Cooler weather means plenty of things in the hustle and bustle of Kuwait’s tiny nation. It means those bone-chilling desert winters we’re always talking about, promptly ushering in scents of musky fur, wool, bukhoor and chai bubbling over coals and fire. It anticipates tastes of hot liquids paired with breads oozing melted cheese while sitting outdoors. And of course, it ignites a more active lifestyle, and the constant desire to spend as much time as possible outdoors. This, in turn gives us the opportunity to reconnect with our roots, and the quaint qualities that make this country so great: Just like the old Mubarakiya Souq.
Mubarakiya is a quintessential hub for Kuwaiti culture, and with the allure of walking through the alleys of Kuwait’s old markets comes the need for nourishment – be it an urge to eat, to relax, to reconnect with love ones, or all of the above. That’s where the lovely eatery Khaneen comes in. This local concept prides itself in serving up a melting pot of flavors that defines Kuwait’s love of food. So, in preparation for the coziest season’s commencement, we paid a visit to our favorite Khaneen location to get ourselves in the mood.
Khaneen’s Mubarakiya location has an outdoor seating area that elicits such specific emotions that are difficult to pinpoint. Canopied beneath accommodating canvas umbrellas are vast tables and chairs suited for both intimate and family-style dining. Overlooking the quiet path to the souq, as well as the urban jungle of old-time Kuwait City, a wave of nostalgia may rush over you, reintroducing feelings that mimic the days when weekends were Thursday and Friday.
Then you have Khaneen’s entryway, which imitates the entrance to a traditional Kuwaiti house. Big wooden doors, welcoming you into a fun interior filled with colorful, kitschy details that nod to the country’s new generation: lovers of tradition, mixed in with good natured shabby chic décor.
Lest we forget the food. In Khaneen’s menu, you can find yourself traveling around the globe, immersing oneself in the delicious gastronomical favorites of most continents that have made their presence known in Kuwait, and have, in return, made an impression on Kuwaiti palates. This, like the restaurant’s fitting Mubarakiya location, pays tribute to the notion that multiculturalism is what makes the heart of Kuwait so… Kuwait.
The Levantine presence in Kuwait is very apparent in this menu, and so we decided to kick it off with founder Amar Fouzan’s rendition of a delicious and refreshing Mediterranean salad: the Grilled Halloumi Salad. Our beloved cheese was grilled to perfection and served atop a bed of fresh rocket leaves, drizzled with olive oil, lemon and tangy pomegranate molasses. Alongside a tempting plate of Khaneen Fries, classic hand-cut potatoes crisply fried and mixed with sautéed coriander, garlic and roasted red capsicum, an explosion of flavors were delivered to our first course, and had already sent us into fantasies of dining alfresco in months to come.
Next up, we decided to go a more traditional route and sampled a delicious Kuwaiti concoction: triangular savory crepes filled with labna and zaatar. Reminiscent of the famous Ramadan tashriba dish, this appetizing fix is ideal for breakfast, dinner or as a snack! But be warned, they can be very addictive, and as illustrated on their menu, options for filling are endless!
Because Kuwaiti cuisine is best known for being comforting and hearty, we couldn’t resist tucking into classic dishes that would make even the sassiest of grandmothers proud. Pan-fried shrimps made their way onto our table, served with some of the best Iranian bread I’d ever tried. This dish was listed under the menu’s category Hamsat, which in and of itself is a term that encourages dipping!
The shrimp were prepared with onion, coriander and tomato, and created a thick, stew-like consistency of goodness. Pair that with the soft crust of a freshly baked Iranian bread, and you’re in Hamsat heaven.
Another essential Kuwaiti dish on the table was Gaboot. Any Kuwaiti will furrow their eyebrows in slight confusion when trying to describe this hearty stew, and will settle for comparing it to ravioli. Trust me, however, when I say that this heartwarming dish is in a league of its own! Its similarities to ravioli lie in that it’s a dumpling-based dish, but the similarities end there. It’s so tender and has been slow cooked with chunks of tender meat in a bubbling pot of flavored tomato stew with veggies, so the dumplings practically disintegrate due to the powerfulness of the dish’s flavor. To me, this was every Kuwaiti household’s best kept secret, and I kept demanding to know from my fellow (obviously Kuwaiti) diners why families keep hiding behind the decadence of Machboos rather than making this their main attraction!
Feeling warmed and satiated from our delicious meal, we decided to embrace the beginnings of good weather by taking our tea and sweet endings alfresco, in order to enjoy Khaneen’s lovely outdoor setup. We were, surprisingly, presented with a lovely set of Karak chai, placed in an intricately painted pot heating atop a traditional coal-element powered heating device. To enjoy with the sweet, hot liquid, we were gifted not one, but three types of traditional desserts! Elba, a Kuwaiti custard baked and steamed with heavenly accents of cardamom and saffron, a cheesy House Kunafa served with a thick, sweet syrup and a heavenly date cake, which we paid more attention to than necessary.
While indulging in the coziness of Khaneen Mubarakiya, it was clearly an obvious choice. Between the delightfulness of this restaurant’s twist on tradition, cross culture and modernity with their dishes, that delicious Gaboot and perfect Iranian bread, as well as the steaming hot Karak enjoyed on their lovely scenic terrace, we have a great thing going here. Khaneen’s Mubarakiya location embodies everything we’re looking for this winter, in the midst of Kuwait’s heart. We hope to see you there in the coming months, enjoying their freshest foods for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and cozying up to your loved ones over a steaming cup of Karak.
Khaneen is located in Souk Mubarakiya – Oman Street, and Murouj off 6th Ring Road. They are also available for delivery via Carriage and Talabat. Follow them on Instagram @khaneen.restaurant and Facebook: Khaneen Restaurant.
Additional photography by Muneera Alkhulaifi @i9ora on Instagram.