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Qatar - Food and Drink
For the majority of people in Qatar the Friday midday meal, which is followed by prayers, is the main family gathering during the week. During the holy month of Ramadan, believers fast between dawn and dusk, serving festive meals after nightfall. When it comes to eating and drinking in public during daylight Ramadan hours, it is prohibited for all, whether they're fasting or not.
Thanks to the Bedouin heritage, Qatari people are known for being hospitable, and food and drink have an important role in this tradition. It's important to know that people there may take offence if visitors turn down food and drinks that are offered. Eating is considered to be a very important social and family ritual. It is also common for people to taste a large number of dishes during one meal.
The increasing influence of international food choices in recent years has enabled people to visit many restaurants and fast food franchises that are now opening in Qatar. These places are mostly used by foreigners, as eating in public places is still not a popular choice among Qataris, especially women. However, Qataris use the delivery and drive-through services offered by many new restaurants. American fast food restaurants are very popular among the younger generation.
Numerous places in Qatar sell snacks with the traditional "showarma" being quite popular. This is a spiced grilled lamb or chicken which is served rolled in a pocket of Arabic bread with salad, pickles, lime juice and tahini. Among the other common snack choices, there are falafel and sandwiches. When it comes to drinks, milkshakes and cocktail juices are very popular and available in the many juice bars across the country.
Qatari traditional cuisine is strongly influenced by migrants from Iran and India, and more recently North Africa. The number of expats who work in the country has influenced modern Qatari eating habits, offering food from around the world. Many of the country's traditional dishes are based on seafood. This mostly includes lobster, crab, tuna, red snapper and shrimp. There are also many different kinds of dates which are native to this region. Almost all meat is halal, which is prepared in accordance with Muslim laws.
Locally grown foods, such as dates, sour apples and fresh almonds are considered to be domestic delicacies. One of the most important traditional dishes in Qatar is machbous, which is a stew of spiced rice with either seafood, meat or both. It is traditionally served in a large communal platter. Another Qatari favourite is lamb or mutton which is served with yogurt made from cows’ or goats’ milk.
Some other important Qatari specialities are:
- Hummus, a dip made from chickpeas and tahini, a sesame seed paste
- Taboulleh, a cracked wheat, or bulgur dish flavoured with parsley and mint
- Koussa mahshi, or stuffed courgettes
- Waraq enab, rice stuffed vine leaves
- Ghuzi, a whole roast lamb on a bed of rice and nuts
- Biriani, a spiced rice dish which is mixed with chicken or lamb
- Motabel, a paste made from lightly cooked aubergine mixed with garlic and tahini
This region also offers some delicious traditional desserts, such as mehalabiya, a rose water and pistachio pudding, esh asaraya a cheesecake topped with cream, and umm ali, a bread pudding with nuts and white raisins.
Breakfast is usually a light meal, which is eaten early in the morning. It includes yogurt, cheese and olives, eaten with a morning coffee. The midday meal is usually the main one, beginning with an appetiser, or mezze, served with flat Arabic bread which is followed by a stew of lamb or fish with cooked vegetables and salad. Many people in Qatar don't use cutlery and scoop their food using the bread instead. The evening meal is typically a light snack, except during the holy month of Ramadan.
Coffee is the most important drink in Qatari culture. Arabian coffee is usually of a very high quality and made from a lightly roasted beans spiced with cardamom. It is either sweetened or served with dates. It is served in small cups in both homes and offices. Thickly brewed Turkish coffee is also a very popular choice among the locals. It is also common for families to have jugs of tea and coffee ready for visitors. On special occasions a sweet coffee known as qahwa helw is also served. It is a bright orange infusion of saffron, cardamom and sugar.
Fresh fruit and herb cocktails are very popular and mostly sold by street vendors across the country. Popular local choices are a mint and lemon cocktail or an avocado smoothie. Qatar is a Muslim country and although alcohol is not illegal, it can be only found in some licensed hotels and restaurants. Alcohol for home consumption can only be purchased from the Qatar Distribution Company, and a license is always required.
When it comes to alcohol consumption, visitors should ensure they behave in a manner that does not offend the country's culture or religious beliefs, especially during Ramadan. Alcohol is not illegal in Qatar, but there are some laws that apply to alcohol and its consumption.
It is illegal to import alcohol in Qatar and all luggage is scanned at the arrivals hall of Doha airport. It is an offence to drink alcohol or to be drunk in a public place in this country. People who break these laws can be deported, fined or receive prison sentences. Muslims who are caught drinking may be subjected to corporal punishment.
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