How did Qatari dishes become local, and how have they evolved through trade with other nations? Euronews went to the Zekreet Peninsula in western Qatar to find out
This week, Euronews dives into traditional Qatari foods and discovers how vendors, chefs and food lovers alike use spices and ingredients from all over the world to make its cuisine unique.
In the heat of the desert, a sip of Arabic coffee is always welcome and a quintessential Qatari gesture. On the Zakreet Peninsula in western Qatar, locals have fused coffee from nearby Yemen with a rich Indian spice to make a staple of their own.
Unlike traditional coffee, this lightly roasted blend is yellow in colour and has a creamy and delicate texture with a hint of spice.
"The main flavours come from the spices that we add. You'll notice a hint of coffee. Then there's the cardamom, then there are the spices that give it the richness and then the caffeine and the flavour as well" said Qatari Entrepreneur, Khaled Alrayes.
Coffee culture aside, the region boasts an international food scene influenced by its 2.3 million expats. But Qatar also has a wide range of traditional recipes which take their influences from neighbouring countries.
Outside of the capital Doha, most of the terrain is flat, arid, low-lying desert. "It was not self-sufficient. Qatar was not able to rely on itself and had to import, you know, different products from abroad. So, we have common spices like turmeric, for example, and we have cumin. They have been brought in from India" said Randa Sheik, a food writer and blogger.
"You also have rosewater. Rosewater is from Iran. So, we have imported these ingredients from many different countries and also the raw materials as well, rice, bread, chicken, meat, and then we combined them in their own way to make fantastic and delicious dishes" she added.
What are some of Qatar's most popular traditional dishes?
Machboos, saloona, madrouba and harees are four traditional Qatari dishes that are enjoyed across the Arab world but each country offers its own unique twist.
Machboos is Qatar's, Bahrain's, Kuwait's and the UAE's national dish. Chicken, fish or lamb is first marinated in a rich blend of spices and then mixed with garlic, ginger and peppers before it is grilled and served on a bed of basmati rice.
Qatar's ancient spice trade has been the key to elevating its traditional foods.
Spices like ginger, star anise and black pepper were brought over from the Indian subcontinent while garlic and cumin crossed the desert from east of the Meditteranean.
Dried fruits such as the looming, otherwise known as the black lime, travelled up from Oman.
And while these items have become staple ingredients in Qatari cuisine, cross-cultural influences continue to elevate Qatar's food scene.
Every year hundreds of vendors gather from all over the world at the Katara Summer Trade Fair to display and sell products from their home countries, including vibrant spices, international foods, oud - a woody, fragrant oil - jewellery and handicrafts.
The trade fair lasts for two weeks and gives both locals and residents of Qatar a chance to try many international delicacies. Yunis Ghallab is a master spice mixer from Yemen.
He’s been coming to the Katara Summer Trade Fair for more than a decade and every year he’s proud to bring the best products from Yemen.
'Liquid gold’ honey
"We always bring Yemeni honey, the best of its kind, Sidr honey and Brown honey. We have special spices, which are distinguished by unique mixtures like machboos. We also make mixtures for white rice", Ghallab told Euronews.
Sidr honey is famous for its apparent health benefits. It is made from the aromatic blossoms of the Sidr tree which grow uncultivated across the desert in Yemen and Pakistan's Potohar region.
Traditional recipes for every preference
Noor Al Mazroei, a Qatari chef has created a market for healthy versions of popular Qatari dishes in a bid to diversify the local cuisine, regardless of diet restrictions or preferences.
While machboos is traditionally made with meat, Al Mazroei argues that it can also be made vegetarian or vegan and gives people a chance to get creative with their ingredients.
"Because the recipe doesn't have specific ingredients that you have to use, it is more to do with the taste. Some people like to add onion, tomato. Some people like to add more turmeric. Some people like to make it a little bit more spicy. So, it is like a space where you can be creative and share your love of food" said Al Mazroei.
Instead of basmati rice, these traditional recipes can also be made with buckwheat or quinoa.
From innovative and modern Qatari recipes to discovering new twists on old classics, Qatar offers the Gulf a fresh take on traditional Arabic cuisine.