Americans assigned to US 5th Fleet Headquarters can get a sample of India without having to fly or board a ship.
Swagat offers South Indian cuisine, a different dining experience from the subcontinent than Americans may be used to back home.
The hearty dishes common to many West Indian restaurants – chicken tikka masala, aloo gobi, naan – come from the northern provinces of the country.
Swagat’s food, located in the Manama souk, is lighter but still hearty. South Indian foods tend to contain less heavy cream, oil, meat and bread, and more coconut milk, lentils and rice.
In Swagat, that means you can have a full meal while energized to haggle for souvenirs at the nearby gold market.
The restaurant may seem small when you first enter, but the upper floor has plenty of tables. Going up the stairs, you will pass a large menu, where you can see that almost everything costs 1 Bahraini dinar or less.
On my first visit, I wanted to try as many flavors as possible, so I ordered a thali for 600 fils, or about $1.60.
The waiter brought out the thali, a large round metal plate, loaded with 10 small bowls each filled with its own dish. One dish had spiced potatoes, and others had yogurt, pickled vegetables, chutneys or fluffy long grain rice.
I tasted each flavor and decided my favorite was a sweet dessert made with semolina, nuts and saffron.
I went back another night to Swagat and ordered a paper dosa. A dosa is like a pancake made from fermented rice and lentil paste, stretched like a thin layer. This was shaped into what looked like a parchment so large it took up the width of the table.
The crispy edges of the dosa provided a satisfying crunch as I ate with my hands, tearing portions to dip into tamarind and cilantro sauces.
I washed down my meal with a glass of pineapple juice, light and refreshing like everything I had tried at Swagat.
The friendly waiter, who spoke decent English, recognized me on my second visit.
He said most of Swagat’s clientele are made up of working Indians, Bahrain’s largest expatriate community, making the place a local favorite.
While the lower part of the restaurant was hectic at times, the upstairs dining room fostered a cozy atmosphere, with a few families eating together.
The menu includes North Indian dishes, but I didn’t get a chance to try them.
Instead, I enjoyed the unique tastes of South Indian cuisine and left energized to continue exploring the nearby souk.
Directions: The restaurant is about a three-minute walk from the Bab Al Bahrain entrance to the souk. Uber offers rides from Naval Support Activities Bahrain. Parking outside the souk and walking to the restaurant is the most convenient way to get there.
Hours: 6am-11pm daily; special hours during Ramadan
Cost: Most dishes are less than 1 Bahraini dinar
Information: Phone: +973 1722 5137