Eat your way through Qatar

Travel | 17 Jul 2019

A country’s food is integral to its culture, and there is not a more delightful way to experience a country’s culture than through its culinary delights

Qatari cuisine is rooted in its seafaring traditions, with strong influences from India and the Levant.  It has its fair share of unique and mouth-watering delicacies that will leave you hooked. Here’s a quick culinary voyage through this small Middle Eastern state, which offers a blend of traditionalism and modernity with rich flavours and cuisines from all around the world.

Rooted in age-old Bedouin custom, Arabic coffee plays a special role in Qatar as an expression of hospitality and welcome. Brewed with green coffee beans and special spices added to create a burst of aroma, this hot beverage, called Gahwa, is poured from a dallah pot into small handle-free porcelain cups. It is common to nibble on a succulent date to balance out the mild bitterness of the drink.

While a long list of fabulous restaurants in areas like West Bay, The Pearl Qatar and in Katara Cultural Village combine fine cuisine with breathtaking views, the best place to sample authentic Qatari foods remains Souq Waqif. The bustling alleys of the market, built in the style of a traditional market from the turn of the previous century, hosts a wide range of eateries from fine dining restaurants to roadside cafes and shisha lounges; bakeries and food stalls, to kiosks where women sell home-cooked meals and freshly made sweet treats.

Kababs are perhaps the most consumed and most versatile food in Qatar. While roaming the streets, you’ll come across many restaurants grilling kababs, and the aromas are sure to make your stomach rumble. There are endless varieties made with mince or chunks of chicken, lamb, beef or seafood marinated in a sweet and savoury mix of chopped herbs and spices, as well as crushed nuts and pomegranate juice, to give them a flavourful kick and crunch.  Kababs can be found everywhere – at formal restaurants and at street side stalls, so grab one to nibble on as you explore. 

Next up, for a proper main course that is more filling, Machboos is a must-try.  It is a mixed rice dish popular across the Arabian Gulf. Like Kababs, Machboos is also made with different types of meat, vegetables and herbs. You will never find the exact same Machboos anywhere – each place has its own unique twist, making it an exciting dish to try every time. Besides this hearty rice dish, there’s also a wide range of slow-cooked meat and vegetable stews like Saloona and Margoog, eaten with Khobez, fresh oven baked bread.

Surrounded by the Gulf, Qatari dishes have plenty of seafood options.  Kingfish, barracuda, queenfish, cobia, sheri, snapper, and hammour (grouper) are some popular choices. While most restaurants serve these batter-fried or grilled, the fried Safi fish is a local delicacy.  A saltwater fish, it is typically served with white rice and spiced clarified butter sauce on the side.

Dessert options abound for those with a sweet tooth, with a variety of sugary aromatic treats such as Om Ali, bread pudding with a very local twist.  Luqaimat, meaning ‘bite-sized’ in Arabic, is a national favourite – small sugary dumplings are soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside.

To experience Qatari fine-dining, visitors can visit IDAM, a restaurant by world-renown Michelin Starred Chef Alain Ducasse in the Museum of Islamic Art. Guests can embark on a culinary journey and experience timeless classics of local and regional cuisine, with most ingredients sourced locally in Qatar. For a truly authentic gastronomic experience, one can order camel-meat steak.

Qatar also has several world-class restaurants, typically located in hotels. It is home to the world’s largest Nobu, with exquisite Japanese food, CUT by Wolfgang Puck, which serves sophisticated American fare, and Opal by Gordon Ramsay, offering the master chef’s exalted culinary experience overlooking the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Every year, Qatar hosts the Qatar International Food Festival which celebrates the country’s diverse food and beverage offerings, a true foodie heaven.

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