In Canada, autumn and winter are all about comfort food, warm, hearty meals and inventive cuisine. Spring and summer are when grills come out - steak and shrimp on the BarB, the occasional sausage or burger, spinach salad and lots of fresh summer produce. Quick meals that allow us to spend maximum time enjoying the glorious warmer weather.
In Qatar, at least for us, the opposite seems to ring true. With the arrival of hellish heat in May comes the desire to retire indoors, draw the blinds, and either cook up a storm or order in. The occasional meal out is another way to beat the heat and avoid absolute hibernation.
With the a/c turned up full blast and the blinds drawn to keep the cool in, I get a sudden nesting urge, re-arranging pots and pans and rediscovering items like the tagine that has been sitting useless on top of the kitchen cabinets for eight months.
This morning I'm overcome with a sudden urge to put that clay pot to good use, so decide to throw in some lamb chops, garlic, mint, root vegetables and stock. Voila! A hearty meal that will warrant popping open a lovely bottle of red for dinner! I'm sitting outside at 8:00 a.m., in 36C weather, enjoying the early morning 'coolness' with a steaming cup of Joe before the extreme heat forces me back in around 10:00 a.m. That's when temps are likely to rise above forty, but I'll consider myself lucky that humidity hasn't yet kicked. If it had, I wouldn't be sitting out here typing about the stodgy meal slow cooking in my polar kitchen.
But what to do on those days when you just don't feel like cooking in Doha? Well, let's just say that this is a city built with the laziest of cooks in mind. Restaurants and takeaways abound, with shawarma stalls and Turkish takeouts on every street corner. If you are craving something more Western and artery-clogging, head down to Cholesterol Corner for your choice of: McDonald's (even McD's delivers in Doha), Chilli's, Appleby's, Ponderosa (I know, I thought it had gone the way of the pioneer as well!), Burger King, Hardee's, Dairy Queen, and the list goes on endlessly.
Our preferred indulgence leans more toward Thai Snack, an amazing little oasis (albeit somewhat neglected in appearance) takeaway on Al Nasr street, just off Cholesterol Corner. Delicious dumplings, cashew beef, papaya salad and Tom Yum soup. You can eat in or take out, but they don't deliver. Parking on the busy street can be a challenge, but still, it's worth the effort.
Kiddo likes pizza, and for an occasional indulgence we'll order from Fabio's. Though they have an amazing array of sophisticated and creative pies (asparagus, seafood, boconccini, etc.) I have to admit that plain old pepperoni is a favorite in our household, even for our self-professed vegetarian child (she's not convinced pepperoni is actually meat ... I think she might be on to something).
Turkey Central, also on Al Nasr street, is another yummy and affordable option, but the staff taking your order over the phone have a limited grasp of English, so what gets delivered to you might not be quite what you'd ordered. Once in a while, you get lucky, and they actually send you something much tastier than your original selection.
When we dine out, we usually like to go somewhere that will allow us to pair up our meal with a glass of wine or lager. This limits us to hotel restaurants, of which there are few that serve up a fairly decent meal without totally breaking the bank.
On Thursday we went to the Belgian Bar at the Intercontinental Hotel. Oysters on the shell, salmon and asparagus tartare, mussels in garlic and wine, grilled steak and a bottle of Chianti set us back about $200. All in all, the meal was ok, the atmosphere chilled and laid back, though quite smoky by the time 10:00 p.m. rolled around.
When going for mussels, I actually prefer Mykonos, a Greek restaurant also at the Intercon. The lovely terrace is glorious in cooler months, but it loses some of its charm in the summer months when you have to retire to the indoor section. But again, you should leave with enough in your wallet to at least pay the cab fared or the ride home.
For the ultimate in Asian fusion taste and dining experence, Hakkasan at the St. Regis Hotel is definitely our favorite, with the best crispy duck salad I've had in my life. But you're guaranteed to come away with gaping holes in your pockets to make room for that full tummy. If you follow your host's menu and pairing suggestion for two, don't be surprised if you leave the restaurant nearly 400$ (QAR 1,400) poorer than when you arrived.
We're not huge fans of Indian cuisine, but Chingari at Radisson Blu would convert even the greatest hater. The relaxed seating, Indian house band, impeccable service and mouth-watering chappati and butter chicken make for a truly enjoyable dining experience.
These are just a few of our favorites (note, I'm not plugging these restaurants for any personal or financial benefit, only to share a few ideas with Doha readers). I'd love to hear yours.
Happy hibernating/dining in Doha!