Did You Know Bahrain Had A Cuisine Of Its Own? Chef Tala Bashmi Tells Us All About It & Her Culinary Journey

Tala Bashmi

Although it’s something I do very often, interviewing influential people still gets me jittery. Blame it on my introverted, socially awkward personality. I’ve spoken to top celebrity chefs and felt nervous but when I recently interacted with Bahraini Chef Tala Bashmi – who holds the title of MENA’S (Middle East & North Africa’s) Best Female Chef 2022 – I was surprisingly calmer than usual. There was a sense of zen coupled with dynamism and confidence she carried with her the moment she walked into the room.

Through her restaurant Fusions By Tala, located at the five-star Gulf Hotel in Bahrain, the chef is on a mission to bring modern Bahraini cuisine to the rest of the world. Her restaurant has garnered multiple awards, including #3 Best Restaurants in the Middle East & North Africa. And in 2023, Chef Tala was voted #63 Best Chef and Rising Star by the Best Chef Awards. 

The chef recently visited Bengaluru and Mumbai to showcase the flavours of Bahrain as part of Taj’s Rendezvous series. Curious to know what Bahraini food is all about, I chose to spend my Saturday afternoon at Taj Lands End, Mumbai, getting a peek into this cuisine by chatting with the cheh herself and then digging into a 5-course meal that was a reflection of her heritage and her culinary learnings in Switzerland.  


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by @tajlandsend

Into The Culinary World

Food wasn’t Tala Bashmi’s first choice; her dream was to be a soccer player. Unfortunately, an injury put a permanent halt to her sports career. But as they say, when one door closes, another one opens, and Tala always knew one thing – food is something that always gave her comfort. “It doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad day or a good day. Food is something that gives me joy. As I got older and cooked for people, I realised it’s my love language – to show people that I care about them. The feeling of giving back gave me satisfaction and encouraged me to do this for a living,” she tells me.  

Fusions by Tala

A baking business that she first began at home pushed her to join the professional kitchen at The Gulf Hotel, which then sent her to Switzerland to pursue formal education in culinary arts. “The restaurant has been operating for 14 years and it was always called Fusions. I think it was about 2017-18 when the management gave me the restaurant, told me to take over and gave me one year to make this place profitable. If I can do that then they will consider renovating it and I can create my concept of what this restaurant will be. And that’s how it all started,” she shares. 

All You Need To Know About Bahraini Cuisine

Just like Indian food is diverse and changes from region to region, the same holds for Arabic food. “When people look at the Middle East as a region, it’s very limiting. Nobody knows what Gulf cuisine is. So first I’ll say Levant cuisine is what you probably know as Arabic food. It is the hummus, the tabbouleh fattoush, baba ghanoush, and shish taouk. All of these things are Levant–Lebanese, Jordanian, Syrian, Palestinian,” Chef Tala explains. But the Gulf is very different and is influenced in parts by India. “The main grain that we use is rice. For us, if you don’t have rice during lunch, it’s not a meal.” 

“Bahrain is an island. We’re very well known for our fishing and pearl diving culture and heritage. My father would tell me stories about how if somebody had a chicken for lunch at home, that meant they were rich. All of our dishes and traditions come from having very little. Most of our proteins and focus are from seafood. For example, my tasting menu currently has 80% of seafood-based dishes. We do use spices that are similar to the ones you use here; we use cardamom, bay leaf, long pepper, and black pepper, but it’s a cuisine that’s built out of necessity and has just developed since. It is seafood forward,” she adds. 

Elaborating on some of Bahrain’s dishes on her menu at Fusions by Tala, she shares, “The Bahraini Tikka is different from the Indian tikka. Considered a street food, it consists of small pieces of lamb marinated with black lime, put on a skewer and cooked on charcoal. I’ve elevated that and put that as a dish in my restaurant. Another signature dish from my tasting menu is the Muhammara, which is sweetened rice with date molasses, served with fried, salty fish. So it’s the sweet-salty combination and that’s the first bite that you would get on my tasting menu.”

Some of the dishes that I enjoyed having from her the lunch prepared in Mumbai include Burraniya (Lamb, Charred Eggplant, mint, Atraf al-tib), and the dessert that was inspired by a honeycomb and featured Mango, White chocolate, Smoked honey and Chamomile. But it’s her signature Leek and clam (Leek Ravioli, Clams, Finger Lime) that stood out for me as it made leeks the main character as opposed to its usual supporting act in most dishes out there.   

The Lost Recipes Of Bahrain

Chef Tala is also on a mission to revive some of Bahrain’s traditional recipes. “If you talk to the current generation, they’ll probably have no clue what is Bahraini food unless they go to their grandmother’s house and eat there. But there are some dishes that I don’t know but I get to hear the stories of it when I go to the fish market. An elderly Bahraini man whom I buy fish from introduces me to different varieties of fish and tells me about the traditional dishes made from it. One example is a dish called Muaddam. You will barely see it served anywhere at any restaurant at all and my dad told me that if you have a family of 10, you can’t afford to feed every single one of them one fish each. So they would cook one fish, saute it with ginger, garlic, onion, spices and herbs, and then they’d spread it on top of the rice. That way everybody got a little bit of fish and rice. So I think a lot of dishes have been lost and I’m trying to revive them and bring back that spirit and that education through my tasting menu.”

Chebba is another dish that you’ll find at Bashmi’s restaurant and is a dish that her grandmother used to make. “It’s a prawn dumpling that’s stuffed with raisins and onions, and cooked in a tamarind sauce. I have barely changed it. I’ve only used the techniques I’ve learned as a chef to slightly improve it but that’s it,” she says

Combatting Sexism

As a female chef from the Middle East, Bashmi faced a lot of sexism in the initial days of her career. But she powered through it by staying focussed on her job. “It’s really difficult but important to stand up for yourself. It’s really difficult when you’re young and you’re starting out. You end up being afraid to say something but I always hope that women have some kind of mentor, someone they can trust that’s on their team and that they can have a conversation with. But it’s very important to vocalise and stand up for yourself when someone crosses a line,” she advises young and budding female chefs. 

On Her Future Plans

While there are a lot of things Bashmi wants to work on at Fusions by Tala, she admits she’s taking each day as it comes. For now, her upcoming projects involve helping refugee camps in the Middle East. “For Ramadan, we’re going to do iftar and cook for them. We’ll go from one camp to another because I just think the world needs fewer people who think about themselves and more people who help other people. The world doesn’t need more celebrities, actors, musicians, or celebrity chefs. It needs more people that give a shit. So that’s what I’m going to be doing,” she says.

- Lifestyle Editor


More From

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content