“Even in Bahrain, I’ve never seen a Bahraini restaurant,” says Abba Al Meftah, a native of the island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The 35-year-old fashion-marketing manager is standing in her Venice home beside a dining table that looks ready to buckle beneath its burden. “We know how to cook—why would we want the same food when we dine out?” she says. Scattering cashews over vibrant pilaf, one of several Bahraini dishes she has spent the day cooking for friends, she has a point. Much of the world’s finest food isn’t carved tableside by a tuxedoed waiter or even slung from a street corner. It’s simmering in the humble kitchen of a generous cook.
Al Meftah recalls watching her father sneak into friends’ pantries and tinker with their sauces, suggesting cardamom here, citrus there. It was from him that she learned how to make Bahrain’s trademark dish, machboos—halved chickens over a bed of rice dotted with dried Persian limes and onions. Curried whole fish arrives with basmati dyed brown from caramelized sugar. The smell of toasted spices goads our appetites. As Al Meftah passes around the rosewater pudding with pistachios, she smiles over the waning repast. “Cooking for friends and family at home, it’s my kind of therapy,” she says.