Sunday, February 19, 2017

Qatar Total Open 2017


This is week was the ladies tennis tournament, the Qatar Total Open. I didn’t have tickets for the preliminary rounds and that might've been for the best -- it has been cold, windy, and rainy all week. I'm a bit surprised they managed to get all the games done because on some of the days it rained all day, a rarity for Qatar.

The weather improved yesterday just in time for the finals, which I did have tickets for. A couple of friends of mine got tickets to the men’s final but didn't have any extras so I couldn't go to what turned out to be an amazing match. Thus we all agreed that we get tickets for the ladies finals so that we could all go. Three of my friends and I headed out in one car (to avoid a lot of parking hassle and mud). The tickets were VIP so that was a big plus as we got to hang out in the VIP area, chat, and enjoy some complementary food and hot beverages while we waited for the match to start. I had only been to the VIP area once before, I think a couple of years ago, and while they had nice facilities it took a while to get in. You have got to go to a desk and receive a bracelet to be allowed into the area and unfortunately there was a big lineup because there were not enough people at the desk.


Anyway we headed to our seats while the match was starting. It was cold and windy (around 14 degrees and humid) so even with three layers on I was still feeling the cold a bit. I felt sorry for the players as they were still wearing small skirts and Wozniacki was even wearing short sleeves. They must have been freezing the moment they stopped running around.


Anyway it was a reasonable match, nothing like the Djokovic/Murray final earlier at the men's tournament, but Wozniacki managed to climb back from a 4-0 deficit in the first set to at least make it a battle. In the end World #3 Karolina Pliskova won in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Traditional Qatari Breakfast


Blogspot statistics show you which websites someone came from to visit your site. A couple years ago I saw a person come from a website called “mangobaaz” on an article regarding Eid breakfast. It turns out they had taken a picture from my blog (they noted it was from there) of a breakfast noting it was an “authentic Qatari breakfast”.

Except they hadn't actually read the blog post where the picture was from -- the picture was from when I was in Turkey for Eid, the breakfast was actually Turkish.

Naturally I told some of my friends and we had a bit of a chuckle. My Turkish friend was pleased to hear that his Turkish wife cooks “authentic Qatari breakfasts”. In truth, my Qatari friends pointed out, there was too much dairy on the table (butter, cheese) for it to be a Qatari breakfast. The tulip tea cups also give it away that it’s probably Turkish.

So what is a traditional Qatari breakfast? A friend of mine discovered a restaurant in the Avenue Hotel in Al Saad that was created by Qataris and serves traditional food. Its name is “Nahnu” (in English they call it “WeCafe” as Nanhu means “we”). We were always considering having breakfast there but could never get around to it as they're not open for breakfast on Friday.

Thanks to it being Sports Day today a bunch of us had the day off work yet the restaurant was open so we finally got there to try the breakfast.

When we asked for the breakfast here’s what we received:



In the back is called lubba (small beans in a sauce), then middle from left-to-right: finely scrambled eggs blended with tomatoes, a spicy ground-meat dish, and eggs covering balaleet (a small sweet noodle, more on it here), in the front is chickpeas. We were also given two types of bread: standard pita bread as well as some chapati bread. You could also order karak or Arabic coffee.

The food was pretty good, and my friends agreed that they were traditional Qatari dishes. Way less dairy than the Turkish breakfast.

So that’s what an authentic Qatari breakfast looks like.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Knock-off Clothing

When you're shopping in Doha you sometimes need to be careful that you're not buying cheap knock-offs of good quality clothing. Thankfully I saw this the other day:


I'm glad someone took the time to assure me this is stuff is "oranginal" and not a copy. Lol.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

2017 Comedy Festival


Another week, another event at the Qatar National Convention Centre. This time it was the Comedy Festival. The first two days were for Arabic-speaking comedians and the final day for English-language comedians. I wanted to go, the headline act was Trevor Noah from the Daily Show. Once again, friends to the rescue! A friend of mine had a spare ticket so off we went (come to think of it the same friend who got me a ticket to the Hussein Al Jassmi concert, I certainly owe him a nice dinner or something).


The opening act was a local comedian, Hamad Al-Amari, I had seen him perform about four or five years ago and back then he was definitely still learning the craft. Last night he was a lot smoother and more polished, he has definitely improved in the last few years. My friend commented that he also saw him perform the day before and it surprised him that he was better in English than in Arabic. I can't say I was too surprised, I believe he had spent a lot of his childhood years in an English-speaking country (Ireland? America?) so I knew his English would essentially be fluent. It must not be easy doing comedy in two languages.




Next up, Paul Zerdin, a ventriloquist. I hadn't heard of him before because I don't watch a lot of TV, and was surprised to find out he won a recent season of America's Got Talent! When we did Internet search of his name and realized he'd won the show we knew he’d be entertaining. Sure enough, he was great. Shockingly talented ventriloquist.




Finally, Trevor Noah. He gave a long set and it was really funny. I’m glad he spent a lot of time on stage, apparently the previous night they had six comedians and yet everything was finished in just a couple of hours. I think Trevor was onstage for an hour. He touched on the new US Administration only briefly (these days it’s low-hanging fruit, the jokes write themselves) instead spending time riffing about Doha, South Africa, and topics like colonialism.


Overall I’d say the crowd was satisfied with the evening. My friend said it was better than the previous day, or would hope so given the level of talent they flew in for the English-language day.


Friday, February 03, 2017

My Chili Recipe


Whenever I go camping with the guys I bring a batch of homemade chili with me. This seems to be a hit eating it with goat/sheep on rice so the guys ask me to bring it every time. Recently some people have been asking me for the recipe so I figured I'd just post it here for everyone's benefit.

This is a vegetarian chili. In fact, if you're careful about the sauces, it can easily be a vegan chili. Some people commented to me that they were surprised it was vegetarian, there's so many flavors going on I guess people just assumed there was some ground beef in it or something.

I think the secret to its nice taste is complexity. There are a lot of different spices and sauces in it. It’s not just tons of chili peppers and some Tabasco. There's also a number of sweet things in it to balance the spice. In fact, there’s so many different things in it that it is not a big deal if you're missing some things, feel free to add different spices or flavours to it and see what happens.

As for how “spicy-hot” it should be it is difficult to determine since people have different levels of heat tolerance. I get around this by making two pots, a larger pot with almost no hot spices and a smaller pot which is very, very hot. People can then mix the two depending on the spice level they want. If someone doesn't like things being too spicy then take three or four scoops non-spicy with one scoop spicy, and so on.

In the recipe I separate out the hot spices. When you make the chili you use all of the non-spicy ingredients for both pots but use very little or none of the hot spices in the “non-spicy” pot, instead put them in your hot chili. I tend to split the non-spicy ingredients 3 to 1 between the non-spicy and spicy pots (so if the recipe mentions 4 cans of something I’ll use 3 cans in the non-spicy pot and 1 in the spicy pot) but it depends on the size of pots you use and how hot everyone prefers. The hot chili will be H-O-T.

Some of these ingredients don’t have measurements, go with what you like, go crazy! Don’t let The Man tell you what to do! Modify the amount of ingredients if your pots are smaller.


Ingredients and recipe:

Stage 1:

Olive oil
2 onions
At least 4 green/yellow/red peppers (try to have different colours, it looks nicer)
Cloves of garlic
Spicy: at least 2 different kinds of chili peppers

Chop up all the vegetables. Heat the pots to medium or low-medium to heat up the olive oil, then sauté the onions, garlic and peppers. Don’t make the oil too hot, sautéing should take around 8-10 minutes. Try not to brown the vegetables, there'll be plenty more cooking to come, just soften them up.


Stage 2:

Oregano
Ground cumin
Other dry, leafy spices that you want (Basil? Rosemary? Sage? Go for it.)
4 cans of diced tomatoes (with liquid)
2-3 cups of water
Spicy: chili powder (add many different ones if you have them available)

Add the dry spices to the sautéed vegetables, mix a bit, then add the diced tomatoes and water. How much spice? For a big pot I'd use it least 1 tablespoon of cumin, maybe more, and for the leaf spices I just add “a bunch”. I don’t measure it but it's probably around a teaspoon to tablespoon for each. Err on the light side for how much water to add, if the chili is looking too dry you can always add more water later, but if you have too much water then you're at risk for making a soup and not a chili.

Once the mixture heats up turn it down to a low heat and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. Leave the pots uncovered. Simmer longer if it looks like there's too much water.



While it is simmering there is another spice I add – red Tandoori spice. It's not essential but the tandoori spice really adds a nice red color.




Stage 3:

3-4 cans red kidney beans, drained
2-3 cans black beans, drained (see below, I use an unusual bean for this)
2-3 cans of corn, drained
Mushrooms, chopped
Paprika
Black pepper
Other spices that you have sitting in your spice rack that you think might go good in this
2-3 small cans of tomato paste
Maple syrup and/or honey
Other sweet sauces (I generally use HP sauce, sweet bbq sauces, low-heat peri-peri sauce and/or sweet chili sauces, try to use at least a few different ones)
DO NOT USE: granulated sugars – if they don’t dissolve then you get crunchy grains of sugar in your chili. Not good.
DO NOT USE: salt if you’ve used ingredients that contain a lot of salt

Spicy: tabasco
Spicy: extra-hot Nando’s peri-peri sauce
Spicy: any other hot sauce I have around, the more the merrier


Black Beans: I discovered a brand of fermented black beans from Asia that I use in the chili. These beans are extremely salty, I think just one tin, undrained, contains over 25x the recommended daily intake of salt. I think they go great in the chili but if you use them you definitely do not need to add additional salt. In Qatar these beans can be hard to find so as soon as I see them in a grocery store I pick up some tins for the next time I make chili.



Stage 3 directions: Add everything, simmer on low heat for at least another 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don’t forget to put the sweet sauces into the spicy chili as well. Give it a taste every now and then and add more spices, sweeteners or sauces if you feel like it or if one flavour is overpowering and you want to balance it out. Add a bit more water if it's looking too thick and dry. The spicy chili should be head-exploding spicy.


And that’s my chili. I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hussain Al Jasmi Concert


A few days ago I had messaged a group of friends of mine, just asking if anything was happening this evening, and I immediately received a call from one of them. They were heading to the Hussain Al Jasmi concert and had a spare ticket so invited me to come with them. Sure thing. I had no idea who Hussain Al Jasmi was, my friend told me on the phone he was an Emirati singer, but I'm always up for a new cultural experience.

So I had an hour to change and get out to the National Convention Centre. I scrambled but managed to make it in time to meet my friends. In truth we had arrived early, a good half-hour before the show was scheduled to start, but this region is one of those parts of the world where things aren’t rushed and don't usually start at the listed time so we were actually really early.



It was a nice hall and I was in for a surprise when we got to our seats -- we had front row!




In the first few rows they had really nice seats.




Chilling out in comfort. :)

The opening act was a string quartet playing compositions written by local composer. It was pleasant, and the songs were actually pretty good. I assumed from the type of opening act that Mr. Al Jasmi was a traditional Arabic singer so we wouldn't be hearing a lot of modern pop and rock tunes.

When Mr. Al Jasmi took to the stage the ladies started going crazy and screaming. It was then that I realized that probably 75% of the crowd were women and teenage girls. Unlike a Western concert everyone was still well behaved, except for the screaming, and stayed in their seats. No standing up or rushing to the stage. Ladies screaming at their favorite singers appears to be a standard thing all over the world but in this devout Muslim country I’m guessing that rushing up to the stage and trying to touch the singer etc. is considered unseemly (and as I assume Mr. Al Jasmi is also a devout Muslim I'm not sure he would be too appreciative of that). You'll notice the stage is not too high and there's no security guards or fences protecting the stage.




Anyway Mr. Al Jasmi gave a long show and fans were constantly yelling out song requests, then bursting into applause when he started a song. Looking at his wikipage he has a lot of singles, and as wiki lists him as a composer he probably wrote most or all of the songs himself. Maybe a few of them were covers of popular Arabic songs.

Another interesting contrast to many Western concerts is that the volume level was decent. You didn't need earplugs, nor did we leave the concert with ringing in our ears (well, except when the lady next to me starting screaming at the top of her lungs while within a meter of my ear)

All in all a great evening. I was glad my friends invited me.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Government Wedding Halls


A Qatari wedding has to be one of the biggest expenses of a young man's life. Traditionally the groom's family pays for the wedding, although I've heard nowadays some agree to have the bride’s family cover some of it but I don’t think it’s very common. Renting the halls (remember there are two separate wedding parties, one for the groom and one for the bride, so you have to rent two halls), catering, music, jewelry for the bride-to-be and so forth. It adds up. I'm told to rent a hall at a hotel will run QAR 75,000 or more (US$20,000+), and if you want the top hotels be prepared to pay a lot more. Even wedding tents cost a fortune to rent. I discussed the problems of wedding costs a couple of years ago and how the Government was trying to help by building wedding halls for Qataris to rent cheaply. Well I recently attended a wedding celebration at a Government hall, the first time I had been in one.



The building was out in a town called Daayan, south of Al Khor. The building was huge! Looked nice, and there was a decent amount of parking around the building. I discovered when I got closer than it contains four halls. At the time two wedding celebrations were taking place so it was a matter of finding a sign with the groom's name to determine which hall I needed to go to.

And here's what it looks like inside the wedding hall.



It was a lot nicer than I expected. I figured it would be something moderately sized and plain given that it was cheap to rent but dang, it was something else.

As I walked across the hall to find the groom I passed a rack of spare swords that people could use for sword dancing.


After I gave the customary congratulations to the groom and his father I waited around for a while chatting with friends until was time for dinner. Dinner was in yet another hall next to the wedding hall.



I can't believe you can rent this cheaply, the Government really made the place look nice.


A few days later I spoke with some of my friends about the wedding halls and they think they're a great idea. I was told that not everybody uses them, especially for the ladies celebration, and some families still prefer the prestige of having them in a nice hotel. To each their own I guess but I wouldn't be willing to pay a ton of extra cash to use a hotel hall if you can rent a Government wedding hall like this for much less.

This idea from the Government gets a thumbs-up.