Sweet dynasty plans UAE invasion

Halwa has been popularised in Bahrain by the Showaiter family. Today an established brand name, the company is hoping to spread its success to the Emirates.

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MANAMA // With its rich history of making a local version of traditional halwa, the Showaiter family name has become synonymous with the delicacy in Bahrain. This year, the family-owned sweet company hopes to spread its success to the UAE by opening a factory and stores around the country before Eid al Fitr. Bahraini halwa is a direct descendant of the Omani version, introduced to the local cuisine more than 90 years ago following visits by Bahraini pearl divers and fishermen to Muscat.

The family modified the recipe to create a delicious local variety and then went on to establish a halwa dynasty which earned recognition beyond the Gulf. More than 25 cousins from the Showaiter family have been operating the chain of sweet shops across Bahrain, with some having already expanded into neighbouring countries while others have established a presence on the internet to serve international customers.

The dish, an integral part of the local hospitality, is served along with traditional Arabic coffee. Halwa is also a key feature of the Bahraini dessert menu during the three days of Eid that follow the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin on August 21. Sales of the dessert usually drop during Ramadan, but ahead of Eid, and throughout the year, the shop owners report high sales driven by local customers and tourists alike.

The jelly-like sweet, which is made from sugar, corn starch, saffron and nuts, is locally known as halwa Showaiter - derived from the family name and its chain of stores - but regionally and internationally the sweet is known as Bahraini halwa. Foad Mohammed, a manager for Jamal Showaiter Sweets - the largest of the 10 outlets operating across Bahrain - said that the opening of a factory in Al Ain was to support shops in two UAE malls, one in the Al Ain Mall and one that opened this week in Bawadi Mall in Al Ain.

The move, according to Mr Mohammed, is part of an effort to introduce Bahraini halwa to the UAE on a large scale. "This is only the beginning as we hope to cover the whole of the UAE in coming years as we expand," he said. "There are plans to take part in various cultural events in the UAE, in addition to the direct marketing of the stores. That is why we opened our second shop ahead of Eid." He added that they had already put in requests with local authorities to open stands and shops during the various shopping and cultural events expected to take place in the UAE in the coming months, as part of that drive.

"The key is maintaining the high quality and introducing new products. That is what helped us survive the strong competition that has come about in recent years," Mr Mohammed added. The chain, run by Jamal Showaiter, a descendant of the family's great grandfather, Hasan Showaiter, has in recent years introduced halwa types with registered trademarks, in addition to pushing ahead with efforts to introduce varieties for health conscious customers.

In addition to offering the traditional halwa - which comes in green and red - most of the chains also offer other regional sweets like sambosa, hardha, zelabiya, nashab and Arabic and Turkish coffee as well as tonic drinks. mmahdi@thenational.ae