We go in search of Bahrain’s best karak chai. Sweet!
October 26, 2014 8:19 AM
Bahrain doesn’t necessarily have a national drink but if there ever was an elixir to be crowned as such, it would have to be karak chai (although it’d be a battle with Vimto to the top). This intensely sweet tea doused with cardamom and Rainbow evaporated milk is also known as ‘Masala Chai’ and, although it originated in India, countries across the Gulf have now adopted it as their brew of choice. At Time Out Bahrain, we love nothing more than sipping from a litre dellah (jug) of karak at our desks, and so we set out in search of Bahrain’s best cuppas. Our hunt took us from Saar to Muharraq, Riffa to Sanabis and kept us up until the early hours thanks to a serious caffeine/sugar buzz but we did find some fabulous five-star contenders.
1977 Karak 5/5 A popular joint in Muharraq, 1977 Karak has literally been standing there since the ‘70s. So they’ve had decades of practice getting their brew just right. And that they do. They mix the perfect blend of spice and sugar, and it’s not too thick but not too watery. Here, we also sampled the Horlicks tea which is surprisingly delightful. Sharee’a al-hoop, Muharraq (3966 4667).
Al Naimi 4/5 Perched on the side of the bustling Bukuwara street, arguably the original home of karak in Bahrain, is this unassuming cafeteria that immediately serves up a steaming, hot cup of karak that's intensely sweet, with a good kick of black tea, and a perfect consistency. We like it a lot. Bukuwara, East Riffa (1749 0835).
Basta 23 4/5 This trendy café is definitely not a hole in the wall; it’s a modern homage to Bahrain’s past with comfortable seating and Arabic TV shows blaring in the background. It’s quaint and nostalgic, and that’s why a cup of their sweet karak is such a pleasure. Pair it with a plate of shakshooka and you’ll be very happy. Riyadat Mall, A’Ali (7777 2323).
Emma-wash 5/5 You can only order a litre dellah of karak at local neighbourhood hang-out Emma-Wash but it’s a perfectly balanced brew that you’ll lap up in no time. The best bit is they serve it without sugar so you can add it yourself, offering a cuppa wholly catered to your taste buds. While you enjoy, make sure you scribble a little something on the notable graffiti-ed walls. Budaiya Highway, near to Fish World (1730 9030).
Jabel Ali Cafeteria 4/5 Whenever you pop to Mamoon Coldstore just by Saar Village ensure you make a pit stop at this little cafeteria for your fill of karak. The sweet but spicy blend is addictive and definitely worth the minimal 150 fils you’ll spend. They also offer free home delivery. Next to Mamoon Coldstore, Saar (3515 2040).
Karak and Chapati 4/5 Our favourite thing about this little stall is its location at the Prince Khalifa bin Salman Park. It’s a picturesque spot with other food stalls, a gym, kid’s play area and even a manmade lagoon with pedalos. The chai is generously portioned and has a good balance, while the accompanying chapati (unleavened flat bread) options pair well. Prince Khalifa bin Salman Park, Hidd (no number).
King Karak Cafeteria 3/5 This is almost like the McDonald’s of the karak world here in Bahrain. Just search for the tell-tale yellow and red signs, and a frontage covered in images of global consumer products, anywhere around the island, and you’re bound to find a sweet brew. We sampled a cup at the Budaiya Highway branch, but we found it a teaspoon too sweet for our liking. Various locations across the island.
Kuwaitan Restaurant 2/5 We searched for an hour around Souq Waqif before we finally came across a spot that served real karak and not just chai halib (tea with milk). Kuwaitan Restaurant has super friendly servers, however, the chai was so sweet it actually hurt our teeth. We recommend avoiding this area when indulging your karak cravings. Souq Waqif, Hamad Town (3819 9971).
Leyan Café & Restaurant 5/5 The adorable floral pot of karak and basic but comfortable surroundings make Leyan Café one of our favourite spots for some chai in Budaiya. The café and restaurant only opened during the summer at Cypress Garden but already they’re attracting quite a crowd for their traditional food and breakfasts. Cypress Garden, Budaiya Highway (1700 7100).
Naseef Café 5/5 This charming cafe in the comfortable Bab Al Bahrain Mall serves an excellent traditional Bahraini breakfast and some very decent karak, too. The ceramic pot of tea comes to your table with a flame underneath to keep it warm, and it's sugar-less so you can make it as sweet as you like. It might be pricey (BD1) but the spot is very tourist-friendly. Bab Al Bahrain Mall, Manama (3962 2882).
Saffron 5/5 Speak of traditional Bahraini breakfasts and for many, Saffron will immediately come to mind. Although they cater more to a tourist market, with higher than usual prices, the breakfast really is delicious and their karak, doused with plenty of saffron for good measure, is very good indeed. It's not particularly easy to find but patience is certainly a virtue in this case. Souq Al Qaysariya, Muharraq (1362 3191).
Villa Mamas 4/5 Not only does Villa Mamas serve homely Mediterranean dishes but also cooks up a mean Bahraini breakfast. This comes complete with a highly enjoyable pot of karak. In the mornings, we love indulging in a cup with some eggs and tomato, foul and other breakfast goodies. Opposite Saar cinema, Saar Avenues villa complex (1730 5031).
Waad Cafeteria 2/5 Although we weren’t too keen on their weak karak that tastes more like regular tea, we did love a more unusual cinnamon tea we tried. Plus, this spot is sat right next to a shop called ‘Just Baked’ which serves the ultimate in comfort cookies. Pair your cinnamon chai with a fresh-out-of-the-oven cookie and this rating soars to a five-star. Hidd (1767 1990).
House of Coffee 5/5 This contemporary yet traditional venue is in an old house in Muharraq. The menu is interesting boasting not only the customary Bahraini breakfast but also fancier dishes featuring ingredients like quinoa. The karak is great and it's enjoyable to sit in the calm surroundings and read all about the history of coffee which is plastered on the walls. Muharraq (3662 9968).
The Chai Café brew One of the most popular spots for a cuppa in Sanabis is cosy Chai Café. If you want to learn how to brew a cup as good as they do, using their secret ingredient, then just follow these instructions…
Ingredients Tea, water, sugar, Chai Café karak powder, Rainbow Original evaporated milk Preparation Boil a litre of drinking water until it reaches 200˚C.
Add eight tablespoons of sugar (or as desired).
Add seven tablespoons of Chai Café’s karak powder and continue boiling for 15 to 20 minutes.
Use a strainer to drain the tea into the flask.
Add one 158ml plus six tablespoons of Rainbow Original to the flask.
Let it rest for a few minutes. You can buy Chai Café’s secret karak powder in-store. Sanabis, opposite Bahrain Mall, www.chai-cafe.com (1700 1727).