The third article describes in more detail some of our experience in Qatar during a 6-month Fulbright visit.
This is one of the most difficult articles to write, yet one of the most important for those planning to visit Qatar. I am not a restaurant expert, I am simply giving our family’s experience. If I sound like I’m advertising a restaurant, I’m not, we just must have liked it a lot. To be honest, food is probably what we enjoy the most in Qatar.
Qatar offers a very wide variety of food options with a wide range of costs. The first restaurant I visited in Doha was Turkey Central on Al Mirqab Street, a few hours after arriving in Doha. He didn’t look very fancy, but he was hungry enough and he wasn’t so sure about future meals, since he didn’t have a car at the time. The menu consisted mainly of grilled meats and a mix of Middle Eastern salads. My host, Mohammed Alsayed, an engineer from Qatar University, proposed a mix of chicken and beef skewers and a set of mixed salads including Taboli, Hummus, Green Salads, Yogurt Salad and Eggplant. The prices were very reasonable less than $6 per person. The aroma of the food as it was being delivered was unbelievably delicious. The food itself looked and tasted very good.
This no-frills no-frills eatery became our favorite restaurant during our Fulbright visit to Qatar. We particularly enjoyed their chicken kofta sandwiches which consisted of chicken kofta rolled in a pita bread with tomato sauce. Both were served hot and sizzling, and were extremely appetizing with their savory flavor. There were several restaurants that have a much better atmosphere, service and similar menu, but somehow the Turkey Center remained the favorite when it came to taste. So we learned to order take out. Across the street was another restaurant, Al Bukhari, which we visited once. They are very famous for their lintel soup and it is worth trying it.
One of the restaurants that offers a similar menu, but in a much more elegant setting is Almajlis Al-Arabi. It has at least 2 branches, but the one we visited several times was a very short walk from the iconic Mall, an upscale shopping mall in Doha. The problem was always finding a place to park. Doha has grown so much in a very short time and parking has become a very difficult problem throughout the city, but especially in the shopping malls. After a few visits to all of these restaurants, we got a bit tired of the same grilled kabobs theme. On the recommendation of another Fulbright scholar, we decided to give an Indian restaurant called Caravan a try.
The Caravan restaurant is in a square off Salwa Road. The plaza has a number of other different restaurants, including Pizza Hut, Pandarosa, and Starbucks. After wrestling with the problem of parking, we enter the restaurant, the entrance is inviting and an Indian host dressed in Western clothing leads us to our table, lights a candle and leads us to the buffet. A large room lined with 20-30 food items. The highlight of the buffet, at least for us, is a small grilled whole lamb served on a bed of rice. I tried to carve but didn’t seem to be that handy with knives and soon a server came to save me from carving my fingers.
Around the room were other Indian, Thai and even Arabic dishes. Everything looked and tasted great, but the savory flavor of the lamb remains etched in our memories. The most popular of sweets in Doha is Omm-Ali. It seems that different countries are fighting over the ownership of Omm-Ali, but the name supports the Egyptian claim to this delicacy. The buffet was QR 25 per person. I don’t think this is less than a $25 buffet in the US.
There are many other smaller restaurants on Salwa street near the Plaza where Caravan is located. The ones we tried for breakfast were Syrian and Lebanese restaurants selling falafel, hummus, Foul (beans), eggplant, and other traditional Arabian breakfast treats.
Qatari society is a very closed society. It is very difficult to be invited to a Qatari home, but we got to experience the closest we can get to Qatari cuisine at a restaurant on Corniche overlooking the gulf called Bulhambar. We ventured there without references. It was just a perfect winter afternoon with temperatures in the 70s. Walking down the Corniche, near the great symbol of the Asian Games, it’s hard to miss that building. It is only a few years old, but is decorated with traditional Qatari rugs and photographs of old Qatar. This is the first time we have seen workers in a restaurant who were Qatari. The location and authenticity of the environment is priced at 100 QR ($35) per person. It is a free buffet. All the food has Qatari names which were hard to figure out. The food was very delicious and mostly consisted of different types of meat (chicken, lamb, beef, fish) packed in rice and cooked very tenderly. The spiced rice elegantly captures all the flavor of the meat. The experience was great, but we didn’t venture out there very often.
Although several American chain restaurants like Pizza Hut, Chilli’s, Applebee’s, Pandarosa are in Doha, we weren’t in Qatar long enough to miss out on American chain food. The prices in the American chains are a bit more expensive than their prices in the United States. Starbucks was the only US chain we frequented for a caffeine boost. A decent cup of coffee can easily come to 25 QR. Famous hotels in Doha, including the uniquely shaped Sheraton and the Ritz Carlton, offer highly elegant Western dining experiences. I loved the salad bar at the Ritz with the elegant smoked salmon, shrimp cocktail and sushi bar.
It is enough to sum this article up by the fact that I gained 15 pounds in the period I spent in Qatar even though I was working out during the same period.