A ‘souq’ is an open marketplace traditional to the Middle East and North Africa. Bahrain has a few such bazaars that seem to live and breathe, sprinkling visitors with their own unique charm, writes Behnaz Sanjana.
Rustic Appeal – Muharraq Souq
The ‘city’ of Muharraq is the third largest on the island, connected to the mainland by bridges. It boasts its very own souq, Al Qaisariya. One can wander around the area marvelling at the range of wares sold here; spices, teas and even pearls, as you inhale the aromas of halawa, a traditional Bahraini treat, and tiny sweet samoosas being made in sweetshops dotting the bazaar. They’re a perfect accompaniment to the bitter taste of gahwa, should you decide to sip on one on your pit stop in the market. Hussain Mohammed Showaiter Sweets makes some of the best. If all the roaming about makes you ravenous, then Saffron By Jena, nestled amongst old houses in the heart of the area, is great for authentic and tasty Bahraini fare.
The Gentle Giant – Manama Souq
This is the old bazaar of the capital city Manama; a labyrinth of shops, small and big selling everything from antiques and Arabic perfumes to jewellery and electronics. The archway of the Bab Al Bahrain building, (literal translation: Gateway of Bahrain), which once housed government offices, marks its main entry point. The revered Shri Krishna Temple here has blessed devotees for over a century, and many famous business houses of today had their humble origins in this souq. The bazaar has its own sub-souqs; while some by-lanes are chock-a-block with rolls and rolls of colourful textiles, others are fragrant with exotic spices, and yet others dazzle with jewellers selling exquisite gold, silver, gemstones and pearl jewellery.
Fresh and Green – Central Market
This sprawling marketplace is well-known for the purchase of the freshest produce that is either grown on Bahrain’s soil, or imported. Located down the road from Manama Souq, off Lulu Avenue, it’s the place to find great bargains on the wholesale and retail trade of fruits and vegetables. There is a separate air-conditioned section for the fish market, thronged by locals and expatriates alike, to get their hands on the freshest catch of the morning. It’s a thriving entity from the wee hours in the morning to late afternoon, after which the area gets pretty deserted, only to be raring to go the next day.
Bizarre Bargains – Isa Town Market
This is an open-plan bazaar located in, you guessed it, Isa Town! It is home to a motley mix of shops selling furniture, kitchen and home ware, wholesale groceries, cheap toys and clothes. Here you can find several outlets selling carpets and mattresses at a relative pittance, and numerous shops where you can buy curtains or get your sofas upholstered for a bargain. Come the weekend, and this area is abuzz with Souq Almaqasees, a fascinating flea market. Fly-by-night peddlers line the narrow pathways of the maze with their inexpensive (and often second-hand) wares – racks of clothes, antique show pieces and electronics, books, household items and other unusual miscellanea. The grape vine has it that there once was a crocodile and a cheetah (!!!) up for the bid, just to give you an idea of what you might stumble across here. On a more serious note, we recommend staying well away from the animal section which activists are trying to have closed down.
Seasonal Pop-up – Weekly Bahraini Farmer’s Market
Located in Budaiya Botanical Gardens, this is a treasure trove of regular and not-so-regular fruits and vegetables and food stalls selling breakfast and snacks. The Saturday morning market initiative was undertaken to lend a stage to Bahrain’s agricultural sector and spread awareness of the variety of vegetation that can thrive on the island’s fertile soils. It also aims to supplement the income of native farmers and encourage residents to buy local. But do hurry; it’s seasonal and closes at the end of the month.