I think I cottoned to Doha for one huge reason: street food.
A while back, Anissa Helou posted something on her blog about take-away food at Souq Waqif in Doha. On my Emirates trip, I’d been snooping around for traditional Emirati food, but it’s a little hard to find done well. People don’t go out for it at restaurants typically. So when I went to Doha, I went straight over to the Souq Waqif after visiting the Museum of Islamic Art.
I didn’t see the souq before they redid it, and some people say it’s too slick now, but I can handle a discreetly signed Haagen-Dazs store if the place still seems like locals use it more than be-fanny-packed tourists. I saw a lot of nice cafes and restaurants, and I was already giddy from that, since I hadn’t seen such a casual hangout space in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. And I saw lots of spices, blinged-out fabrics and even some little colored chicks for sale.
But then I rounded a corner on the far side of the market and SHAZAM!
I bellied up to one of the tables and asked to see what was in the pots. I wound up with a big container of hisw, a seed that had been boiled to jelly, and seasoned with sugar, ghee, saffron and black pepper. Then scrambled eggs were stirred in. Dude.
I went back to those ladies and got great stuff from them all three nights I was in Doha.
Deep down, I admit I’d been feeling a little suspicious of the Emirates because there was no street food–I just couldn’t wrap my head around a place like that. To be fair, there are perfectly good reasons why you might not want to be eating food on the street, and why no one would want to sell it to you: namely, every degree of heat over 100, which is quite common.
So why does it flourish in Doha (perhaps only in this one spot in the whole country, but still), and not the Emirates? Those ladies were freezing their butts off the nights I was there. I don’t know what happens in the summer. I did read something in passing about a Qatari program to teach traditional foods–maybe that also encourages the food-sellers here?
And that’s not to say there aren’t amazingly good things to eat in the Emirates–they’re just indoors. Check out I Live in a Frying Pan, and the post she wrote for Serious Eats about Dubai eats. I got to eat lunch with Arva at a Rajasthani restaurant that filled my ghee quota for the decade.
In both places, I was happily surprised about the food. It just made me a tiny bit nervous in the Emirates to have to really plan to find it. And I would totally recommend a trip to Doha just for the Souq Waqif.