One sweltering hot day in Bahrain’s Muharraq district, I was sitting on a ledge in the shade, scribbling random thoughts in a notebook. After a few minutes, I was interrupted by two young men from a large house across the street. “My name is Yousef,” said the tallest. “I would like to invite you to my home. This is Hassan, my cousin. We have a family gathering. Please come in and join us.”
I hesitated. A single woman, entering a house with two complete strangers? In my head, curiosity and skepticism fought a brief battle. I’m glad to say curiosity won. Inside, I was welcomed by the entire family – about 15 of them, mostly women.
Every Friday, the extended al-Matrook family meets for lunch. Everyone brings dishes.
Had I eaten lunch or should they set a table for me? Afraid of imposing, I said no thanks. Instead, I joined them for coffee. They insisted I try the whole buffet: bakhlava, creme caramel, pancakes, sweets, fruits, nuts and more.
Along with delicious Arabic coffee. I jotted down the recipe, spilling a bit as I went. After making sure I wrote it down properly, one of the women went into the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later with a jar containing some coffee and a bag of accompanying spices: cloves, cardamom and saffron. “Take this home with you,” she said. “Of course, with Arabic coffee you must have this,” she continued – and produced a large bag of ripe dates.
After a while, afraid to outstay my welcome, I got up to leave. But by then it was time for tea. I stayed for nearly two hours, made new friends, learned heaps and had a wonderful afternoon. (Probably gained a few kilos as well – but well worth it.)
Arab hospitality is legendary. Where else would a wandering stranger be invited into people’s homes like that? Certainly not in my part of the world.
Oh, and the dates? Didn’t take them on the plane with me. Ate them all for dinner. Ambrosial!