When I was first told that I have the opportunity to travel to Doha to experience the Qatar food festival, the first thought that came to my mind was - really?!?! Qatar has a food festival, I don't even know what Qatari cuisine is?!?!
Usually when I travel, I choose the destination based on the food, so I always know exactly what to look forward to eating, so the trip to Doha was indeed out of my comfort zone, I was traveling with no preconceived notions of what flavour sensations awaited me.
So how would I describe the cuisine now that I've experienced it? Well I define it as a cross between Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine - lots of hummus (made using the creamiest chickpeas I've ever had the privilege of eating), baba ganoush, taboulleh, baklava, curries, rice dishes and always flatbread to accompany every meal.
The food is light and delicately fragranced with spices that make eating any Qatari meal strangely comforting and familiar because the flavours are so recognizable.
There are two food items that I sampled that were most memorable - the traditional coffee and the goat milk ice cream.
The traditional coffee in Doha tastes nothing like the dark black (often milky) caffeine kick that I'm used to enjoying every morning in Cape Town. Traditional Qatari coffee is spiked with saffron fronds which gives the coffee a distinctive golden colour, it is flavoured with crushed green cardamom pods which is the primary flavour in the drink. It also includes crushed cloves which add a bold aromatic flavour; and as you can imagine, this coffee packs a punch - both in caffeine and in flavour. Apparently one small cup has three times more caffeine kick than regular coffee. Oh, and this coffee is never served with sugar, the sweetness comes from an accompanying date that is enjoyed alongside the coffee.
The goat milk ice cream is most memorable for its unusual texture - it has a stretchy consistency that pulls (sort of like melted Mozzarella cheese does). It's made by stirring goat milk, sugar and vanilla together in a contraption chilled with dry ice. The flavour doesn't taste "goaty" at all, it just tastes like a richer and creamier version of ordinary cow's milk.
I also had the honour of meeting and interviewing Martha Stewart while I was attending the Qatar Food Festival. We chatted about some of her favorite food trends at the moment - top of her list being eating local and seasonally.
Having come back from the trip to Doha, I can now confidently say that Qatar is most definitely a food destination that you should put onto your travel list.
Oh, and while you're there, make sure you try a camel burger too!
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