Riffa Central Market – grocery shopping Bahrain style!

Ah….. food shopping on our tiny desert island kingdom.  Yes, it’s a bit different, though you CAN shop at main-stream markets like Carrefour and Al Osra, Jazeera etc. and find most all the products you want.  Perhaps.  Sometimes.

But I’m a seeker of experiences, and local shopping is definitely an experience….

Central Markets are located in each of the villages, I believe, providing a… well… a central market from which to shop.  Our village of Riffa has one as well, one part fruits/veggies and one part meats/seafood.  Now, if you’re expecting your produce to be neatly prepared, wrapped and displayed, this is not your best bet.  And if your meats must come on a green styrofoam tray with clear wrap, just click outta here right now, because the central markets aren’t like that.

But they ARE fresh, and local, and I like that…… and am willing to forego the green styrofoam trays and produce packaging to eat local.

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Pretty unassuming looking, isn’t it? Down that tiny little alley with the white and red sign above on the left side.

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Nothing flashy about it at all… no neon, no sale signs, nothing. Just a set of old worn marble steps up to the building.

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A few steps after the Fruit/Veggie market (passing by the little tearoom/cafeteria where women aren’t welcome) is the Fish and Meat Market. See all that white tile? Remember that….

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It’s in a tiny, narrow alley, with stairs and a ramp…. and white tile.

OK, so you’ve seen the outside, lemme show you the inside of the fruits and veggies market…..

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When you walk in, it’s clean, and bright, and filled to bursting with fresh fruits and veggies….. some local, some imported.  Remember, this is a tiny desert island, and has a VERY short growing season for some things, it’s simply too hot here for some crops.

Gents will lift and offer their produce to you as you pass hoping to catch your eye, grab your interest, and make a sale.  But of course, people end up with their favorite merchants, and mine’s all the way at the end of the building, so I walk past all the others, not making eye contact or slowing down.  He was too shy to have his photo “clicked”…. but the photos above are a part of his stall.

Look at how well-presented these vegetables are.... and such variety!

Look at how well-presented these vegetables are…. and such variety!  It’s a good-sized market, too, you can see other stalls in the background.

On this day, I bought 3 big green peppers, a half-dozen heads of garlic, 2 big onions and about 6 of the finest little orange/tangerine things…. all for 900 fils ($2.35).  Communication is critical…. he handed me this little tangerine, I peeled and tasted it and said “Very good!  Six please!”  and he started counting cases of tangerines for me to buy.  As soon as I realized that he thought I wanted six CASES and I wanted six EACH….. I said “no, no…. six only.  Six each.”….. he looked at me and said “only six PIECES, madame?”….. families are big here, and six cases wasn’t at all odd.  OK, well, I thought it was funny.

I moved on to the Fish and Meat Market – which is a pretty authentic shopping experience…. again, if you’re squeamish, click away now.

Going inside, it’s a large, square white tiled room with drains in the floors……..Drains are to keep the building clean, washing down the blood and such after the day’s work.  But there are stalls lining the walls, and from left to right, you see the first couple stalls are goats, then some beef and I *think* camel meat, but couldn’t quite understand if that’s what it was.  One of the butchers kept the head of the critter handy – it was either for sale, or to show us what kind of meat he was offering.  Then there is the chicken man in the corner with the pallet of chickens, then there’s another lamb/mutton guy, then the seafood begins….  and it’s SUCH a variety!  Fish, crab, prawns, eel, squid, shark, it’s truly amazing all the variety offered.  I tried to learn the names of many, but they escape me…. so enjoy the visuals. (You’ll have to imagine the sounds and smells).

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This was a beef guy….. look at how concave his cutting board is? That means there have been many many critters cut up for meals here! And check out the weights for his scale….. low tech but efficient!

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This day, I bought 4 chickens from the chicken guy in the corner, who pretended not to know what I meant when I asked if I could “click” a photo of him….. the chickens are fresh, and come cleaned and whole in a bag. I wanted them skinned and de-boned, so I took the bags to the guy next door, and he and his partner de-boned them for me in a matter of minutes!

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As my chickens were efficiently skinned and de-boned, I noticed his chopping block…. his was a waist-high tree stump. Now, can you just imagine how many critters have been sliced and diced on this?? Bahrain doesn’t have a lot of trees, much less many of this size – it’s a treasure, for sure. Oh, and he’s using a razor-sharp cleaver to do the work.

The first time I bought chickens and had them de-boned here, I asked for the skin and bones to be kept for me.  I use them with vegetables to make a rich chicken stock for soups and stews.  The butcher gents looked at me with curiosity upon the request…. I explained soup, stews, and they understood, and eagerly scooped up the cast aside skin and bones…. and said, “you wish more, madame?”  and gathered up other cast off bits as well….. filled my freezer with chicken stock for months!

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Yumm…. beef ribs!

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The stall next to the beef ribs guy must be selling sheep. Or is that a goat skull? Without the fur and hooves and tails, I’m kinda lost……

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Part of the seafood section…. this one has my favorite shrimp (prawns) guy, Hassan….. you’ll see a photo of him in a red and white headdress. Yes, he uses a slice of a tree stump as a cutting board as well – and displays his day’s specials on it. This day’s prices on lovely shrimp were 2.500 dinars a kilo….. (he wanted 3 but you bargain)…. that’s about $3.00 a pound or so. He weighed up my purchase, then asked if I wanted them cleaned, shelled and de-headed… well sure!

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Another fish vendor – had gorgeous prawns, but they were huge, about 6-8″ each, and I wanted smaller ones for a jambalaya for supper….. he was still trying to entice me to buy some of his fish, though! That’s Hassan behind him.

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Yup… fish all over… there are some sharks on this platter! And there are flies buzzing all around – can’t be avoided this time of year. Oh, and the cats! Inside the building, in the center, there are benches where people sit to rest, pass the time of day with other shoppers, or visit with their neighbors. And the feral cats come inside the market, sitting about 6-8′ from the stalls….. they wait for the vendors to flip out a fish head, or a scrap and then they leap, snatch it up, and carry off their prize. They don’t approach the vendors, don’t bother the people, and I suppose they keep the other critters at bay. Just an oddity.

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Now, I got to the market late, around 1030 am….. and these crabs were still crawling around in their wire basket. Lovely and fresh, aren’t they?

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Hassan, cleaning the shrimp for me. Then, they get popped into a wal-mart kinda plastic bag, and if you’ve more shopping to do, or if you’re carrying other bags, he’ll kindly double-bag it for you.

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These were the giant prawns I passed up…. just too big for what I needed. I forget the names of these small fish, but they were popular, being bought by the dozen. Again, the scale with weights.

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Having a few minutes breathing room, this vendor was mugging for the camera, and trying to get me to buy the long silver fish. Sadly, ,my fish-cooking skills need honing!

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Lovely variety!

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The cleaned shrimp, ready to join some of the chicken in the evening’s jambalaya supper.

Now, yes, there are other grocery stores, other markets, but just like any other place in the world, you end up with your favorites.  I enjoy this market, no matter how difficult it can be to get to, how impossible parking may be, or how hit-and-miss the inventory…. it’s definitely an experience.

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