A feast for the senses
Written by Oryx
Qatari cuisine embraces the best of Middle Eastern cooking, flavoured by delicious ingredients from the spice route.
Even the names of the spices historically traded through the Middle East, such as cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, and pepper, conjure up thoughts of richly flavoured and scented meals.
From the earliest times, Arabian traders capitalised on their ideal location as a trading hub between East and West, and the legacy of the spice trade informs many of Qatar’s favourite meals today. Qatar’s history as a seafaring nation is also reflected in the many fish and shellfish dishes enjoyed as part of its cuisine. Hammour is a particular local favourite (rather like grouper). Doha has restaurants to rival New York and London, and in Souq Waqif alone it is possible to dine your way around the globe. However, a visit to Qatar is a wonderful chance to explore typical Arabian cuisine.
The day begins early in Qatar, and many choose a light breakfast of yoghurt, olives, and coffee. Laban is a popular yoghurt drink in Qatar, and gives wonderful health benefits, including helping digestion. Later in the day, the lunchtime meal is more substantial. A favourite dish is tabbouleh, a parsley, tomato, spring onion, and bulgur wheat salad (the local variety seems to favour more parsley, less wheat), flavoured with oil and lemon. Dishes featuring roasted aubergine, such as baba ghanoush and mutabal, are a popular snack, as is hummus served with fresh Arabic bread. Za’atar, a delicious blend of herbs, sesame, and salt, is often sprinkled over bread, and the herb mix makes a great gift to take home for foodie friends. For something more substantial, try Qatari machbous (also known as kabsa), which is a rice, vegetable, and meat dish flavoured with spices. This is often served in a large communal dish, and people help themselves. A few slices of freshly roasted shawarma wrapped in a warm pitta bread also make an ideal lunchtime sandwich. H’riss, a flavoursome porridge-type dish, and mathrooba, a spiced soupy mix of meat and beans, are both local favourites. Dates and almonds are a nutritious locally produced snack and feature in many recipes. North African cuisine has also influenced local tastes, and it is a great chance to try fragrant tajines with roasted spiced meat, including lamb and camel, and couscous.
The evening meal is usually lighter. Ordering a few mezze such as falafel (fried chickpeas) or sambousek (pastries filled with cheese or meat) and a fresh juice in an open-air café in the souq is an ideal way for a visitor to experience Doha’s relaxed dining scene. A local favourite is the deliciously refreshing mint and lemon, and don’t miss the tart delight of pure pomegranate juice, which is so fresh and zinging with antioxidants that you can feel it doing you good. If you have a sweet tooth, there are also plenty of wonderful bakeries in town, selling sticky baklawa flavoured with honey and pistachios. Some favourite local puddings include umm ali, a bread-based sweet, or mehalabiya, a custard flavoured with rosewater.
Karak chaihas become a favourite drink in Qatar. The fragrant, milky tea has people lining up to be served at popular cafés such as Tea Time, Al Naimi, or Chapati and Karak in Katara. To make your own, pour boiling water over a black teabag and leave to brew. Add three lumps of sugar, before adding enough milk or condensed milk to turn the cup a deep caramel.