Good Eats in Doha in the summer ...

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.

 The dusty 'tagine'.

The dusty 'tagine'.

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. 

 Hellish weather on our doorstep ...

Hellish weather on our doorstep ...

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 I can still enjoy a steaming cup of coffe outdoors in the early morning hours ...

But I can still enjoy a steaming cup of coffe outdoors in the early morning hours ...

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.

 The veg that will go into the lamb tagine .... Not exactly considered summer fare in Canada!

The veg that will go into the lamb tagine .... Not exactly considered summer fare in Canada!

Happy hibernating/dining in Doha! 

 

Who's BeHeinz Me? (Tales from the Ultimate Conspiracy Theorist ...)

"Rumors of my assimilation have been greatly exaggerated ..."  (Captain Jean-Luc Picard, having been taken over by the Borg).

Have I mentioned I wanted to marry Captain Kirk when I was 7?

It wasn't really about the voyage for me, and I'm not a Trekkie per se, but I really did dig the whole "buff spaceman in a tight fitting uniform taking over the universe" concept.  

Anyhow, not really related to this post, but kinda...  there are many conspiracy theories linked to the original Captain Kirk (our very own Canadian William Shatner).  

Which leads me to the original premise of my post.... 

Last Friday, on our return from Canada, I tried to buy some of this: 

IMG_0548.jpg

The best tomato sauce in the universe.  I've tried to find some every day since.  Checked all 45 shops I know (except Lulu's ... must try there tomorrow).  

Thus far ...

Not a drop to be found in Doha. 

I'll grant you that it's not a rare occurrence to find Doha shelves devoid of a favorite item: 

  • Some brands in Doha are a lucky find, e.g. once I found Cheez Whiz, and Megarmart sometimes stocks Clamato juice (yeah my 2 faithful Canadian Readers, ya know what I'm talkin' 'bout!!!!!!! )
  • Some brands in Doha are a hit and miss, e.g. your favorite flavor HP sauce.
  • Some brands in Doha you will NEVER find, e.g. Kraft Peanut Butter.

BUT ... 

Some brands I actually thought I could rely on eternally.  

At first I wasn't too worried.  But then, as I visited shop after shop after shop, I started to feel uneasy.  How could ALL the Heinz Tomato Ketchup disappear from Doha supermarket shelves in the single month I'd been gone?   Something felt really, really wrong...

In the words of Spock: 

"Your logic was impeccable, Captain.  We are in grave danger.

Heinz Tomato Ketchup.  Thou art no more.  Where the Hell did all the Heinz Tomato Ketchup go?

I got it when turkey "ham" was removed from the shelves (it wasn't pork, but it WAS ham), and the fresh chicken shortage last year was chalked down to low supplies.  

There are cases where I've known well enough to prepare for the inevitable penury.  Case in point, I have 32 jars of Jamie Oliver walnut pesto in my cupboard because I'm trying to falsify demand to ensure supply doesn't waver.

BUT I NEVER DOUBTED HEINZ TOMATO KETCHUP!!!!!! 

And now the grocery supply chain gods have broken me. 

How will I ever explain to those who depend on me that I was unable to provide for their preferred tomato sauce needs?  

Who is responsible for this mess we're in? 

How do I make this RIGHT???????? 

Everyone KNOWS that everyone IN THE WORLD prefers Heinz Tomato Ketchup.  (NO, I'm not being paid for this ... there is a REASON only 8-10 people in the world know the actual recipe.)  

A house is simply not a home without Heinz Tomato Ketchup.  And we have less than half a bottle left.

I am not yet defeated ... but I fear the end is near my faithful readers.   It is all but a few oily red drops away .... 

And so, my ultimate expat challenge ...

"Tomato sauce:  the final frontier.  These are the voyages of a nutjob Canadian family.

 

Its three, NO five, NO seven, NINE year mission:

to explore un-Canadian flavors, to seek out Shawarmas and Falafel, to boldly reach for tomato sauce not mass-produced by Heinz.  

You know what?  If Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy were able to heal the universe with salt shakers, surely I can do something with plain old non-Heinz tomato sauce...

Here's to trying new things!  "Engage!  Make It So!  Resistance is FUTILE!"

N.B.  I'll still swing by LuLu's tomorrow ... who knows, they might have a stash.

 

 

Just Call Me Mama Cuoco

"No, Peanut Gallery, I didn't mean 'coocoo'.  It's 'cuoco'".

'Cuoco' is 'chef' in Italian.  A female chef is actually 'cuoca', but I thought that might read as 'caca' in the title, which is even a little bit worse than 'coocoo'.  

Last August, my Italian brother-in-law introduced kiddo to the magic of homemade pasta. Surefire way to endear yourself to a 7-yr-old niece:  let her mix flour, eggs, and olive oil directly on the countertop (no bowls required).  Then let her pass it through a 'squisher machine' that flattens the dough and slices it into perfect strips.  Plunge those strips into a pot of boiling water and top them with nothing but mounds of butter and salt.  Then place that steaming bowl of her own creation in front of her and let her feast.  

His pasta magic way outshone my Saturday-morning crepe-making skills.  Kiddo went on about it for months.  

Smilin' Vic, softy that he is, came home in late October with a pasta maker.  We might not be able to match Uncle L's culinary expertise, but we could at least have fun trying.

I was thrilled.  What a fabulous kitchen gadget.  This one would not sit on a shelf unused for months.  No sir, we were going to make pasta every week.  I took this glorious culinary apparatus out of its box and immediately went out and bought Number 0 flour.  Pasta all'arrabbiata was about to take on a whole new meaning in our house.

.........

So ..... four months later, to the day, we finally got around to baptizing this lovely piece of kitchen art.  This afternoon I finally gathered up my motivation and my kiddo and said "Get ready to get messy, we're making pasta!"  

We emptied the flour onto a clean surface.  We dug a well.  We started breaking the eggs into the well.

(Just in case you didn't know ... moms don't come with as much patience as uncles.)  

When the egg started running over the sides of the well is when I adopted 'Mom Mode'.  "Smilin' Vic, we need help.  There's a mess going on here.  Kiddo, step back, I've got to stop the egg escape."  There was an egg white on the loose.  I admit I panicked.  I take my kitchen seriously.

Thankfully we corralled the runaway egg and I was able to revert fairly quickly to 'Fun Mode'.  The dough kneaded, we let it set for 15 minutes, then proceeded to roll, fold, roll again, fold again, etc. until we had a perfectly thin rectangular sheet of pasta dough.  We repeated this process several times until we had a countertop full of pasta sheets.  We let them dry for fifteen minutes, then passed them through the pasta shaper.

The result?

Perfectly shaped linguini An amazing boost of confidence to and sense of accomplishment for a little seven-year-old girl.

She was so thrilled to serve us supper.  Linguini with basil and artichoke pesto sauce.  A culinary feast that would feature well on a Michelin star menu.

I will admit to slightly overcooking

drowning the pasta. But lesson learned. In the end, this afternoon wasn't really about pasta at all; it had a lot more to do with living and sharing and laughing and bonding. And on that front, everything turned out 'magnifico'!

It's amazing what a couple of hours in the kitchen with your child can do.  Boost confidence, encourage creativity, increase focus, engage meaningful conversation, build patience, and feed the soul.

Thanks to Uncle L for motivating us all to spend a little more time doing something that actually means something.

Oh, and by the way, despite my al dente shortcomings, supper was amazing.  Kudos to Kiddo Cuoco.  

'Ciao' from Mama Cuoco.