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.
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!