Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Aiden

Today is my nephew Aiden's birthday. To celebrate I figured we would share with you all one of his greatest battles -- against the evil Vampire Queen!

Our hero is ready to go.

First he had a big fight with her evil vampire henchman. He was way bigger than Aiden but Aiden finally took him out with a flying bodyslam.

Then we found what we thought was a damsel in distress . . .

But he wasn't fooled, it was the evil Vampire Queen! A vicious sword battle ensued . . .

But in the end he took her heart . . .

And the day was saved. Victory!

Happy Birthday Aiden, I hope you have some more great adventures.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hajj Preparation

So the other day I received a call from FANAR letting me know that they were having an event that discussed the rites and rituals of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. I always love cultural things like this so on Saturday afternoon I went to the Moza bint Mohammed Center (near the American School), where the event was being held.

I forwarded the invitation to some people in the office but unfortunately they couldn't attend. I didn't bother forwarding it to any of the Qataris or other Muslims since I didn't think they would need to attend a lecture on Hajj. To my surprise most of the attendees were Muslim! It turns out that the Muslim attendees were all planning to go to Hajj this year so wanted instructions as to what to do. Well, FANAR and the Ministry for Islamic Affairs (Awqaf) did better than that . . .

They made replicas of all the major things involved in Hajj so that they could demonstrate what to do!

The Kaaba and walls . . . etc surrounding it (Muslims were warned: when you do your seven laps around the Kaaba taking a shortcut by going in front of that hemispheric wall negates the lap)

The hallway that takes you back and forth between Al-Safa and Al Marwah (the area in the middle is for the disabled so they will not get crushed by the crowd)

The clothing men (white) and ladies (black, although ladies can wear a white version if they wish) that you must wear when performing the Hajj. It also adds a sense of equality to the pilgrimage because all Muslims performing the Hajj, rich or poor, will be essentially wearing the same thing.

There was even a sandy area to show the challenges in finding pebbles for the Stoning of the Pillars ritual. (Tip: you might have better luck looking under your tent)

Replicas of the pillars, and in the background is the mountain near Mina where you spend the day praying. There were even examples of the tents that you may be sleeping in during the Hajj. Muslims were instructed on how to throw the pebbles (don't throw too hard, they might ricochet off the pillars and hit someone)

All in all I thought that was pretty cool. They even gave me a nice gift . . .

Water from the holy Zamzam Well in Mecca! That was nice of them. I'll hold onto it and probably give it to a Muslim who has not been to Hajj. Muslims also received a hardcopy book (Arabic or English) about the specifics of the Hajj rituals.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Qatar Population Day

Unbeknownst to me yesterday was Qatar Population Day. On that day a government body, the Permanent Population Committee, holds an annual conference where attendees present papers and studies, as well as discussing issues relating to population development including urbanization, education, health, employment etc.

I never even realized there was a Permanent Population Committee. Guess it doesn't matter since I'm an ex-pat so I'm not one of the permanent population. I went to their website it looks like they do a lot of analysis on many sociological issues. Health appears to be a significant concern, as well as employment opportunities for Qataris. Unfortunately none of the studies are in English, and my Arabic certainly isn't good enough to make heads or tails of it.

Hopefully they push for improving the road systems, and the parking.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Where to Eat in Doha/Qatar

[If you're also interested in other things to do in Qatar click here.]

[I’ll add some standard search phrases for the benefit of people using Web searchers: Restaurants in Doha; Good Restaurants in Qatar; Doha Restaurant Reviews, Dining in Doha]

[last major update: May 2016]

Having been here for over eight years now I've found that a lot of newcomers ask me for tips on where to eat. I'm not a fussy eater and I have no issue with trying some cheap hole-in-the-wall place just to see if the food’s any good, because you never know. I remember about four months after I arrived four of us went out to lunch in some little place in an alleyway that this one Indian guy knew about. Was it fancy? Not in the least, in fact when we took one colleague there he looked around and asked "are you sure the food is safe?”. Were there a lot of menu options? Nope. But the food was decent and four of us ate a big lunch for about $6. Yep, $6. (This is back before the big inflationary spiral, we’d probably pay about $4-5 each now.) Sadly the restaurant doesn't exist anymore but it did open my eyes to the fact that you can get decent food in all sorts of places in Doha and it doesn't always have to be expensive. Over the months as I found places I introduced others to them, or a bunch of us would go out and try something new, and now there's some places that I think half of the office eats at.

Yes, there are tons of options for fancy food. Feel free to go to any restaurant in a five-star hotel, The Pearl, or Katara, and you can have your fancy dining experience. Most of the restaurants I'm suggesting are for people who don't want to shell out $60+ a head (not including drinks) for food.

A lot of these are off the beaten path, you're going to hear about some places that the guidebooks don't tell you about!

First of all let's get a glossary going:

$ -- $10 or less per person
$$ -- $10-$20 per person
$$$ -- $20-$30 per person
$$$$ -- >$30 per person, but be warned -- it could be far more than $30.

Adventure - not really near any hotels and despite the fact I'm giving the street good luck finding it on your own. Get a taxi, confirm the taxi driver knows where it is, and arrange for a pickup time. I'll try to include some nearby locations that a taxi driver might recognize.

Alcohol - you can get alcohol there, which pretty much means you're in a hotel. Alcohol is expensive and the prices I quoted above do not include alcohol.

HITW - hole-in-the-wall. Do not expect anything fancy. Beat-up furnishings, no décor, and napkins will always consist of a box of tissues sitting on your table.

HITW+ -- an HITW but with a bit of décor, ambiance, or better furnishings (but not all three). Will still have a box of tissues sitting on your table.

Marhaba -- this restaurant is shown on one of the maps produced by Marhaba, a local guidebook (in Marhaba there is an overall map of the city and the number of submaps, the restaurant might be on a submap not on the main one). If the restaurant is in a hotel or mall the hotel/mall will be on the map instead.

Share -- In a group we always ordered a bunch of items which everyone partakes in rather than ordering a meal just for yourself.

Smoke - sells shisha indoors. Great place if you want to try a shisha but be warned because it sells shisha the place might be smoky.

Veg - purely vegetarian restaurant, see “Indian Cuisine” section as no other cuisine in this list is veg-only.

In most cases I’ve sorted by type of cuisine with one exception – Souq Waqif, which is a must-visit place for tourists and has well over 25 restaurants. The Souq gets its own section so if you're looking for a specific cuisine be sure to also check my Souq Waqif section.

By the way Doha is Family Friendly. Unless it is a shisha place you can bring young children to anywhere $$$ or less, or to any brunch. For $$$$ call ahead about bringing young children (except Souq Waqif, children should be okay at all of them).

Arabic/Lebanese/Turkish food

While there are some differences between Arabic, Lebanese, and Turkish for the layman they will seem similar -- a wide variety of mezzahs for appetizers, typically with a grilled meat dish for the entrée. Humous is a standard opening dish but be sure to order at least a couple of other things to try them out. Not surprisingly there is a wide array of choices in Qatar for this cuisine.

Layali (Salwa Road. $$$-$$$$, Adventure, Share, Smoke) one of the pricier places but usually puts out a high-quality meal. Shisha is also available but it is not a “shisha place” so families are ok too. For at least one of my friends it was his favorite for Arabic food but I’m cheap so I prefer cheaper places. We would usually go as a group and inevitably order too much food so be careful about that.

Kebab King (Al Matar St. near B-Ring Road. $-$$, Adventure, Share) if there's a group of five or more the waiter might suggest a mixed platter, which works out well. Be sure to try the lamb chops.

Turkey Central (Al Nasr St, couple of hundred metres from Family Food Centre. $, Adventure, HITW, Marhaba, Share). One of my top picks. Cheap, with fantastic food. Seating is upstairs, the entire downstairs is dedicated to the kitchens as well as take-out and delivery orders (they probably handle 40-60 takeout/delivery orders an hour at peak times). I've never known anyone to be disappointed with their meal at Turkey Central. Try the Mousqa'a (in the English menu it's called eggplant-something), Labneh with Chili, and the Shish Tawook or the Mixed Grill or heck, try anything, it should be good. Their standard bread is great too. Be careful about the location, Turkey Central also has a takeaway-only shop on the same street, across from the Family Food Centre. If you go in and there is no huge restaurant upstairs you're at the takeaway, the restaurant is around 200m down the street. I've seen online reviews where people went to the takeaway and then left a bad review since there was no restaurant.

Istanbul Sultan (near the back-left corner of the strip mall of Abu Hamour Petrol Station. $, Adventure, HITW). This place has maybe 8 tables. Great shawrmas, which you see cooking in the front window. The other food is decent as well. If there is only one or two of you they don't have two-seater tables so don't be surprised because of the lack of space the waiter seats a couple of other people at your table. I don't think there are any hotels anywhere near this place so expect a bit of a drive. To get an idea of its location the general Marhaba map shows the petrol station near/on the edge of C7 and C8. The petrol station has a ton of other restaurants ranging from Western fast food like Pizza Hut and Burger King, to other HITW so you have options if, once you get there, you want something else.

Sutis (pronounced “Sutish”) (Al Emadi Financial Square, C-Ring Road, also has a location on the Pearl. $$-$$$, Adventure, Marhaba ). Proving popular with Qataris, the restaurant serves a wide variety of traditional Turkish dishes. Also open for breakfast. Al Emadi Financial Square can be easily found on the Marhaba maps across from the Holiday Villa Hotel.

Ankara Pastry Restaurant (Across from Al-Ahli Hospital. $, Adventure, HITW, Share). Nice fatayers (filled pastry) and meat dishes like shwarmas and shish tawook. Also has Iskender on the menu. Another favourite of a Turkish friend of mine. I once overheard a Qatari talk about the place and he said they had the best shwarmas.

Shisha tent at Al Bustan Hotel. (Al Bustan Hotel, $$, $$$ with shisha, Marhaba, Share, Smoke). One of the nicer shisha places in town and it has decent mezzah. I'm not sure if they have much variety for entrées as I've only had mezzah there, it's more popular for smoking than big meals. Suggest calling for reservations as sometimes the place is booked solid. As this is a popular shisha place expect mucho-smoky. I don't think this place is for children as I've never seen one there.

Mado (one location at Ezdan Mall, another at the Pearl, $$$). A well known Turkish chain with a ton of locations in Turkey. Serves a wide variety of Turkish dishes and is well-known for its traditional Turkish ice cream, which is a bit stickier and thicker than standard Western ice cream.

Souq Waqif also has a lot of good arabic food, see the Souq Waqif section below.

Indian Cuisine

Almost a third of Qatar's population is from South Asia so the choices for Indian food are fantastic. I've now learned the difference between North Indian and South Indian cuisine, and I have developed a hankering for Masala Dosas and Gobi 65. There are Indian restaurants for all tastes and budgets.

Bukhara (just outside the entrance to Khalifa Tennis Centre near a Bennigan’s and Fuddruckers, $$-$$$, Adventure, Share). Another top pick. Mostly North Indian cuisine (meats with spicy gravies, but there are also veg options). Try the fish tandoor, butter chicken, vindaloo, the cashew gravy -- oh heck, try whatever sounds good to you, my friends and I have never had a bad meal here. Suggest ordering a bunch of dishes (at least one per person) and share. Don't be too put off by foods with a "spicy" label, it's not as hot as what you'd get in England, but there’s also plenty of non-hot options. This place is really hard to find, definitely make sure your taxi driver knows it or at least the Bennigan’s or Fuddruckers as I'm sure the staff at either of those places will point it out to you.

Bharath (multiple locations, Al Matar St. near B-Ring Road, or near Jaidah Flyover. $-$$, Adventure, HITW+, Veg). Cheap and good. Has both North and South Indian cuisine. A decent place to try Dosas if you are there for either breakfast or dinner (dosas are apparently not a lunch food). One location is near the Gulf Paradise Hotel if you happen to be staying there.

New Al Zarka Restaurant (Wosil Petrol Station, the petrol station between Qatar University and the Doha Golf Club, $, Adventure, HITW). An cheap Indian restaurant usually packed with South Asian workers, a Qatari friend of mine took me there because he likes the food but warned me it would be crowded. Sure enough there wasn't a chair to sit in and it was a decent-sized place too. We had Chicken Chili sandwiches, tasted similar to sweet-and-sour chicken but wrapped in chowpatti bread. During the time I was there three other Qataris in Land Cruisers pulled up to get food so it is popular with the locals as well. Not really for families as it's an HITW where a lot of the clientele are nearby labourers.

Aalishan (about 200 m down the road from “The Centre” (a small mall) near the Radisson. $$-$$$, Adventure, Marhaba). While I've only been there twice but other people I know go there frequently and really liked the food, and this included people who are frequent visitors to Bukhara. I was there for a Friday afternoon buffet that was pretty good.

Chingari (Radisson hotel, corner of C-ring and Salwa road. $$$$, Alcohol, Marhaba, Share). Expensive but the food is good, it has a great ambiance, and you can have alcohol. Usually has a live traditional Indian band (with sitar, bongos etc.) sitting on a small stage in the center of the restaurant.

Taj at the Mariott (Mariott Hotel, near the Airport. $$$$, Alcohol, Marhaba, Share). Smaller, slightly more expensive, and with less ambiance than Chingari. I have been there twice and I will say both times the food was fantastic, some of the best Indian food I've had in Doha, which is why as it is on the list. It is also one of the most expensive places for Indian food, which is why I've only been there twice.

Tandoor Express (two locations, City Centre Mall & behind the Family Food Centre near the Old Airport, $-$$, Adventure (Family Food Centre Location), HITW+, Marhaba). In the case of the second location the Family Food Centre is in the Marhaba map. Decent Indian food and a common go-to spot for people in the office when they go to the mall for lunch. The City Centre Mall one is located in the food court by the amusement park. If you're near the Family Food Centre one you might also want to go around front and try . . .

Bombay Chowpatti (in front of the Family Food Centre near the Old Airport, $, Adventure, HITW, Marhaba [Family Food Centre]). This is a stand at the front of the supermarket, no tables or chairs. Customers do take away and eat in their car or while standing around the parking lot. Popular place though with the Indian crowd. I've tried it twice and both times it was good.

Italian Cuisine

Ciao (One location is Salwa Road, strip mall just before Decoration Roundabout on the right-hand side if you were traveling from Ramada/Radisson signal, couple of doors from a pharmacy and Al-Raifi nut shop. Other location is in Al-Emadi Financial Square on C-Ring road. $$, Adventure). My pick for the best pizza in town. Thin crust, oven-baked on the premises. Has a variety of pasta options as well but I eventually gravitated to the pizza. Sorry, they don’t do delivery. The restaurant is Italian but based from, believe it or not, Ethiopia (maybe not too surprising, Italy took over Ethiopia back in the colonial times.)

Lo Speghetto (Al Sadd neighbourhood, near the Toys R Us, they moved in March 2016 and are no longer near Royal Plaza Mall. $$, Adventure). A good pick for pasta. Apparently run by an Italian chef and the pasta is made fresh at the restaurant. A European colleague of mine loves it as it reminds them of Italy. An Italian friend once said in Italy it would be considered a decent neighbourhood restaurant. I'm usually there once a month or so and sometimes meet my Qatari friends there. One of my favourite places for pasta but some people prefer the pizzas so I suppose you can't lose ordering wither.

La Dolce Vita -- see the Souq Waqif section below

Fancy Brunch Buffets

Typically people go for brunch on Fridays, which is the start of the weekend. The hotels tend to have buffets available every day but they are fancier on a Friday. Call ahead to check.

Oryx Rotana (Oryx Rotana Hotel near the airport, $$$$, Alcohol, Marhaba). This is a bit out of the way for me so I've only been there once but reviews from others have been good. I don't remember the price but I'd expect it to be a bit cheaper than the Grand Hyatt.

St. Regis Hotel -- I haven't been but some people I know have said it is now their favourite (replacing the Grill at the Grand Hyatt)

Chinese, Thai and Japanese Cuisine

Yes I know these cuisines are not related but I'm getting tired of creating separate categories for everything. Roll with it.

Shanghai Garden (City Centre Mall, around the corner from the movie theater. $$-$$$, Marhaba). Not so long ago I had a colleague from Hong Kong occasionally complain that there was never any good Chinese food in Doha. That is, until Shanghai Garden opened in the nearby mall. Thereafter I think he and his family would be there at least twice a week, minimum. I've eaten there a number of times and I found it all right but not amazing. I probably didn't know what to order. This is on my list because if you're Chinese or a fan of Chinese food then I know at least one Hong Kong family who swears by this place.

Amjad Snacks, formerly known as Thai Snack (Al Nasr St near Doha Clinic. $$, Adventure, HITW, Marhaba, Share). Despite being on the same street as Turkey Central it might be a bit harder to find so either make sure you know where it is on the map or that the taxi driver knows its location. It is also attached to a Thai massage parlor so you might see a sign for that. Reasonable Thai food at a reasonable price.

Issan (Grand Hyatt Hotel, half-way down the stairs and on the right, $$$$, Alcohol, Marhaba, Share). High-end but I know a lot of people who love it. It's never knocked my socks off, I'd rather go to the Grill downstairs. At Issan the dishes are small and you'll typically order at least four dishes per person which allows for a lot of variety.

Thai Corner (at "The Centre" near the Radisson Hotel, $-$$, Adventure, HITW, Marhaba ("The Centre"), Share). Kept hearing people rave about it so tried it out. It's small and has two tables that barely fit in the place but hey if the weather's nice you can eat on the steps/courtyard of The Centre. I must admit the food was fantastic. Friend of mine claims it is the best Phad Thai he's ever had.

Oishi Sushi (Royal Plaza Mall, top floor, in one of the corners. $$$-$$$$, Marhaba). Nice place, good decor, decent sushi. Has a sushi train but you can also order ala carte. Usually on Monday and Tuesday nights they have all-you-can-eat from the sushi train for something like QAR 135. Check in advance as you might need a reservation on all-you-can-eat night.

Sushi Minto (On Salwa Road near Ramada/Radisson Signal, in the strip mall past the Starbucks. $$$-$$$$, Marhaba). Within walking distance from the Radisson hotel (unless it's summer). My friends and I used to eat here all the time at their Friday afternoon buffet - we stopped because we were eventually putting on the pounds. A bit cheaper than Oishi but occasionally the sushi is not as good. Reservations are needed for the Friday buffet.

Thai Smile (near Al Matar street, go down the street to the right of the HSBC building, $-$$, Adventure, HITW+, Share). I found this place during one of my wanderings around the city. I've been twice now and both times the food was decent and they had a pretty extensive menu. Definitely good for the price.

Jasmine -- see the Souq Waqif section below

Souq Waqif

You are going to visit Souq Waqif, right? You must! By the way most of the shops are closed in the afternoon, evening is the best time to go. Pretty much all the places are in the Marhaba map. None of them are allowed to serve alcohol.

Damasca ($$$, Share, Smoke). Syrian. I've been there a few times and the food is decent and it appears to be growing in popularity. If the weather is nice ask for a table on the second floor, where they have a lot of tables on a terrace. Also has a singer performing most nights after 8 o'clock. You can smoke a shisha indoors here but the place is so big it never seemed smoky at all.

La Dolce Vita ($$$). Italian. A bit harder to find as it's off the main restaurant section. It’s behind Al Mandarin or Cafe-Tasse, look for signs pointing you to it when you are near one of those places and it will lead you to a small quiet courtyard where the restaurant is.

Jasmine ($$$). Thai. This is also not in the main restaurant section so will take a bit of finding, you should check the Marhaba’s map of the Souq. Best bet is to try it when they have the all-you-can-eat special as that will allow you to order unlimited amounts off the menu (though not all of the dishes). I tried the special with three friends and we enjoyed it because it allowed us to try a wide array of dishes and have seconds (or thirds) of the ones we liked.

The Iraqi place ($$-$$$). It’s actual name is Al Adhamiyah but my friends and I just call it "The Iraqi Place". Decent food, great bread. Is always considered as an option for dinner when a bunch of us go to the Souq. Even has some menu items using unusual cuts of meat like sheep cheeks and stuff, which a Turkish friend of mine always appreciated. Some of the upstairs seating has a traditional Arabic motif that adds a bit of authenticity, great for when you're bringing guests from out of town.

Bosphorous (in the same courtyard as La Dolce Vita, $$$, Share). Turkish. Opened in 2014 it offers a selection of mezzahs and drinks but because it's in a courtyard away from the main strip it's quieter and more relaxing. It's becoming popular with Arabs who like to have a shisha in a quiet courtyard. It has a good selection of Turkish desserts and some Turks go there to get desserts to take home. They also do a nice setting with their Turkish coffee:

Want breakfast where the Qataris go? I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing the name correctly but Al-Shamus is really popular with locals (attached to the Al-Bidda hotel, $, Share). Most of the tables are inside in what looks like the hallway to the hotel. It's not fancy but breakfast can be really busy as Qataris pack the place. The story is that the Father Emir, Sheikh Hamad, has eaten here so now everyone goes here. The kitchen isn't big and so service can be slow, yet everyone puts up with it. Look for this sign to find the restaurant:

Saida ($-$$, HITW+, Share). Lebanese. An inexpensive outdoor shisha place near the end of the restaurant area, though you can sit inside where it's air-conditioned if it's too hot (no shisha inside though). I like going there for their manakish -- a flat pastry with a topping, similar to a pizza, which is a pretty decent size yet only around QAR 10 (~$3). Recommend trying one with Haloumi cheese (a salty cheese). While I love the manakish my usual go-to when trying to lose weight is a simple labneh with garlic, or a hummous.

Tajine ($$$, Share). Moroccan. Open 24 Hours. Great outdoor patio on the second floor popular with shisha smokers. If you're lucky you'll be able to get one of the booths up against the wall, which is more relaxing for shisha. I normally order the couscous but the other food is also decent.

Bander Aden Restaurant (Across from the Al Bidda Hotel, $-$$, Share) Yemeni. Serving traditional Yemeni dishes and while it has some tables there is also majlis-style seating if you want a more Arabic experience. Their standard bread is similar to a naan-bread, heavier than standard bread, almost like a pastry. This place is a bit out of the way and is not near the main restaurant street, find the Al Bidda Hotel (here's a map of Souq Waqif) the restaurant is across from the entrance. The sign is in Arabic but they have English menus.

For something less heavy on the wallet there’s a place that there's no point in telling you its name as no one would recognize it, it’s a cheap grill near the pets area ($, Adventure, HITW). To find it you have two options: if you find the area where pets are sold it’s at one end of that area, otherwise find Hotel Jomrok and go around behind it. You'll see a bunch of benches with traditional red Arabic cushions up against walls (including the back wall of Hotel Jomrok) with some tables in front of them. The place is 100% outdoors. It sells small meat or chicken skewers for around a dollar a skewer, including bread. Usually three or four skewers are enough of a meal for me. A small tub of yogurt is around 50 cents. Drinks consist of bottled water or cans of soda from a cooler. Do not go here expecting fancy, sometimes while you are eating stray cats wander around underneath your table looking for scraps. Busy place though.

If you are really, really hurting for money right next to the cheap grill is an Iranian bakery ($, Adventure, HITW), where you can get five big pieces of freshly-made Iranian bread for 1 riyal (27 cents). If I'm in the neighborhood I sometimes buy some bread for home.

Another low-cost option are the various eats dished out by ladies in abayas ($, Adventure, HITW). There is a small section of them in the main area were souvenirs are sold, and more of them in a small square near the north parking lot. Look for ladies in black abayas sitting at small tables with crockpots or hot plates selling homemade food. No, I have no idea what the food is they are selling, it probably changes day-to-day. My favorite are the ladies who are sitting on the ground with a hot plate in front of them -- they make a type of crepe with egg, labneh, honey, nutella, whatever you want, for about QAR 5 ($1.30) a crepe. Great dessert/snack at a cheap price. (Remember to please ask first if you can take a picture of them, most ladies in abayas don't like having their picture taken.)

You will also notice walking down the main walkway a zillion other different shisha places ($$-$$$). Most of them only serve mezzahs and various drinks/coffees, though some serve full meals. Shisha is only allowed outside so all of the outside tables tend to be full. Typically crowded in the evening with people smoking shisha. At least one of these places (Al Mourjan) is more in the $$$$ range.


BF Al Mufazal (the BF means "Best Fish") (I think it has more than one location but I only know the one on Al Nasr Street near Doha Clinic. $$, Adventure, HITW+). Popular with Qataris, serves a nice grilled hamour (grouper) with butter.

J&G Sandwich Cellar (Ras Abu Abboud St near the flyover. Look for a blue awning. $$, Adventure). British cuisine. I enjoy their breakfasts, with (non-pork) sausages, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, eggs, toast with marmalade . . . etc. Decent coffee too. They also serve British foods such as Yorkshire pudding. They also sell sandwiches of course.

Ric’s Country Kitchen (Ras Abu Abboud St near B-ring. In a small strip mall. $$, Adventure). American diner. This place is larger than J&G and serves the standard fare you'd get in a greasy-spoon diner. As there are not many diners in Doha the place is pretty popular, especially on Fridays. I prefer J&G because I find it quieter but others prefer Ric’s.

Fuddrucker’s (near Khalifa Tennis Centre also has a location at Ezdan Mall, $$$, Adventure). A popular place for burgers. My colleagues and I consider it a treat if we decide to drive out to Fuddrucker’s for lunch. I’ve never had anything other than the burgers there because I like them.

Market at W (W Hotel, $$$$, Alcohol, Marhaba). Not to be confused with the Spice Market, another restaurant at the W. This place serves a great three-course lunch special for QAR 85, including a very good burger. The price doesn't include any drinks so even ordering bottled water will likely push you to the $$$$ range. Popular with nearby office workers so if you are going for the weekday lunch special then call and reserve in advance.

IHOP (Gulf Mall, $$). Yep, the American pancake chain. There's not a lot of options for American breakfasts, especially all-day breakfasts, so I'm here once or twice a month.

I'll keep updating this as time goes on and I find more interesting places.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wandering Around Doha

I spent much of Friday wandering around. The weather is starting to cool off a bit so it's a little more comfortable to be out during the middle of the day.

First, over the summer the Government has been spending a lot of time turning a large amount of empty land near the Corniche into a park. Topsoil, grass seed, and lots and lots of watering is really paying off. Here's a picture I took from the side of the road near my apartment.

No, I'm not on the outskirts of the city in fact I'm more in the middle of it. The Qataris deliberately kept some land empty to turn into parkland. I expected a couple months time it will be open to the public. For now there are security guards (sitting under shady trees) to make sure people don't walk on the grass.

From there I went to see how The Pearl is coming along. The Pearl is a massive luxury development being built on reclaimed land north of the city. Much of the work on the first phase is done and it's now a matter of finishing off the apartment buildings and getting more stores and restaurants around the water. There's a number of restaurants and coffee shops already but there's still a lot of empty store space.

It's going to look fantastic when it's all finished.

Then in the evening I went down to Souq Waqif. The new Fall 2011 line is out in stores:

Awwwwwwwwwwwww, aren't they cute. Falcon shops were doing a brisk trade, every shop had some Qataris in it and a lot of falcons in stock. I saw at least three Qataris walking around outside with falcons on their hands. Because of the heat most the falcon shops are closed for the summer so I think they recently reopened.

I even came across a brand-new building in the Souq. I'll let you read what it is:

The lobby even had perches for falcons! Unfortunately it was closed for the evening. I'll try to get back there sometime and take some more photos.

In the main square they had a concert of traditional Qatari music. I sat down and listened to the band for an hour along with hundreds of Qataris. At times the Qataris were clapping along with the music, and a few would occasionally get up and dance to their favorite songs. I decided to take a quick video of the concert but unfortunately it is too big to load. I'll try to find a way to reduce the resolution to make it smaller.

Pretty active day, time for bed.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Secret Ministry

Unbeknownst to many people Qatar has a secret Ministry working within the shadows of the Government. Their building is unlabeled, its management unknown, and they don't issue press releases or organize conferences. Yet it is one of the most powerful Ministries in Qatar, a Ministry that almost no one can mess with, wielding an exceptional amount of power...

... The Ministry of Tearing Up Roads.

Anyone who has lived in Doha knows, deep down inside, that this Ministry exists. I have challenged many Qatari friends about it but they all deny its existence -- possibly out of fear of reprisals. Its employees are everywhere, touring the city at night looking for locations to tear up without warning. They are incredibly quick and amazingly efficient.

It's the only explanation.


Monday, October 03, 2011

Qataris Get a Raise

Just got back from a five day vacation to... well, I'll get to that in another post. The last month has been nothing but travel posts so it's time to get back to discussing Qatar.

Recently the Qatari Government announced big salary increases for Qataris working in the civil service and military. The increases ranged from -- are you ready? -- anywhere from 50% to 120%. No, no typos there, fifty to one-hundred-and-twenty percent. Wow!

Needless to say His Highness the Emir was greatly thanked for his generosity. Even better, the raises also extended to retired civil servants on a pension. (I suspect this was the group His Highness really wanted to help, a fixed pension doesn't go far when inflation is 15 to 20% a year)

As an aside I will take this moment to restate something I said back in March: Qatar is not undergoing any unrest or revolution. Qatar has not had any trouble. There will be no Egypt-style protests. Qatar is safe and stable. (And this was before giving out massive raises to most of the citizens!)

Now from what I've been told, despite what a lot of ex-pats think, the salaries in a lot of government jobs was never huge to begin with. In some junior level positions I believe the raise will amount to around $1500 a month but that's definitely better than nothing. Government jobs tend to be attractive not so much because of the salary but because of job security, and with great benefit packages and pensions. Some Qataris I spoke to who work in the private sector noted that they made more in the private sector than in the government sector. Well, at least before the raises were announced.

I also like that while the Government is trying to share its vast wealth with its citizens it's trying to target the working population. You're independently wealthy and don't work? No raise for you. You work for the Government to make a living and support a family? More money for you. No money for deadbeats.

There have been a few problems, or possible problems, that occurred because of the raises:

1) an obvious one is that Qataris who work in the private sector received no benefit, which of course has put the private sector in a difficult position. The private sector struggles sometimes to attract Qataris as they prefer to work for the Government, and with the raises that makes it even more challenging. Private companies also try to comply with “Qatarization” regulations which mandate a minimum percentage of Qatari employees. Many companies have had to match the raises if only to retain their existing Qatari staff.

One comment I read on the issue raised a good point. The person didn't have an issue with Qataris receiving raises as long as the Government realizes that by doing so it becomes even more difficult for companies to hire Qataris. Thus the Government shouldn't therefore be surprised if Qatarization targets are not being met, or that there is increased demand from Qataris for employment in the civil service. You can't give 50+% raises and then wonder why companies are struggling to hire Qataris. This may also lead to an increase in a strange phenomenon I refer to as "Rent-a-Qatari" -- a company agrees to pay a Qatari a small salary just so they can say that they have a Qatari “employed” there, yet the Qatari never has to show up. (You also find similar Rent-an-Emirati schemes in the United Arab Emirates)

2) It impacts how expensive Qatar becomes to do business, again because of item 1 above, which may ultimately impact economic development to some degree as companies decide to set up elsewhere. It is unlikely that a company will use Qatar as a regional hub for its business if it is more expensive than other areas in the Gulf. If the cost becomes prohibitive enough businesses will only set up here if they need to do business in Qatar itself.

3) Finally, and some Qataris warned me about this but I didn't think this would happen, instant inflation. Prices went up in some shops and restaurants immediately after the announcement. Given that Qataris only make up 15% of the population, so I figured the raises only applied to about 5% of the total population of the country, I didn't think some stores would immediately raise prices. Apparently some did. There have been calls for the Government to take action against these enterprises but in the meantime a grassroots boycott-movement, spread mostly through texting and messenger, identified businesses that raised their prices and asked Qataris to boycott them. It apparently has had an impact on some businesses such as restaurants but there are also concerns that some people are taking advantage of the situation and deliberately naming innocent stores in order to hurt their business. If the price increases become widespread this will become an issue for a lot of non-Qataris as they have not received any salary increases and in many cases are on a limited income in an already expensive country. Time will tell.

No, no raise for me either. Would be nice.