Sunday, October 26, 2008

Indulging My Sweet Tooth

Box of sweets

Since the preceding Eid is considered the ‘Sweet Eid’ (as opposed to the ‘Savory Eid’ – more on that later), I thought it would be appropriate to post something along these lines.

I once used to say I haven’t met a cheesecake I did not like, but since moving to Qatar my mantra has long been silenced. Cheesecakes here are often eggy and intensely sweet, or are the gelatin based no-bake variety - a sacrilege in my opinion. With the exception of the occasional Sara Lee from Mega Mart, I had mostly given up on them.

Anyways, back to my original rambling. Nowadays when my sweet tooth beckons I occasionally indulge it with one of my most cherished and non-form flattering discoveries. Every now and then I will purchase mithai, a sweet or a type of dessert originating from Southeast Asia.

Sweet/mithai shops abound here; not only due to a large expat community, but Qatari’s also adore anything and everything sweet. For me however, just any mithai won’t do, since I find most varieties cloying and overwhelmingly sweet.

No no, I definitely do not covet the golden brown orbs dripping in rose and cardamom infused syrup called gulab jamun. Nor do I yearn for the milky sweet fudge redolent with coconut, pistachios, almonds or cashews - named barfi. And I certainly do not dream of the delicate pretzel like vermilion squiggles; crispy, crunchy on the outside, soft and filled with syrup in the insides, known as jalebi. I can go on since I have a PhD in desserts. And just because I don’t delight in these particular sweets does not mean I can’t wax poetics.

So occasionally when I do get a longing for something sweet, only a trip to a Bengali mithai shop will do. The main reason for this is – you guessed it – these desserts are not cloying and overwhelmingly sweet. They are mostly milk based and are exceptionally delicate with a very short shelf life.

The shop which I frequent is called Madhuban, and is considered the best in Doha. Getting there is part of the adventure, much to K’s chagrin. He is never happy to venture into busy, crowded places. But he is married to someone who does - and in order to keep the harmony at home, he reluctantly obliges. We never go on a Friday, since this is a day off for most people, and the entire area is thronging with single men (about 50% of the expat community here comprises of single men).

It is located in a part of town quite far from where we live, in an area predominantly populated by expats from the Indian subcontinent. You will feel as if you have been transported to India/Pakistan/Bangladesh/Sri Lanka/Nepal, all rolled in one. Finding parking is a nightmare, like anywhere else in Doha I suppose.

The neighborhood comprises of just a few street blocks, but it is packed with stores selling everything from loose material along with tailor shops, saris and other ready made clothes – both traditional and western, jewelry and watch stores, electrical items, hardware & software (often pirated), cell phones and their paraphernalia, music and video’s (also pirated), a variety of household goods, religious items - both Islamic and non, books in many languages, exotic and often confusing vegetables & fruits along with many other food items. I am sure I am leaving quite a few things out.

But most importantly, for me are the small hole in the wall restaurants that abound everywhere. They serve food from all the countries I mentioned above. The aromas wafting from these eateries can be detected from afar. So on any occasion we might get, a heavenly beryani, paratha’s, samosa’s & pakora’s etc. from the Pakistani restaurant, or savory dosa’s and delectable sweet-sour-spicy chaat's from the Indian ones. I have not tried any Nepali or Sri Lankan restaurants yet – but one of these days I will. I don’t enter these establishments, since 100% of the clients are male. So we usually get these items to-go and eat them in the comfort of our home, or weather permitting, in a nearby family park.

But the sweet shop is an exception I make. This is the only establishment I do enter, since I want to see all the different and colorful varieties of sweets, from which I pick and choose. Often I make the clientele a bit nervous, since women usually don’t enter these establishments. But, wrapped in an abaya, I always garner respect. I quickly pick my items and go out while K pay’s for them.

Two of my favorites sweets are a milky, melt in your mouth, fudge like squares called sundesh ('good news' in Bengali – very aptly named I think), and mishti dhoi – a caramel flavored sweet yogurt. These satiate my craving for at least a few months.

Things are looking up in the cheesecake department. I have recently found a marvelous cheesecake at a bakery called Opera. But I will continue to frequent my newfound epicurean destination, since, for me at least, new habits as delectable as these, die hard as well.


Mishti Dhoi

1 quart milk
1 ½ cups sugar
2-3 tablespoons water
½ cup plain yogurt

Boil the milk gently until it is reduced by half. Add 1 cup sugar.
Caramelize the remaining ½ cup sugar until brown and caramelized; be careful not to scorch it. Carefully add the water and add this to the milk sugar mixture.
Allow to cool until warm then add yogurt.
Place in a container and cover with lid. Place in a warm, dark place until set about 8 hours. Or you can use a yogurt maker. Traditionally it is made in terra cotta pots, which imparts its earthen flavor into the yogurt.

Serve chilled & enjoy!

mishti dhoi

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Moose Anyone?

strawberry moose
I saw these in the bakery section at our local grocery store today and the carnivore in me was tempted to give one a try. Honestly have to tell you it did not taste gamey at all. Nor did it taste like chicken for that matter. It had a rich creamy texture with a delightful fruity bouquet.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Eid Saeed!

Cresent Moon
Kul aam wa antum bakhair (may you be blessed every year). A belated Eid Mubarak to all. The kids had 12 days off from school and K had 9, so for the past week or so we were busy among ourselves. The well deserved break went by peacefully and all too quickly.

We had initially planned on driving to Dubai then on to Oman (which is app. a 12 hours drive), but nixed the idea in its infancy due to the fact we have recently returned from a 2 month trip to the US. But it is definitely on our itinerary for next year.

We opted to stay home and visit with the few friends who chose to remain here as well. Eid is a time when many expats and locals alike decide to take a brief R&R, so Doha was relatively quiet for a while, which we greatly enjoyed. For a brief amount of time it appeared as if we had the city, most notably the roads, to ourselves. I know anyone who drives in Doha has sympathy with my sentiments.

Now life is also back on its predictable groove. K has is back on his usual long work schedule, which he loves, and which is the reason we are here of course. H & N are enjoying school, albeit with a heavier and longer schedule. H has joined volleyball, so I have become a volleyball mom. Next trimester I will be a basketball mom. God only knows what the third trimester will bring. The Greek Gods, particularly Zeus, smile upon me.

Even A has returned to his mini schedule and is back in preschool. I had decided to keep him home during Ramadan. This is the last year he will be home before his real education starts and we won’t have such flexibility. Kindergarten is a serious commitment; just ask any 5 year old!

Every one was elated to see him on the first day of school. There was plenty of Ahlan habibi (welcome sweetheart)!, Kaifa haluk ya A (how are you A), along with an abundance of hugs and kisses. A smugly soaked it all in. He was missed, and it’s nice to be missed.

Thank you’s are in order to my readers – translation: family & 4 others on a good day – for your patience during my sporadic comings and goings. A special thanks to Chis, who wrote a lovely comment welcoming me back. It is nice to be missed indeed!