a direct quote from the menu) folded in Arabic bread. Then there’s the Mataffee from KFC, which I’m pretty sure is just a lot of chicken and jalapenos on a sub bun, but rather than read my description, why not check the commercial out for yourself? 😉
Although there are a plethora of western quick-service options in Bahrain, the country also has a lot of really great restaurants of its own to offer. One of our favourite places to go for traditional Middle Eastern food was Al Abraaj, where you could get all sorts of delicious (and reasonably healthy) grilled dishes, curries, rice, Arabic bread, and traditional sweets. One of my most common orders was shish tawook, or marinated grilled chicken kebabs. It’s a popular one all over the Middle East, and consists of chicken breast pieces marinated in a super flavourful spiced yogurt sauce.
Because I don’t currently have access to a barbecue, I’ve improvised to create a version of shish tawook on the stove. If it happens to be winter when you stumble across this post, I promise that you and your chicken will stay warmer this way. 😉 And as for that yogurt sauce, my fellow dairy-free friends out there will be happy to know I’ve made the recipe using coconut-based yogurt. (An almond-based one would work too!)
Shish Tawook (Arabic/Turkish chicken)
Prep Time: 10 mins (2+ hours to marinade)
Cook Time: 15 mins
Ingredients (2 servings)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 clove minced garlic (or 1/4 tsp garlic powder)
- ¼ cup plain yogurt (I use dairy-free coconut or almond-based yogurts)
- 1 tsp tomato paste (or crushed canned tomatoes, if you don’t have the paste)
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/8 tsp each allspice, paprika, ground coriander, cinnamon and black pepper (see note)
- 225g raw boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped into bite-sized cubes
- 2 tsp minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except for the chicken and parsley. Mix together until an even sauce forms.
Add the chicken pieces and toss to coat. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours. (Overnight is even better.)
When ready to cook, empty the contents of bowl into a frying pan and turn heat to medium-high. (Note: If you want to use a grill, skewer the chicken and cook until chicken is no longer pink inside.)
Stir-fry the chicken for 8-10 minutes or until fully cooked.
Stir in half of the parsley, then transfer the chicken to a bowl. Garnish with the remaining parsley before serving.
Note: Don’t worry if you don’t have ever single spice called for in the marinade. I’ve made variations of this where I’ve swapped in ground cardamom, cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, turmeric and za’atar, and they all taste great!
Want the recipe for the rest of the bowl shown above? You’ll find my Deconstructed Shawarma Bowl here!