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Machboos – Bahrain National Dish – Day 24/Dish 12

January 31, 2010

Before we begin, a bit of foreshadowing is in order.  This is my friend and occasional sous chef Bryan.  You can follow him at .  Bryan is a passionate foodie and professional makeup artist who works on films.  This photo was taken seconds after he finished the Machboos and seconds before he licked his plate clean…  Take special notice of the greasy finger; a sure sign that the chicken passed the finger licking test!

To travel to Bahrain from the Bahamas, we sail back across the Atlantic, head east over the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal.  After we sail around the Arabian Peninsula we pass Yemen, Oman and enter the Persian Gulf near the United Arab Emirates.   Just beyond Qatar off the southern shores of the Gulf is the island nation of Bahrain.   

The Kingdom of Bahrain in Arabic means the “Kingdom of Two Seas” and is a small prosperous island nation perched between Qatar to the east and Saudi Arabia to the west.  Originally, Bahrain relied on pearl fishing.  Like many of its neighbors, Bahrain suddenly found itself incredibly wealthy from oil.  Oil was first discovered here in 1932 causing an upsurge in the economic fortunes of the nation. 

Today Bahrain is ruled by the Al Khalifa Royal family.  The ascendancy of the Al Khalifas’ began when they were forced out of Kuwait in 1766 and settled in Bahrain.  Tradition holds that the tribe were brigands and pirates, thus causing their exile from their home place. After 100 years in Bahrain, a series of treaties with the United Kingdom paved the way for the Al Khalifa ascendancy to the throne.  The King was officially recognized as such in 2002.  The Al Khalifa government has granted rights to women including the right to vote and hold public office.  Bahrain has diversified its economy to include banking and in doing so has become the center of banking within the region. Bahrain is seen by outsiders as a very modern and progressive nation within the Arab World.  This has set up more than one conflict between progressive and conservative Islamists.  The government has structured their hierarchy to include representatives from both sides of this argument as well as both Shia and Sunni Muslims and even some women.  Most notably the appointment of Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa, an attorney and Women’s rights activist to the role of President of the UN General Assembly when Bahrain took the UN lead in 2006.  This was only the third time in the history of the UN that a woman had held the role.         

Bahrain is strategically located in the heart of the Persian Gulf and has been invaded on more than one occasion.  This along with trade relationships with places such as India has helped to develop the diverse local culture that exists today.  This can be seen in the art, music and also cuisine of the Kingdom. 

The national dish of Bahrain certainly contains the influence of foreign lands and people.  Machboos is similar to many regional favorites in its use of rice as the base of the dish and chicken as the protein, accompanied by significant levels of spices.  The introduction of a spice blend called “Baharat” is very similar in makeup to Garam Masala, a common Indian Curry powder.  In fact, in the original recipe, the author writes Garam Masala instead of Baharat in the directions although they list it as Baharat in the Ingredients list.  The use of Coriander (Cilantro) and Cardamom, Turmeric and others is indicative of a cuisine that is influenced by the spice trade of Greater Asia.  The use of Rose Water in finishing the dish is a delicate addition that somehow binds all of the spices together into a cohesive and delicious flavor profile.

I give this dish a 3-4 for difficulty.  The primary challenge lies in the Rose Water.  It is both expensive and hard to locate in my area.  Check Indian Grocers or Western Asian/Arab Grocers to locate a ready-made bottle.  It is a very expensive ingredient.  To make a batch requires 3-4 quarts of rose petals and a homemade distillery.  I used pure therapeutic grade essential oils (Important: Check the grade and purity of any oil used in cooking!) in distilled water to produce this ingredient.  The oil cost nearly $100 dollars per bottle for about 1 oz but is very powerful and needs only 1 drop to make the necessary amount.  Store bought rose water may cost between 10 and 20 dollars for even a small bottle.  Use it sparingly and according to the directions!   I have edited the recipe for additional clarity and ease of preparation, but I am leaving the essential process intact.  For your information, the rice will be very soft and almost a porridge.



Appearance: 3 out of 5

Aroma: 4 out of 5

Flavor: 4 out of 5 (The chicken is excellent)

Total:  11 out of 15


4 1/2 cups water

650g (3 cups) Basmati rice

3 tomatoes, quartered

1-1.5 kg Chicken

3 Onions, finely chopped

1/4 cup Coriander leaves, chopped

1 Green Hot Pepper, sliced leaving the seeds in(I used a Jalapeno)

2 Black Dried Limes  whole (Substitute Kefir lime leaves)

2 tsp Baharat (Click link for Baharat recipe)

1 1/2 tsp Turmeric powder

1 tsp Cumin Powder

2 tsp Cinnamon powder

1 tsp Cardamom powder

1 clove of Garlic

1 slice of Ginger, peeled and sliced thin

3 Tbsp Butter

1/4 cup Lemon Juice

3 Tbsp Rose Water

3 Tbsp Vegetable Oil

3 tsp. Kosher Salt


Begin by boiling the water and set it aside when it boils.

Cut the chicken in half.

 In a small bowl, mix the spices (garam masala, turmeric, cumin, and cardamom) together and add to the mixture one teaspoon of salt.

Sprinkle half of the spice mixture on the chicken halves.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan to medium high.

Fry the onions till golden brown.

Add the Jalapeno pepper and the Black Lime but make sure that you make a hole in the limes.

Add the Chicken to the Onion mixture and turn it over a few times in the pan.

Sprinkle a teaspoon of Cinnamon and the rest of the mixed Spices over top of the Chicken making sure to coat it thoroughly.

Cover the pan and let it cook on medium heat for 3 minutes.

Add the Garlic, Ginger, and Tomato cubes to the pan and turn the ingredients in the pan a few times.

Cover again for 3 minutes on medium heat.

Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tbsp of salt and pour the hot water into the pot.

Cover the pan and let it cook for about 1 hour, or until the chicken is cooked.

While the chicken is cooking, wash the rice 4-5 times till the water is clear and soak for 10 minutes in cold water, then drain.

Add the chopped coriander 5 minutes before you remove the chicken from the stock in the pan.

Remove the chicken from the pan and put on an oven tray, brush with some oil and sprinkle with the rest of the cinnamon powder and a pinch of salt.

Add the rice to the chicken stock, stir then let it cook on low heat until the rice absorbs most of the stock;  about 10 minutes.  The remaining liquid will continue to absorb into the rice as it continues to cook.

Sprinkle the rice with rose water and lemon juice and stir.

Place the butter pieces on top of the rice.

Cover the pan and cook on low heat for 30 minutes.

When you have about 10 minutes to go on the rice, broil the chicken on high in the oven until the chicken is golden brown, about 5 minutes.  

Serve the rice on a large serving plate and place the grilled chicken halves on the top for a great Middle Eastern meal!

Recipe Source:

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Bryanmakeup permalink
    February 2, 2010 1:40 am

    This was such an interesting dish to create with Eric. Its all about the spices, so much in fact, half way through the cooking process we both agreed there was no way this was going to suck. The house smelled absolutely divine. My only issue I had with the recipe is the author blindly assumes you’ve either made it or eaten it before. If I’d made it before then would I need a stinking recipe? Well I might, but at least I’d know where I’m going with it. And that was thing, we didn’t. We’d jumped in this boat and baby we were sailing. To where, remains to be seen. But much like a good head wind, the aroma of spice in the air told us it was going to be good. I do have one caution. We are dealing with dry, ground, spices like paprika and cinnamon which burn easily. My advice would be to cook your onion to translucent, add your garlic and ginger and dried limes at the same time. Cook them for about 2 minutes. Then add the other half of your spice blend and cook for a moment. At this point I’d add just a little bit of your water to keep the spices from burning. Since we are browning the chicken in the oven later there is no need to try and sear it. You will again just take the chance of burning those precious spices. Drop in your chicken and remaining veggies, add your water and cover. If you chose to use Kaffir lime leaves as we did then wait and put them in for the last 30 minutes of cooking. The other thing was we had no idea what texture of rice to go for, and after the long cook time it was kinda mush. I mean don’t get me wrong. I like mush, especially mush that tastes as dreamy as this. But a little warning would have been nice. If you can’t deal with rice this soft then decrease some of the cook time and maybe even some of the water. But either way this was down right delicious. So much so that through out the rest of the evening we both made trips back to the pot for more. This may be a dish that takes some time to prepare but believe me your patience will be rewarded.

  2. Nouf permalink
    May 10, 2010 10:42 am

    Hello there,
    I actually come from Bahrain and I was surprised to see a non arab who is interested in our machboos..
    I’ll have to say you did an amazing job, although I have to comment on the rice which looks a little like risotto. When I add water to the rice i make sure its just 1 cm above the rice that way it won’t turn out to be soggy. other than that great and the chicken looks perfect 😉

    • May 10, 2010 2:25 pm

      Hi Nouf,

      I enjoyed the Machboos very much as I tend to do with most Arabic food. Such lovely aromas and spices. The contrasts are subtle but beautiful. I doesn’t hurt that my wife is of Arabic descent. 🙂 I hope you return regularly and enjoy the many wonderful foods of thw world. There are so many places to visit and sample….

      BTW I agree on the texture of this rice recipe. I appreciate the tip on how you prepare it. I will employ that method on the next attempt….

      Eric Ackerson

  3. Star permalink
    September 22, 2010 6:06 pm

    Baharat is name of India in local languages (like Hindostan), maybe thats why Garam Masala also got this name Baharat 🙂


  1. Machboos – Bahrain National Dish – Day 24/Dish 12 « MyHungryTum | Bahrain Today

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