Last Updated: April 17, 2018
When you think of holiday destinations, Doha, the capital of Qatar, might not be the first place that comes to mind. But with Doha hosting the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup, Doha is proving itself as an exotic go-to location for tourists.
Take an eight-hour flight from Singapore and you’ll arrive in this modern city on the bay. Like an oasis in its desert climate, the towering skyscrapers seem to have mushroomed out of nowhere. Even with Doha emerging as one of the richest cities in the world, it is still one that is steeped in its customs.
Similarly, the local food here reflects this beautiful contrast with both exquisite fine dining experiences as well as traditional street food influenced by a variety of cuisines from around the Middle East. Intrigued? Here’s a look at the exotic Middle Eastern food you can find in Doha.
Doha has been making its mark with events like the mammoth annual Qatar International Food Festival (QIFF) that I had recently attended from 15 to 25 March 2018, which you can plan to visit next year too.
With over 170 stalls from around the globe, you could find food from just about any cuisine here. You could enrol in a cooking class conducted by your favourite celebrity chefs.
I even got to meet my culinary hero, blind chef and winner of Masterchef, Christine Ha. Of course, the main highlight was definitely the food!
I simply couldn’t miss out on the national dish of Qatar. Also known as kabsa, machboos is a traditional Saudi Arabian stew cooked in spices and served with seafood or meat. It actually reminded me of our local Indian biryani!
If you think machboos is boring, think again. The meat pairing spans from chicken to even camel meat, which tastes like a cross between lamb and beef.
If you’re craving a bit more kick, you can try the bukhari, a spicy version of machboos. Not on the same level of spice as sambal or chilli padi, but just as delicious.
At QIFF 2018, I tried machboos at local restaurant Al Waldah‘s stall. The machboos had strong notes of cloves and saffron, and I liked how the spices infused in the rice reduced the gamey taste of the meat in the dish.
Priced at less than 30 QAR (approx. S$10.80), this humble dish can be found just about everywhere in Doha. If you want the full Qatari food experience, machboos is definitely a must-try.
Qatar International Food Festival 2018: Al Corniche Street, Sheraton Grand Doha Resort & Convention Hotel, Hotel Park, P.O 6000, Doha, Qatar | Website
Translated as “standing market”, Souq Waqif is a lively traditional market in Doha with a history dating back a century. The story goes that the souq would be frequently flooded, causing the locals to sell their goods while standing up, hence the name “standing market”.
Much of the original market has actually been demolished. However, in 2006, the souq was rebuilt with a pseudo-aged architecture such as cobbled lanes and white-washed buildings to restore it to its past glory.
Souq Waqif is one of the best places to be in touch with Qatari culture. With everything from spices to even a falcon hospital, there is so much to explore among its winding alleyways.
You absolutely cannot leave Doha without getting some halwa, which is a traditional Arabic confection. At Souq Waqif, you should check out Qatari Sweets, which has been there before the market was even constructed.
The Arabic candies sold at this sweets shop are crafted in-house using a large traditional pot. I caught the local shopkeeper brewing some traditional halwa using a base of sugar water and cornflour, which is simmered for two hours. The flavours are then put in with starch and stirred painstakingly to form gelatin.
The deep red hue of this box of flavoured Halwa (30 QAR, approx. S$10.80) comes from rose water that added delightful floral notes. It tasted like a thick jelly, with traditional spices for a Middle Eastern flair.
The rose-flavoured halwa is flour-based, but another type of halwa uses a nut butter base, like Qatari Sweets’ tahini-based Rahash (30 QAR, approx. S$10.80). Made from egg white, sugar water and sesame paste, this dessert had a sticky texture similar to nougat.
Taste-wise, it had a mellow nutty flavour brightened by the sharp sweetness of cardamom. Nut-lovers will also love the crunchy walnuts and pistachios in the candy.
At Qatari Sweets, all the treats are conveniently packaged in tins, perfect for bringing home as souvenirs!
Qatari Sweets: Souq Waqif, Bird Souq, P.O 15103, Doha, Qatar | Tel: +974 4441 0219 | Opening Hours: (Daily) 8am – 1pm
What looked like a hotdog stand actually turned out to be a small pushcart selling tasty traditional snacks.
Seeing how huge they were, I couldn’t resist getting the Simit (7 QAR, approx. S$2.50), otherwise known as Turkish bagel. Encrusted with sesame seeds and occasionally poppy seeds, this is a popular breakfast food in Turkey and the Middle East.
I personally quite enjoyed the chewiness of the bread which had a bit of texture from the sesame seeds. While we might be used to eating bagels with a spread like cream cheese, simit is generally served plain as it is usually consumed with tea. Get it right — tea and bagel, not coffee.
To the unfamiliar eye, this may look like a French crepe. This is actually Khubus Regag, also known as Arabic crepe, a popular Qatari street food that is a cross between bread and pastry.
At Souq Waqif, you will find little makeshift cooking stations manned by Qatari women. With so many stalls to pick from, remember to compare prices. One serving should not go higher than 5 QAR (approx. S$1.80), so do bargain away (I had one selling to me for 50 QAR (approx. $18.01))!
Unlike crepe, khubus regag is made using a dough mixture of only flour, water and kosher salt, sans the eggs and milk typically found in crepes. The dough is rolled into a ball and fanned out around the edges of the griddle first.
Even though khobus regag can be eaten plain, you will often find it paired with toppings such as eggs, cheese, honey or even yummy Nutella.
The mark of a good khobus regag is the crispness. While not paper-thin like a crepe, the slight thickness did offer more bite, which was actually quite appetising.
Souq Waqif: Souq Waqif, Doha, Qatar | Tel: +974 4433 6444 | Opening Hours: (Daily) 7.30am – 12.30pm, 3.30pm – 10pm | Website
Finish off your exploration of Souq Waqif with an exotic Persian dinner at one of the finest restaurants at the market, Parisa @ Souq Waqif.
Look at its opulent entrance! It’s way too fancy-schmancy for just a restaurant.
The rest of the interior is a lavish mix of turquoise and gold that made it look like a palace. I definitely felt under-dressed for the occasion!
Our dinner was this massive platter consisting of three types of succulent Iranian kababs meant for sharing. In Singapore, I’ve tried some kababs sold in Mediterranean eateries, which can’t compare to the authentic ones I had at Parisa.
Beautifully charred, the Akbar Joojeh (75 QAR, approx. S$27) is a whole chicken kabab marinated in saffron to give it a delicious yellow colour. Infused with a pomegranate sauce, the chicken also had a hint of citrus that brightened the flavour of the meat.
My favourite was the Kabab Torsh (90 QAR, approx. S$32.40). Marinated in a mix of walnut, pomegranate syrup and some herbs to infuse aroma, the charcoal-grilled beef fillet was quite flavourful without being too gamey.
The pomegranate seeds on top were especially delightful as they added a refreshing tanginess to the meat.
As one of the top Persian food haunts in Doha, Parisa is your best bet to get a taste of this lesser-known food. So be adventurous and be rewarded with an exquisite Persian dining experience you won’t regret.
Just on the Doha waterfront is the city’s most stunning piece of architecture, the Museum of Islamic Arts. This was designed by leading architect I M Pei, who’s most famous for creating the iconic glass pyramid of the Louvre in Paris.
Sitting at the crown of the museum is this gastronomic gem, IDAM. An Alain Ducasse restaurant, IDAM is helmed by executive chef Damien Leroux and delivers fine-dining French-Mediterranean food with an innovative Arabic twist.
As a Muslim-majority country, don’t expect Doha to have throngs of alcoholic bars. What Doha does have are some invigorating fruity mocktails served in most local fine-dining establishments.
The restaurant serves Arabic-inspired thirst-quenchers, including IDAM’s signature Wild Lavender (48 QAR, approx. S$17.40). Infused with hibiscus, pomegranate, lemon and lavender, this mocktail was citrusy with a delicate herb finish that cleansed the palate.
There’s also the Kanari (48 QAR, approx. S$17.40), a tropical blend of mango, orange, ginger and mint. While taking in the beautiful Doha skyline from atop the museum, indulge in this cooling and zesty mocktail for the perfect relaxing experience.
IDAM by Alain Ducasse: Museum of Islamic Art, 5th Floor، Corniche Promenade, P.O.Box 2777, Doha, Qatar | Tel: +974 4422 4488 | Opening Hours: (Monday & Tuesday) Closed, (Wednesday & Thursday, Saturday & Sunday) 12.30pm – 3pm, 7pm – 10pm, (Friday) 7pm – 10pm | Website
Turkish cuisine is one of the most prominent foods in Doha. And hailing from Turkey comes one of the Internet’s most infamous people, the legendary “Salt Bae”. He is the restaurant owner of Nusr-Et Steakhouse!
Nusr-Et Steakhouse has made its way to Doha with an outlet at the Sheraton Grand Doha. A steakhouse with Turkish influence, Nusr-et Steakhouse is the go-to place in Doha for all meat-lovers.
Here at Nusr-Et Steakhouse, don’t be alarmed when the waiters dramatically scorch your food right in front of your face. Or even feed you! Their signature style is to serve you your food in the most entertaining way possible.
Of course, no Turkish meal would be complete without Baklava. In Nusr-Et, the Baklava had creamy vanilla ice cream elegantly sandwiched between the filo pastry.
Made with crushed walnuts and pistachios, this classic dessert also had a touch of syrup. Each bite was pure bliss, from the flaky filo pastry to the crunch of the pistachios. Baklava is usually quite sweet so if you’ve got a massive sweet tooth like me, Baklava is great for you.
Dining at Nusr-Et isn’t cheap with its set menu going at 450 QAR (approx. S$162), but you’re paying for more than superb food. The experience is truly one-of-a-kind, so do make a stop if you are willing to fork out the cash.
The Pearl is Doha’s version of Singapore’s Sentosa Cove. Filled with high-rise apartments and even a dock with private yachts, The Pearl is the epitome of luxury in Qatar.
Built on a former pearl diving site, The Pearl is more than just a glamorous district. It’s also a reminder of the lost pearling trade that was the livelihood for many past generations of Qatari.
Flat White Specialty Coffee, as suggested by its Westernised name, is a coffee shop in The Pearl where locals can get artisan Middle Eastern coffee.
Its modern interior has a cosy spaciousness and ample overhanging potted plants that give it a relaxing vibe.
Wouldn’t it be great to wake up to this beautiful cuppa Turmeric Latte (23 QAR, approx. S$8.30)? Just look at the luxurious yellow hue!
But this Instagram-worthy drink shows is more than just a pretty cup. Distinctly flavoured with cardamom and cinnamon that was very easy on the tongue, this refreshing blend of spices is really the perfect pick-me-up for a long day.
As the unofficial national drink of Qatar, karak is a must-try on your Qatari food list. At Flat White Specialty Coffee, you can get their Specialty Karak (8 QAR, approx. S$2.60), which oddly resembles our Singaporean teh tarik.
A blend of strong black tea sweetened with condensed milk, this drink was actually bursting with spice!
Do give the drink a whiff before taking a sip. The sharpness of the ginger and cardamom will hit first, giving the karak a beautiful fragrance, before finishing off delicately with the sweet creaminess from the condensed milk. Strong yet mellow, it’s no wonder the Qatari are so addicted to it.
Let’s hope they come to Singapore soon so we can have a unique Middle Eastern artisan caffeine fix right here in Singapore!
Flat White Specialty Coffee: 27 La Croisette, The Pearl-Qatar, Porto Arabia, Unit 346, P.O 92636 | Tel: +974 4029 1965 | Opening Hours: (Saturday to Wednesday) 7am – 11pm, (Thursday & Friday) 7am – 11.30pm, Closed on Friday from 11.30am – 12.30pm for Friday Prayers | Website | Facebook
And that wasn’t even all the food I had in Doha! I’ll admit, Qatari cuisine isn’t as iconic or accessible as Japanese or even Western food. But in no way does it mean that it’s a cuisine that should be ignored.
Even if you aren’t going up to Doha for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, come to Doha and enjoy the enchanting spread of food that is as rich as the Qatari culture itself!