Friday, June 17, 2016

Ramadan 2016, Day 11 - Some Traditional Arabic Food

Last night I was hanging out at a friend's majlis when at around midnight we were presented with a sohour of traditional dishes.

With the exception of the warak enab (stuffed grape leaves) all of the other dishes contained meat. Meat with rice and pasta, meat with rice and nuts, etc. Even the pot of yellow-brown stew in the second picture is a dish similar to harees, very finely ground meat blended with potato, animal fat, and some spices (I think it's name was something like mathooba).

It seems like a lot of emphasis on meat and rice but you have to bear in mind that historically in this part of the Gulf there were not a lot of food options. The harsh desert climate meant that there was not much in the way of crops, and while there was plenty of trade with places like India or Persia perishable goods would spoil so only foods that could last for a time in the heat could be sent. This means that food options were broadly limited to:

Fish and other seafood
Herd animals (sheep, goats, camels)
Hunted animals (such as oryx or birds)
Rice or, less commonly, other grains such as wheat
Lentils and beans
Vegetables that can store for a while, such as onions
Sugar and honey
Coffee and tea

It was only last night that I realized that potatoes were also available, my friends told me that potatoes are grown in some parts of Saudi Arabia. It is less common in Qatar cuisine than rice though.

Thus meat/rice/spices is a fundamental cornerstone of Qatari food (here's other examples), with the rice and spices giving it an Indian touch. Naturally with refrigeration and faster shipping all sorts of food is now available, and Doha has restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world, but Qataris are by and large holding onto their traditional foods and it is still common for these foods to be served in their homes or at celebrations. I've never been to a Qatari wedding that did not serve lamb on rice with spices or lentils for example, and whenever my friends and I go camping in the desert goat or lamb on rice is the main dish.

If you wish to try traditional cuisine there are a few places at Souq Waqif that serve these dishes. There are of course many Arabic restaurants in Doha but I'm not sure how many of them serve Qatari food as opposed to, say, Egyptian or Levant cuisine. Some Ramadan events may also have traditional cuisine available for you to try.

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