Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Q is for Qatar: A story on food and love

Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar

Much like Oman, Qatar is the only country that begins with the letter "q". Funny thing is, those two countries are very close is distance, about the length from Columbus to New York. It is something about that region that enjoys establishing countries with odd letters.

Qatar is a peninsula situated off the Arabian Gulf and Suadi Arabia. The traditional food of Qatar, thus was suited to the lives of the nomadic tribes, who predominately consumed foods that were relatively available, such as indigenous produce and the animals that traveled with them,  and that could also be easily carried, such as rice and dates. 

The proximity to the Arabian Gulf makes fresh fish and seafood central to Qatar's cuisine. Many types of of fishy delectables are available in Qatar, such as lobster, crab, shrimp, tuna, kingfish, and snapper, which is often served with seasoned rice. Meat dishes are usually based on lamb and mutton, because of the historical tie to nomadic tribal influences. The traditional dish machbous consist of spiced lamb and rice and traditionally served from a large communal platter. Hareis is another popular lamb dish, which is prepared with slow-cooked wheat and tender lamb and seafood, and eaten with spiced rice (delicious, right?). For religious reasons,  Muslim Qatari never eat pork or drink alcohol, instead they eat halal meat, which has been butchered according to Muslim laws (neither alcohol or pork are served publicly). Milk from cow or goat is also used, and usually made into laban (yoghurt) or labneh (cream cheese). Rice and burghul ( bulgur wheat, like the one used in my Lebanon blog) are used to accompany meat and seafood dishes. 


Qatari desserts are normally enjoyed with a cup of coffee.
Khabees is prepared using semolina, rosewater, cardamom, saffron, nuts, and dates.  Lugaymat is another popular dessert, resembles what American's would consider a donut. This sweet treat consist of fried dumplings sweetened with honey. The Qatari also have a twist to coffee with qahwa helw. Translated as "sweet coffee", this beverage is coffee infused with orange, saffron, cardamon, and sugar, and usually served on special occasions. 
doesn't it look like donut holes?

The workday starts early in Qatar, breakfast usually being served at around 6:00am. The meal is light, and usually consist of olives, cheese, yoghurt and coffee (sounds good to me). 
Qatari breakfast
Lunch is the biggest meal of the deal. People usually come home during the middle of the day and consume a large meal of appetizers, fish or lamb, salads, veggies, bread and fruit, and then take a nap, then go back to work well rested and fed (I think these people are on to something. Imagine how much happier people at work/class would be if they weren't all cranky from sleep and food deprivation!). Dinner is served late, and is usually light, unless during Ramadan, where they feast when the sun goes down, or on special occasions. Many people eat without silverware, instead using bread as cutlery and scoop the food. The people of Qatar also prepare most of their meals by hand, because they believe the hands give the food a good energy.

Globalization is effecting the way people eat around the world. In Qatar, American fast food is becoming  increasing popular, and it was ridiculously hard to find any information on traditional Qatari cuisine. I find it super important for people to keep a tight grip on traditional cuisine because essentially that is the way people should be eating. If traditional diets weren't healthy diets, the people who follow it wouldn't still be around! To quote one of my favorite books, Michael Pollan's Food Rules, one should "pay attention to how a cultures eats as well as to what it eats...(because) traditional diets are more than the sum of their food parts"


This week I learned a lesson in love. I should have taken a page from Qatari cooking because I did not make this weeks food with much love. I was on a time crunch, so I prepared my food in a flustered state, thus not giving it a good energy, which was clearly tasted in the food. Being Easter weekend, I wanted to make something that I could share as an appetizer. I found a recipe for a Qatari dip, motabel, which is similar to hummus, but made with roasted eggplant. The dish was not by any means awful, but I felt could have been better, with time and love. So try the dish, and tell me what you think!

serves 6

  1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place eggplant on lightly greased baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes, or until eggplant is tender. Once roasted, remove from oven and allow to cool.
  2.  Once eggplants have cooled, peel the skins or scoop the eggplant from the skin with a spoon. Set aside.
  3.  In a food processor, combine and blend tahini, garlic, and peppers. Add in eggplant and blend well. Add in olive oil.
  4. Remove from food processor and place in serving bowl. Stir in lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Refrigerate and serve with pita bread/chips. 

My sister, Jennifer, enjoying motabel


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  2. MAN im a sexay. no but really i wish you would have NOT left it at mommys cause i got some pitaa bread today that would have been great with it :) ps. can you teach me how to make that olive oil spread you see at places? xoxoxo

  3. “Stephanie’s and food anthropology” is getting better every chapter, I am very passionate with cultural issues around the world, and this blog has showed me food as interesting link.Stephanie this is a good and delicious job, hope I will taste a Qatari dish in your dinner table.
    Thinking of your tenacity this proverbs come to my mind, let me share with you.
    “Where there is will, there is a way.” ” (English proverb)
    “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”(Chinese Proverb)