People today can travel anywhere around the globe traversing geographical boundaries. And with them, travel their culture and food. The number of foreigners working in Qatar has led to the eating habits of people here being influenced by food from all around the world. Various cuisines and outlets now open in the country have been adapted to serve nationals as well as expatriates from Asia, Europe and America.
Without a question, a dish or a restaurant is selected primarily based on its taste, cost and convenience to eat.
Just Burger, opened in January 2013, strives by its tagline of “It’s an experience you will want to repeat”. This place even offers free juices for kids and low-priced steamed mixed veggies and mashed potato, to satisfy the palettes of families with kids and people with budget constraints.
With more men and women entering the workforce, it is becoming common to have snacks more than twice a day.
With hectic schedules and endless business meetings, people are moving away from the traditional meal to a modern one, inspired by various cultures. American pancakes, English sandwiches and Chinese spring rolls have all become common in an average Qatari dining experience.
Unlike the vibrant street food scenes in many countries, one does not find the familiar sight of pushcart vendors selling ready-to-eat delicacies to passers-by in Qatar.
The street food culture here instead translates to small restaurants, juice stalls and tea shops. They sell freshly prepared and reasonably priced food to customers, mostly at the beep of a car horn.
“Falafel, samosa, kebab, Indian chaat, sandwich, spring roll, croissant, doughnut, fresh juice, milkshake and steamed corn are omnipresent”, elaborates Nashira, author of the food blog “Plateful”.
Like others, she also enjoys the cross-cultural flavours as an expatriate living in the country. A cook herself, she feels the availability of essential ingredients in almost all supermarkets in Qatar makes it easier for restaurants to prepare and serve them fresh.
The best place to eat Indian chaat for people of the sub-continent remains Bombay Chowpatty. From its cheapest item at just QR5 for a samosa, to its exclusive raj kachori chaat, its menu appeals to many.
Established in 2004, this restaurant has come a long way in redefining south Asian street food available in Qatar. With most Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis associating with the traditional way of eating pani-puri and tikki chaat, Bombay Chowpatty’s dishes have nostalgic value.
Nizami kheer, a dessert made of saffron, milk and rice is a speciality at Tandoor and a must-have for any season. For other Indian cuisines, there is a huge rush of people at Star of India too. Tafeen Ahmed, a Bangladeshi, says, “Most Bangla people eat the same food as Indians, so places like Asiana and Star of India are famous in our community”.
Just like authentic Indian food, a number of restaurants bring the flavour of Europe to Qatar. Pizza Hut and Papa John’s Pizza bring the most famous Italian food into the common eating habits of various customers. Italian cuisine focuses on simple and natural ingredients, such as tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and dark leafy greens, making it one of the world’s healthiest diets.
Between the risottos, pizza, bread and pasta, Italian food helps people consume complex carbohydrates in every meal. The use of onions in Italian cooking promotes blood fluidity while garlic keeps one free from infection.
Similarly, Chinese food is associated with eating a healthy and well-balanced diet. Ginger, commonly used in Chinese cooking, has many health benefits.
“For the days I want to eat Chinese, I go to Three Peppers restaurant. Soups and appetisers are exceptionally good there”, says Patranjali Mukherjee, an Indian expatriate.
Likewise, Filipino cuisine is distinguished by its bold combination of sweet, sour, and salty flavours. While bananas, guavas, mangoes, papayas, and pineapples lend a distinctly tropical flair to many dishes in the food of the Philippines, mainstay green leafy vegetables like spinach, cabbage and other vegetables like eggplants and yard-long beans are just as commonly used.
Fried snacks are common street food among Filipinos, often served with various dipping sauces like vinegar and soy sauce. Paradise Restaurants, Chowking and Little Manila are a few of the famous outlets. Many of the satisfied and regular customers share their feelings on a common platform such as Qatar Living, enabling others to see the reviews and choose accordingly.
Applebee’s and Chili’s and are franchise restaurants which showcase cuisines loved by Americans.
Besides this, a variety of pies, pancakes, scones, puddings, muffins, croissants, doughnuts, breads and cakes famous in Americas and Europe are available in a number of bakeries in Qatar. Supermarkets and groceries also sell these at low prices; either fresh or at frozen food counters.
One place for a quick stop-over for a Turkish-inspired meal is Marmara Istanbul Restaurant. It serves a wide array of food, but it is the Shawerma, mixed grills and barbecued chicken which bring repeat orders. One of their happy customers says, “Food here is really good; almost feels like it is homemade dinner.”
Beverages like juices, milk-shakes, tea and coffee are a crucial part of breakfast and other meals. In recent years, more restaurants and franchises have opened, focusing on beverages such as tea/coffee along with tidbits to go with it. Starbucks, Doha Rocks Cafe, Costa, Coffee beanery, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaves are famous with the youth and the working professionals who could grab a bite on the go.
The food scene takes on a different rhythm and meaning during Ramadan. Rows of cars waiting by roadside stalls, often blocking the traffic, for samosa, Arabic sweets, or freshly barbecued kebabs are a common sight. Many restaurants design their menus especially to cater the times like extreme summer or the holy month of Ramadan.
While Bombay Chowpatty and almost all cafes offer soothing slurpees and drinks in summers, the likes of Papa John’s and Tandoor offer combination meals specially designed for Ramadan.
Gokhon, the owner of Turkey Anadolu Restaurant and Sweets in Old Airport explains, “Our barbeque and patisserie are famous with Indians, Canadians, Americans, Arabs — everyone, but during Ramadan and for Eid, we prepare sweets daily. They’re exclusively Turkish sweets and very much in demand during that time.”
Apart from Ramadan, many stores offer combo meals especially on weekends making it irresistible for food lovers. For example, at Bread and Bagel, one can enjoy weekend brunch on Fridays and Saturdays with two eggs prepared to order, a bagel, baked beans, sausages, veal bacon, freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee and muffin for a set price.
The appetiser combo at Crepaway is also very popular.
Restaurants that do well in Qatar are those that are consistent in quality, have a menu to suit most budgets, and offer it in a homely and hygienic ambience.
The nation has a variety of outlets offering healthy and delicious appetisers, snacks and refreshing beverages, thus defining its own style of street food. Even the desserts have taken a leap from traditional Arabic pistachio pudding to Bengali Ras Malai (a sweet dish made from cottage cheese) and scoops of Baskin Robins’ ice cream.
What is it?
Some of the commonly sold food items in Qatar.
Falafel — traditional Arab street food; deep-fried balls or patties made from ground chickpeas, beans, or both; usually topped with salads, pickled vegetables and hot sauce
Samosa — fried or baked south Asian pastry with a savoury filling, such as spiced potatoes, onions, peas, lentils, ground lamb, ground beef or ground chicken
Kebab — wide variety of skewered meals cooked over or next to flames
Chaat — a mixture of potato pieces, crispy fried bread, gram or chickpeas and tangy-salty spices with lashings of chutneys, fresh green coriander leaves and yoghurt.
Popular variants include aloo tikki (potato patties garnished with onion, coriander, hot spices and a dash of curd), bhel puri, dahi puri, panipuri, dahi vada, papri chaat, and sev puri.
Spring roll — large variety of filled and rolled appetisers common in southeast Asian and Chinese cuisine. The kind of wrapper, fillings, and cooking technique used vary considerably from place to place.
Doughnut — deep-fried or bakedfrom a flour dough and shaped in rings or flattened spheres with or without fillings.
Risotto — rice cooked in broth to a creamy consistency. The broth may be meat-, fish-, or vegetable-based.
Scones — single-serving cake or quick bread made of wheat, barley or oatmeal, with baking powder as a leavening agent, popular in British cuisine.
Shawerma — meats placed on a spit and may be grilled, eaten with bread, tomato, and cucumber with toppings like hummus and pickled vegetables
Barbecued chicken — chicken parts seasoned and coated in a barbecue sauce, then grilled on coal fire or rotisserie.
Slurpees — flavoured drink with shaved ice.
Ras Malai — consists of sugary white, cream or yellow coloured balls (or flattened balls) of fresh cheese soaked in clotted cream flavoured with cardamom.
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