Ditch the mall and hit the souq for an authentic shopping experience
Time Out Bahrain staff
The souq? That just means ‘less good than a mall’, doesn’t it? Actually the word is Arabic for ‘marketplace’ but for visitors to Bahrain it is much more than that. This open-air trading centre is where you can still experience the bustling trading hub past of Bahrain and soak up some authentic street life while you’re at it. The district is best explained as a rabbit warren of interconnecting streets through old Manama.
Okay, you got me interested. But is it really better than going straight to the mall? A trip to the Manama Souq is about much more than buying in a sanitised and spotless environment. The side streets and alleyways thrum with sights, sounds, scents, tastes and textures, making this an experience to remember rather than a function to perform. Drink chai, eat a shawarma and go forth and haggle with traders for your own good.
Wait, what? I can haggle over the price? Never, ever pay the original suggested price for anything in the Manama Souq. It is expected that you will negotiate a lower price and find value on your goods.
Got you, but it’s all pashminas and cuddly camels, isn’t it? Yes, there are enough souvenir shops to knock any tourist’s socks and sandals off, but there’s more to the area than tat. Wander far enough and you’ll find gold jewellery, exotic spices, hand-woven rugs and tailored suits.
Sold. How do I get there? On foot is the only way to seriously consider the journey. The streets are crowded and compact so don’t expect to cruise in your 4x4. Best thing to do is to park up at a nearby carpark (next to InterContinental Regency) and start exploring.
Sounds like hungry work – should I take a packed lunch? Don’t you dare. The side streets have some of the most budget-friendly restaurants in the city. You won’t get fine dining here but you can discover some authentic gems. Try Swagat. Don’t be put off by basic exteriors – jump right in and order handfuls of delicious Indian veggie food for just a few coins. Same goes for eccentric Filipino restaurant Swan Lake or aromatic, award-winning budget Thai snackstop Honey’s.
Only in Manama Souq
Naseef Café This restaurant stalwart is well known for serving a delicious Bahraini breakfast complete with foul, eggs and tomato, and some of the best karak we’ve tasted. But the real shining star of this humble café in Bab Al Bahrain Mall is the mango ice cream. It’s still just as good as it was the day they perfected the recipe back in 1920.