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Food in Qatar

Qatar food and food Etiquette

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Arabic Dishes, Rules and Etiquette

Starter at the Al Bandar fish marketQataris pride themselves on their hospitality, and food and drink is an important part of this. When visiting houses, accept at least some of the pro-offered and drink, even if it is extremely sweet: if you refuse hospitality you may offend your hosts.

Many people in Qatar don't use knives and forks when eating traditional food, preferring to use their right hand – the left hand should not be used for eating, or indeed for shaking hand, as it is reserved for more demeaning tasks. Of course, the hand should be clean and the nails cut short. Polite Qataris will only use three, or perhaps four, of their fingers to pick up the food. Alternatively, they may use bread to scoop up the food.

When speaking to Qataris about their food, it is quickly obvious that they have a sweet tooth. Many of the dishes they eat use sugar, and many Qataris believe in consuming a spoonful of honey morning and night. Dates are a very important food, and can be consumed at any time of the day. A visitor should always be offered dates, and if you have any dealings with Qataris you probably will be.



The importance of these dates can not be over-emphasized. This abundant fruit can be eaten at any time of day, and is served to guests as a mark of hospitality. Even today, business is often conducted only after dates have been offered. Despite it sweetness, the date is full of vitamins and a good source of energy. Dates are considered especially important during Ramadan, and will be eaten at the breaking of the fast. Rice is also considered a staple food, and in olden days was brought into Qatar by trading caravans.

Seafood has always been incredibly abundant: so much so that at times large quantities of fish were shipped abroad for use as fertilizer. Seafood obviously played a huge role in the subsistence of the Qatari family. However, it was so cheap and available that families were often embarrassed to serve it if they had guests. A fabulous array of fresh seafood can still be see on display at Doha's Wholesale Markets.


A selection of seafood at the fishmarket

Those who lived in the desert relied heavily on camels and camel milk. Young camel in particular is considered an especial delicacy. Bedouin also ate a special bread, which was mixed with dates and cooked in hot sand.

Breakfast in Qatar is normally early: Qataris get up well before the average Westerner both to pray and to start an early working day. Originally breakfast could be a heavy affair, meant to see a person through the long working day and might consist of milk, coffee or tea, olives, bread, cheese, eggs, or yogurt and dishes such as Balaleet, a bed of noodles cooked with sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and saffron and served with an omelet on top. Houmous is popular nowadays, although traditionally Qataris would eat Michee – similar to Houmous, but made without Tahina.

Nowadays, most Qataris take a light breakfast. However, a Qatari may order a breakfast to work to share with his colleagues, especially when he or she has something to celebrate. These breakfasts often take the form of different types of breads, some filled with meat or Laban – a creamy milk product which tastes similar to youghurt. One of our favourite dishes is zatar pies – Arabic bread baked with liberal quantities of thyme.

Lunch is normally taken at twelve thirty or one o'clock, during the afternoon break. Rice is often served with spicy meat or fish. Dinner in the past was normally light, although not at times of fasting, when the appetite is of course whetted by a day without food or drink. A favourite dish is Matchboush, which is meat cooked until it is incredibly tender, and served with spices and rice. Harrees, which many women hate cooking because of the long hours required, is made with soaked split wheat and meat, and must be cooked for several hours – just how long depends on who you are talking to. While these dishes are not always to Westerners' tastes, one that most will like is Om Ali (mother of Ali). This is a typical desert, resembling a cross between bread and rice pudding, but more delicious than either.



Advertisement for burger king during RamadanNowadays, unfortunately, many Qataris seemed to have adopted the American style of eating KFC, Mac Donald's and other fastfood restaurants are now popular throghout Doha. Heavy marketing takes place at Ramadan: in image opposite shows Burger King represents the Islamic Moon as a giant burger to encourage Muslims to break their fast in one of their outlets.

Perhaps as a result of this new obsession with fast food. Qatar now has huge problems with diabetes. Some residents refuse to accept that a high rate of diabetes can be linked to diet: I have been told quite firmly that the main cause of diabetes is thinking too much.

Rules

Pork is illegal in Qatar, and observant Muslims will not drink alcohol. The meat they eat must be Halal: the name of God must be uttered at the moment the animal is killed (normally by slitting its throat) and as much blood as possible should be drained out of the animals body before it dies.

Where to Eat Qatar food

You can buy small plates of traditional Qatar food in Souq Waqif, and many restaurants will serve some of the standard Qatari dishes such as Machtbus. We reccomend Al Tawash, opposite the Souq Waqif Art Center. However, Qatari women swear that Qatar fod from restaurants will not taste like home-cooked Qatar food.

See Doha Restaurants for more ideas on where to eat in Qatar.

Snacks

Sandwiches are cheap (normally 2-3 riyals) and readily available. Instead of being packed between white slices of bread, they are often wrapped in Arabic bread and can be had plain or spicy.

Schwarma (similar to the Kebab in Turkey) consists of meat marinated for 24 hours in spices and tomato paste, and then cooked slowly on a skewer over a hot flame. Then it is sliced off and wrapped up in Arabic bread with salad and chilli sauce. Shwarma can also be served as a complete meal, along with rice and chips.

Falafel – this is another cheap snack, with prices starting from 2 riyals for a falafel sandwich. Originating from Egypt, Falafel resembles meat balls, but is in fact made from ground beans, parsley and chickpeas, garlic and cumin, all rolled together, and normally served in a roll. Additions to a falafel sandwich can include spicy sauce, tomatoes and egg.

Restaurants in Qatar

With the influx of expats, there is also a huge range of restaurants, and there are probably more Indian and Turkish eateries than Arab ones. The standard Indian cafe is extremely cheap and will serve briyani rice, curry, grilled chicken and sometimes freshly cooked bread cooked on a hot stove in front of you. Briyani rice with yoghurt, mutton or chicken and a salad (normally cucumbers, lettuce and raw shallots) will set you back no more than 7 or 8 riyals. There are also some more expensive Indian restaurants, with a larger choice of food: if you fancy a drink with your meal, try Ramada's excellent Chingari.

At Turkish restaurants you should start your meal with a Meze: salads, hummus, olives, vine leaves stuffed with sweet rice and more, all eaten with fresh Turkish bread. You can follow this with kebab, pide (Turkish pizza) or hamour (local fish), or at some restaurants you can take your pick from the food displayed.

Mixed Mezza and Turkish bread spread out at Istanbul restaurant in Al Sadd.A meal at a Turkish restaurant rarely sets you back much more than 30 riyals, and some people rely on the meze to spice up their buffets at parties. We personally recommend the Istanbul restaurant on Al Sadd street (who also happen to be patient beyond the call of duty when it comes to small children). Alternatively try the excellent Al Kharis cafe in Souq Waqif (and have a giggle at the menu, which includes Pregnant Chicken, Truckish coffee and Itch!)

Move up the price range and you can eat food from all the major countries. Every major hotel has several restaurants to choose from, and many Western expats will prefer these because they can drink.

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