It's funny how you start seeing things you never knew existed once you have been made aware of their presence.
I only discovered mahyawa this year when a Bahraini colleague mentioned it a couple of months ago while discussing Bahraini food. "An anchovy paste" is how he described it, and to be honest I didn't spend too much time thinking about it.
Fast forward a month and I found the stuff being sold in big tubs at the Deira Fish Market, when it was pointed out by Arva of Frying Pan Adventures along with other weird and wonderful market finds. It looked a bit like the pots of festering fish sauce I had come across in Vietnam. Again, no opportunity to try the stuff and I forgot all about it.
Which brings me to the point where I did finally get a chance to sink my teeth into this delicious spread. Having spent a couple of days in Bahrain on work - with no real opportunity to seek out or taste any Bahraini food - and only a couple of hours before my flight back to Dubai - I had given up on my chances of finding something local to try. Instead I decided to kill my time wandering around Bab Al Bahrain (Manama souq area) before wiling the way the rest of my evening over shisha with colleagues.
And that's where I finally got to taste some mahyawa - which truth be told, I had completely forgotten about! A plate of the stuff sandwiched between thin crepe like bread appeared on the table. We thought it was filled with cheese. But the oozy brown stuff in between didn't look like cheese. And it certainly didn't taste like it!
Non fans of anchovies shouldn't be put off by the idea. The fish paste is very mild and not as salty as anchovy paste (I'm not sure if it actually is made out of anchovies or a local fish that is very similar). The paste is created by mixing the dried, salted fish with fennel seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and mustard seeds and has that very satisfying umami taste of fermented fish. With the hot bread, a steaming mug of ginger and honey tea, and the fruity scent of shisha wafting through the air, it was perfect!
Mahyawa originally comes from Iran and crossed the Gulf to Arabian shores where it is popular along the entire Gulf Arab coast. With the increased interest in local GCC ingredients in the Dubai food scene today, I hope I get to see more of this stuff on the menu.
Anyone else a fan of mahyawa? Or of any other Bahraini delights I missed out on and should try the next time I am in town?
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