Typical Qatari Dishes and Where to Find Them
If you are visiting Qatar, trying the local cuisine might be the highlight of your trip, so we've produced a list of authentic Qatari delicacies that locals and residents enjoy and, of course, where to find them.
But, before we get to that list, how about a little background information on Qatari cuisine?
Qatari Food - Origins, Ingredients and Meal Times
Traditional Qatari cuisine is influenced by spices and foods such as cinnamon, cardamom, saffron, nuts, limes, and dried apricots from Asia and the wider Middle East, reflecting the country's long-established trade background. Historically, Qatar's location (perched on the edge of the Persian Gulf with access to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, and its land borders with the rest of the Middle East, giving access to Africa, Persia, India, China and the Ottoman Empire) made it favourable for both land and sea trade. Traders exchanged commodities, including food and spices, for raw materials, such as coral, pearls, and horses, right up to Qatar's oil boom of the 1970s.
Since the discovery of oil and gas, Qatar has seen significant changes. The country's subsequent development and increase in tourism have brought about a mass influx of foreigners from all over the world. Their varying tastes have also influenced the foods you can find in Qatar. Today, the Qatari food scene is as dynamic as the country's economy and is constantly evolving. However, the traditional dishes born of the nation's ancient trade routes are still hugely popular and widely found all across the country.
Traditional Qatari cuisine blends bold flavours with healthy, natural ingredients. The earthy yet vibrant flavours of stews, curries, and casseroles are reflected in the simple cooking methods and wholesome ingredients of one-pot cooking. Cardamom, cloves, loomi (dried lime), and cumin are common flavours in Qatari cuisine. Arabic Coffee (Qahwa) is also an integral part of the cuisine. It is often served with dates and usually after meals.
In Qatar, lunch is the main meal of the day, and lighter meals are eaten in the morning and the evening. However, as more people work during the day, family meals in the evening are becoming more commonplace. For many families, the noon lunch on Friday after prayers is the most important gathering of the week. Dining habits differ during Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn until sunset. Breakfast and light snacks are served before sunrise in a meal called suhoor, and then a large evening meal called Iftar is shared with friends and family at sunset. Holidays and festivals like Eid Al-Fitr or Eid Al-Adha are also when families gather to share a meal.
So, now you know what flavours you’ll be eating, why and when, let's check out some of Qatar’s favourite eatables.
Image: Aref Alodat/Shutterstock.com
Majboos, regarded as the national dish of Qatar, is a slow-cooked lamb or chicken meal with rice and is one of the most common meals served in Qatari homes. Majboos is made as a one-pot dish by placing a whole lamb or chicken in a pot with some onions, tomatoes, and spices, then cooking slowly over low heat until tender and juicy. It is often paired with Daqoos, a native tomato garlic sauce.
Some say that Majboos originated in Yemen, where the dish is traditionally cooked in an underground oven. Others say it was a gift to Kuwait from the Saudi Royal family for aiding in the unification of the two kingdoms. Whatever the origin, it is safe to say that the dish has become a staple of Qatari cuisine today. It is commonly served for lunch and dinner in restaurants and private homes.
Nobody does Majboos better than Al Manchab. When you visit Al Manchab, you will feel like you are sitting in a typical Qatari home. Designed to give customers a taste of the past in both its menu and design and a flavour of Qatari hospitality, Al Manchab offers the best Majboos in Qatar in the true sense of the term.
Location: Al Manchab, Hazm Mall, Al Markhiya St
Timings: Saturday to Thursday, 9 am - 11 pm; Friday, 1 pm - 11 pm
Contact: +974 4441 1471
Balaleet is a sweet and sour dish made with vermicelli and flavoured with sugar, cardamom, saffron, and rose water and topped with an omelette. Similar to a pudding in texture and served hot or cold, Balaleet is generally served as a breakfast dish, though sometimes as a dessert. The origins of Balaleet are unknown, but it is thought to have originated in Persia.
There are many restaurants where you can try Balaleet. But, we believe that the dining experience elevates the dish and recommend trying the Balaleet served at SMAT. SMAT, which translates to "dining table" in the local Arabic dialect, promises to reinvent the feel and taste of authentic local cuisine and take dining guests on a culinary trip through Qatar's distinct gastronomic legacy. Try their Ghzayil, cardamom cheesecake with saffron and balaleet; the flavours take the dish to a whole new level.
Location: SMAT, Second Floor, Orient Pearl Restaurant, Al Corniche
Timings: Saturday to Friday, 8 am – 1 am
Contact: +974 4410 6600 / 6666 4448
Harees is a one-pot dish made from rice, lentils, and meat and has the consistency of porridge, making it a hearty and filling food generally served as an entrée or side dish. The dish may be lightly spiced with simple ingredients or heavily flavoured with robust, full-flavoured spices to suit individual preferences. More often than not, spices such as cumin, ginger, and cinnamon are used in Harees. Although Harees was traditionally prepared over firewood, today, it is commonly prepared in a casserole, rice cooker, or slow cooker.
Originating in Iraq, Harees has become very popular in the Gulf countries, where it is now served with traditional Ramadan meals. This dish is made in considerable quantities in Qatari homes during Ramadan, and it is customary to distribute it to neighbours and poorer fellowmen during the holy month.
There are plenty of options for finding good Harees in Qatar, but the dish at Jiwan, a fine-dining restaurant at the Museum of Qatar, will most likely have you coming back for seconds and thirds. Jiwan's modern Qatari cuisine has been meticulously designed to transport us back to the flavours of the nation's past while reimagining and enhancing the authentic taste of the dishes. We cannot recommend Jiwan enough.
Location: Jiwan, National Museum of Qatar
Timings: Monday to Saturday, 12:30 pm – 8 pm; Friday: 1:30 pm – 8 pm; Sunday, closed
Contact: +974 4452 5725
Image: Nichola Chapman/Shutterstock.com
Luqaimat (translated as bite-sized) are fried sweet dough dumplings that are crispy on the exterior and fluffy and airy on the inside. Made from semolina, flour, salt and water, these dough balls are deep-fried until they turn a golden brown. Although it may look incredibly sweet, no sugar is added to the dough preparation. Once cooked, they are drizzled with honey, date or sugar syrup infused with cardamom and saffron to get their sweet flavour. There are also many variants in terms of fillings and flavours. Plain Luqaimat may be coated with sugar or sesame seeds or stuffed with dates, walnuts, or cream, or additional flavours such as finely chopped dates and shredded coconut can be added to the dough.
Also known as mahalabia, malawah, or moujaibah, the dumplings are popular in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Indeed, the recipe of Luqaimat has been found in one of the earliest Arabic cookbooks by Al Baghdadi, written in the 13th century during the Abbasid caliphate. However, recipes of Luqaimat have also been found in Turkey in 14th-century Ottoman palace archives in Istanbul. These documents show that Luqaimat was one of the foods prepared for the Ottoman Sultan's harem. Variations of Luqaimat are also found in Greek cuisine as loukoumádes and Turkish cuisine as lokma. Luqaimat is generally eaten for breakfast or as a snack and is also prepared for large family meals during Eid celebrations.
These little bites of bliss, which have the texture and flavour of doughnuts, are a must-try on any trip to Doha. Head to Karaki, a beautiful Qatari tea lounge loyal to its heritage, to try Luqaimat. They offer these bite-sized treats in a great variety of flavours, ranging from the fairly typical to those topped with local favourite toppings - cheese, lotus, and others. Pair the Luqaimat with an Arabic coffee to get the complete experience of a true local.
Location: Karaki, Building B12, Andalucia Way, Medina Centrale, The Pearl
Timings: Open 24/7
Contact: +974 4437 8477
Image: Yana Rubin/Shutterstock.com
Qatayef/Atayef are semolina pancakes stuffed with white cheese or nuts, fried or baked, then doused with rose sugar syrup. Qatayef pancakes, shaped like a crescent moon, are often associated with the holy month of Ramadan, and many Muslims eat them during Iftar to break their fast. There are many variations of Qatayef; some include almond paste, shredded coconut or pistachios. They can also be filled with fresh fruit such as strawberries or sliced bananas. Qatayef can be served as a breakfast dish or dessert. And more often than not, the dish is paired with Arabic coffee.
The origins of Qatayef are said to date back to the Abbasid era and have been mentioned in cookbook manuscripts dating back to the 10th century.
To get your Qatayef fix, Al Hallab Sweets is the go-to place in Doha. With three branches - one on Salwa Road, one in Doha Festival City, and one in Souq Waqif - our favourite shop is the one in Souq Waqif. The Souq, a traditional Arabian market and the essence of the country's culture and heritage, is the perfect place to try such a long-established edible.
Location: Al Hallab Sweets, Souq Waqif, Al Corniche
Timing: Sunday to Thursday, 8 am - 12 am; Friday and Saturday, 8 am - 1 am
Contact: +974 4479 5976
Regag (Rqaq) is a flatbread that is almost as thin and light as paper and is often served with fresh cheese, honey, Nutella, or even curry. Regag is made from wheat flour, salt, and water. The dough is rolled out and baked on a hot stone or in a special pan until crisp and lightly golden brown.
In the past, regag was a popular food item among the nomadic bedouin tribes who would eat it as they travelled (early fast food?!); its ingredients were easy to store and transport on the back of a camel. Back in the day, it was eaten as a wholesome meal when combined with milk or yoghurt. It was also offered at celebratory meals when combined with lamb stews. Today, it is popular street food in many Arab cities and can be found at cafes and restaurants across the region. It is often eaten as a snack or appetiser and can be bought pre-made at most convenience stores.
Shay Al Shoomos is a little café in Souq Waqif that is popular with locals, royalty, and even Hollywood stars. This modest restaurant, run by the renowned Shams Al Qassabi, serves authentic homestyle Qatari cooking. To try this bread of life in a relaxed and traditional setting, you should head to Al Qassabi's cafe.
Location: Shay Al Shoomos, Souq Waqif, Al Corniche
Timings: Saturday to Thursday, 7:30 am - 1 pm, 6:30 -10 pm; Friday, 7:30 am - 11:30 am
Contact: +974 5551 5561
Shakshuka is a popular breakfast consisting of soft-cooked eggs gently poached or braised in a delightfully spiced tomato sauce. There are no hard and fast rules for seasoning, but common ingredients include cumin, paprika, nutmeg and crushed red pepper flakes. Some recipes may also add fennel, coriander, garlic, onions, and peppers. Tomatoes are a traditional ingredient, but many cooks add a dollop of yoghurt or fresh goat cheese for an extra creaminess without adding excess fat. Spices may be added at the start of the cooking time or the end, and some cooks prefer to garnish the dish with fresh herbs such as parsley or cilantro.
This dish is said to have originated in Ottoman North Africa when tomatoes were introduced to the region as part of trade relations with Columbia. It has become popular in many countries worldwide; however, it is considered a Middle Eastern dish that has become a staple around the region. Shakshuka is perfect for a quick and easy weekday breakfast or as an entrée for a casual lunch or dinner.
Karak Mqanes is a great place to head to for breakfast on a good weather day. Although this place is known for its Karak, the Shakshuka here is not to be missed. Thanks to the recipes passed down through the generations; you are guaranteed to taste some of the most homely flavours and spices.
Location: Karak Mqanes, Porto Arabia Drive 23, The Pearl Qatar
Timings: Saturday to Thursday, 6 am - 11:30 pm; Friday, 7 - 11:30 am, 12:30 pm - 1 am
Contact: +974 3394 9898
Image: MOUTASEM PHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock.com
Umm Ali is a classic variation of bread pudding made from an assortment of filo pastry layers soaked in a sweetened milk mixture and sometimes flavoured with rose water and orange blossom water. The dessert is topped with blanched almonds or slivered pistachios and plump golden raisins.
Umm Ali is said to have originated in Egypt during the early Mamluk era. Although the sweet is now really popular, the dessert's beginnings are tied to a dark history. In the 1250s, Shajarat al-Durr, a Sultana under Mamluk control, headed the nation. But her rule was not recognised by Syria or Baghdad. So, she married Izz al-Din Aybak, an already married Turkish warrior, to acquire respect from her all-male contemporaries. Though she had to renounce the crown, she thought she could influence her new husband's decisions and keep control of her country. But he was power-hungry, and within seven years, he wanted to marry another. The scorned Sultana was furious and killed him while he bathed. Unfortunately for Al-Durr, she was killed in retribution. Umm Ali, Aybak's first wife, was so thrilled about Al-Durr's assassination that she asked her ladies to make a celebratory pudding, which from there on in became known as Umm Ali.
When it comes to finding Umm Ali today, the dish at Sheraton Grand Doha has been raved about for years. So, we recommend that you head there without a second thought. With over 40 years to develop the recipe since the hotel's inception, it's no surprise that this Umm Ali is one of the best in town.
Location: Atrium Lounge and Cafe, Sheraton Hotel Doha, Corniche
Timings: Saturday to Friday, 8 am – 2 am
Contact: +974 4485-3000
If you have tried all of the above and would love to continue your quest for Qatari dishes, we recommend you spend some time in Souq Waqif. While visiting the Souq, you can find a host of cafes, restaurants, and street vendors preparing and selling exquisite local foods such as Marqooq, Mathroba, Harees, and Koushari. You can also grab a cup of Karak or Arabic coffee to complete the experience.
Main image: from my point of view/Shutterstock.com