Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ramadan Kareem & Greetings from Doha

City Center I have finally have gotten around to starting a blog. Not due to laziness (of course some may beg to differ), but we finally have DSL. We are also more settled into our new home. Things tend to move at a much slower pace here than what we are used to, but after being stuck in the rat race for too many years, I can live with this. I will mainly be writing about experiences pertaining to living in Qatar, though I may also occasionally wander off towards some travel and food writing, always remaining faithful to this region.

Grogery storeRamadan is almost over. This Ramadan was quite different for me then last years, more peaceful in many ways. Things run a little differently here this month. Schools and most offices start later and end earlier, so it's a much shorter work day. We also get a 1 week break for Eid. There is no public eating or drinking throughout the month, from dawn until dusk. Grocery stores are open, and they are unusually busy at all times. Sometimes we can't find certain items, they are usually sold out. But the workers do their best to keep everything well stocked. Restaurants are closed during the day and open at Iftar time. Most stay open until Suhur. There are many Iftar and Suhur specials at most of the hotels, clubs and restaurants. Some also set up elaborately decorated tents, which allow everyone the opportunity to enjoy traditional Ramadan foods and night time celebrations.

Ceiling of Tent A few days ago we went to a Suhur tent, called Layali Al Qamar, at the Intercontinental hotel. It was literally a large tent set up on the beach, and was beautifully decorated in true Arabian style. We were greeted at the door by a traditionally garbed attendant, while another took us to our table. One of the things I greatly appreciate in Qatar is the exceptional customer service we receive from the wait staff. This is true in most establishments, whether it is a fast food restaurant or a 5 star hotel. Most employees are from the Philippines, but there are many from the Indian subcontinent and other Arab countries. I guess after being associated with a customer related business for so long, I truly appreciate these things.

My Dinner After being seated, we were served Arabic coffee called gahwa (mixed with cardamom and sometimes saffron). We then started the meal with mezze, which were brought to our table. There must have been at least 15 different items, accompanied with hot pita bread. My favorite one was made with feta cheese and tomatoes. I will try to duplicate it at home and if I am successful I will post the recipe here. Having foolishly somewhat filled ourselves with the mezze (they were that good!), we then pecked our way through the buffet which, to say the least, was extensive. The foods served at these venues are mainly Ramadan favorites. Some of the items were being prepared fresh in front of us, such as fatteer meshaltet (a flat bread), shawarma and fatteh hummus (a chickpea dish layered with fried bread). There were kebabs aplenty, along with rice dishes such as kabsat al lahm (lamb with rice). The best however were the dessert tables. Lucky (or unlucky) me, Arabs have a sweet tooth. These tables were literally groaning, being laden with both western and Arabian style pastries and desserts (umm Ali anyone?) as well as a variety of fruit. Throughout the meal we were also offered traditional Ramadan drinks such as karkadeh (made of hibiscus flowers), jallab (dates) and Qamar El-Din (apricot).

We had taken the kids with us - bad idea. H was bored throughout the evening, though he was happy that his favorite food (steak) was in ample supply. N promptly went to sleep, curled up on 2 chairs. A refused to eat anything, but generously insisted on accompanying everyone on their trips to the buffet table. Many people were smoking, mostly shisha, and a live band was playing with an Arab singer. As the evening progressed, more people started to come and the place became more lively and inviting. Unfortunately, it was also becoming too loud and smoky for the kids. Being the responsible parents we are (or at least pretend to be), we left around 10 pm, a little earlier than we would have liked to. Next year we will try another tent. This time without the kids.