Hey all, I hope you’re having a great Wednesday. It’s been about a week since I last posted, I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning, packing and general house keeping to get ready for my trip to Spain and going back home. On top of that I’ve had some kind of stomach bug and I can’t seem to kick it. It’s been more annoying than painful or aggressive. This sort of thing where I feel fine, but as soon as I eat, I get horrible nausea. So I haven’t been cooking or particularly eating much. I’m currently trying to do just juice and vegetables, at least one solid meal a day. Which is why this is not a recipe post.
With my three months in Qatar coming to an end, I thought a nice way to wrap it up would be to share my favorite places to eat here. I mean I’m in a country where all in one kilometer you could find baklava, camel leg, chicken tikka masala, pad thai and lamb kabobs. Fair warning, these are not any sort of nice restaurant that you’d take your family to for brunch or go to on your anniversary. No, these are the places you stumble upon when you make a wrong turn, or the places you stop when you’re so hungry you’re willing to eat at the first place you see. Half of these restaurants aren’t found on maps and don’t even have signs in English, some of them not at all. Will you get confused looks from the regular customers? Of course! You’ll get even weirder looks when you go back the next day! But you go back because these tiny, sort of dirty, hole in the wall places make amazing food.
So, let’s get into it. When we first arrived in Doha, we were looking at a map of nearby places to eat. On the map we found a place called Khartoum Nights. For those of you who don’t know, Khartoum is the capital of Sudan, which happens to be where my dad grew up. So Sudanese restaurant was of course our first stop. It’s a tiny little place, hidden in a strip of about ten car upholstery shops, with a bright blue sign that only has Arabic writing on it. When you walk in, it’s a tiny shop with a counter in the front to order, pink walls, and a window looking into the kitchen. It’s all men working and eating, but they’re pleasant. You go to the counter, they’ll tell you what they have that day, you order, and the man working the counter yells across the room to the men working in the kitchen and they get started on your order.
Now, if you’ve ever seen the episode of Brookyn Nine Nine where they let Boyle pick lunch and he ordered Sudanese food, I’ll admit… it’s not entirely false. I actually got a kick out of it. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never found a hoof in something my dad cooked. I’d also be lying if I didn’t have the same reaction as Gina when she found a hoof in her soup. Also, my dad would most definitely refer to it as a “marrow nugget wrapped in a thick toenail”. So yeah, relatable, hilarious, but definitely doesn’t do Sudanese food justice.
At Khartoum Nights, they make everything from foul (pronounced fool), to taatmia, to komonia (pictured below). Foul is a dish made out of smashed fava beans, topped with sesame oil, feta cheese, yogurt, egg, and sometimes fresh vegetables, served with bread. It’s really simple and so delicious. Taatmia is the Sudanese way of saying falafel sandwich. But this isn’t the kind you get at your local farmers market. It’s falafel stuffed into a pita bread with eggs, lettuce and beans, smothered in a tahini sauce. In Khartoum, there are taatmia stands and food trucks on every corner selling these sandwiches. It’s the street food of Sudan. Komonia, is an unfortunate dish. I wouldn’t suggest this to anyone, no matter how adventurous. I’ve seen it made a hundred times and I can say honestly, it’s just not good. Komonia is a tomato based stew with potatoes and zucchini. Doesn’t sound bad, right? Wrong. The thing that makes it terrible is that its made with intestines. Usually sheep, sometimes camel or cow. I’ve never made it past one bite of the stuff. Horrible texture, the taste of the intestines is something I can’t even explain, and when you really think about what you’re eating… I mean come on. What sicko came up with this dish? But they make that too. They also make fried fish, which is literally an entire fish dipped in hot oil. It’s nothing special but it’s pretty good too. When I was a kid I really thought that the only way to eat fish was to dip the entire thing in oil. Luckily I grew out of that. I could keep going on about Sudanese food, (and there’s a lot to say about a cuisine that no one has really talked about before) but the point is that, whether you’re ordering fava beans or camel assholes (I’m kidding! but seriously), they make it here, the right way, fresh every time. Oh, and the best part, it costs about 40 Riyals ($12) for two people.
Al Aker Sweets
Okay, if you follow me on instagram at all, you might already know about this place. Also, it’s not a hole in the wall or a wrong turn restaurant. It’s one of Qatar’s most popular places and you can find them all over the country. No exaggeration, we went camping in the desert one night and they even had an Al Aker trailer out in the middle of the sand dunes. People love this place. They serve all sorts of desserts including, ice cream, cookies and baklava, but what has everyone hooked is their kanafeh. Kanafeh comes from Palestine and it’s a totally unexpected delicacy. I would describe it as what would happen if a mozzarella stick and baklava had a baby. It’s prepared on a round sheet pan and kept warm over an open flame. They layer mozzarella, ricotta and shredded phyllo dough and bake it so the dough is crispy and the cheese is melted. After it comes out of the oven they keep it over a flame to keep the cheese melted and drizzle a sugar syrup over the dough. Most people enjoy their dessert with a cup of red tea with mint. Listen, if you’re gonna die, you might as well die eating this shit.
Any Shawarma Place
Since I’ve been here I haven’t had bad shawarma once. There are little shawarma stops all over the place here. You pull up, honk your car horn, an employee comes to the car, you order and they bring the food out to you. It’s the Qatari version of a drive through. Most of these places serve the same things, lamb or chicken shawarma, on a sandwich, your choice of mild or spicy. What sets a shawarma place apart from the others is their sauce. Theres one spot in whats called Town Center. I couldn’t tell you the name of the place but they have a great tahini sauce on their shawarma. The other place I love is Shawarma King. They have a spicy shawarma sandwich on sajj bread. I can’t figure out what exactly the spicy sauce is but it’s HOT and it rocks. I honestly don’t have any pictures of these places but if you’re in Qatar and you’re in the mood for some good shawarma, check these places out.
Museum of Islamic Art
That title might surprise you. The Museum of Islamic Art is an amazing museum. It’s beautiful, educational and unlike any museum I’ve seen before. But they also happen to gave two great places to eat! There’s of course IDAM, an Alain Ducasse restaurant. It’s located on the fifth floor of the museum and overlooks the sea. The dining room is small and intimate but so beautifully designed. I’ve never eaten here, so I don’t have much to say about the food itself. I have however, taken a master class with Chef Damien LeRoux and aside from being an amazing chef, he is a genuinely kind person. When he cooks you can see his passion for food and the joy it brings him. I believe this is part of what sets IDAM apart from most other restaurants in Doha. It must be great food because it is prepared with great care.
The place in the museum I have eaten at is actually the Friday/Saturday market. This market is one of my favorite places in Qatar for more than just the food. It features artists from all around the world selling their work, clothes, makeup, and other products. There’s an amazing artist from Senegal, Modu, who has the same passion for art as Chef LeRoux has for food. He’s the type of person who brings people back time after time and he’s always making new art to see. Along with Modu are people from all different cultures making traditional food. A woman from China who makes fresh Jian Dui (fried sesame balls filled with red bean paste). The only thing she uses to cook is a pan of hot oil and a pair of chopsticks. A group of people from the Philippines that makes chicken feet, livers and intestines. I’m always pleasantly surprised by their food. Any my favorite, a family from Sudan who makes the best Zalabia (Sudanese version of a donut, fried dough and powdered sugar). They make it to order and it’s the best Zalabia I’ve had (don’t tell my grandma).
Yes, this place is literally called Ethiopian Hut when it’s translated from Arabic. It’s similar to Khartoum nights. Owned by a woman from Ethiopia who married a man from Sudan and lived there for many years. They came to Doha and opened a tiny place on a corner and it’s always packed, inside and out. There is no sign, the only way you’d know that you were at the right place would be the brightly painted tin that surrounds the roof of the building and the crowd of people sitting outside on the ground eating. They serve fresh enjera, demmaa, okra and shaia. The first time me, my Sudanese father and my pale, white mother walked in to this place, you should have seen the looks. I think they thought we were lost and needed directions. But no, just there for a traditional Ethiopian lunch. We ordered demmaa (stewed vegetables and goat meat) and okra. They brought it out on fresh enjera (Ethiopian bread) and we inhaled it. Followed by Ethiopian coffee. The next day we went back for dinner. I think they were more confused than they were the first time we came. People asked all sorts of questions about why the three of us were all together. When the owner found out my mom was married to my dad and he wasn’t our driver, she came out to meet us and had one of the employees run to the nearest store and get us bottled water. This time we ordered demmaa, shaia (small pieces of meat cooked over hot stones), and foul, which the owner made for us, Sudanese style. The. Best. Foul. I’ve. Ever. Had. Of course, followed by Ethiopian coffee. The THIRD time we came back, we were family.
The hospitality and community of this place really sets it apart. They have tables inside the restaurant but most people sit outside on a tarp over the sand and eat together. They make the shaia in a little window so people can walk up from outside and order and the whole restaurant can watch while the meat cooks. People sit at different tables but engage in conversations throughout the restaurant. Most of the people who eat at the Ethiopian Hut come from Eastern Africa alone and send money back to their families. They’ve created their own family and found a little piece of home here and it’s beautiful to see.
If you’re ever in Doha, these are the places to check out. You can eat at an Alain Ducasse or Jean-Georges restaurant almost anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, those experiences are amazing and worth it, but unless you’re planning a trip to Sudan or Ethiopia, you won’t find this stuff anywhere else. You can get a great meal at a great price AND have a story to tell. But more than that, you’ll see a little piece of culture that you wouldn’t normally find.