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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Qatar

Historic Diet

Qatari Food - Fish majboos
Fish majboos

Qatar is primarily desert so the number of foods locally available is quite limited. Due to this, the land has always been sparsely populated and a part of the reason for this is because few foods are locally available. The most commonly used land animal in the region is the camel, which has been used for milk, but also used for meat on special occasions. More prevalent in the historic diet is the sea life in the surrounding waters, which include grouper, mackerel, nagroor, shrimp, crab, and lobster among other animals. Among the plant life the only true source of food is the date, which is still an important food in the local diet.

Culinary Influences

For most of history there were few alterations to the diet of Qatar, but few people lived on the peninsula so the diet was essentially dictated by the Bedouin desert-dwellers who came and went. This meant little was eaten other than the local sea life, dates, and camel milk, plus whatever else could be found. Later in history, as the land became a trading post the diet was substantially changed due to the influx of foreigners.

The most important influence on Qatar's food came with the arrival of other Arab people as Levantine (also known as Lebanese) cuisine arrived. This brought hummus, tabbouleh, and spices that are now common in Qatar and throughout much of the Middle East.

The region also changed its food due to the influence from others who came and went with the trade moving to and from the Persian Gulf. The Persians, Indians, and even the Europeans arrived with new ingredients and ideas that changed the cuisine. This led to the greater prevalence of rice in the dishes and again new spices and ingredients arrived in greater numbers.

In the modern age foods from abroad have been introduced to Qatar, but none have truly changed the traditional foods. Most traditional dishes remain the same, but ethnic foods are now more common and available, including Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Italian, and American foods. These foods are growing in popularity partially due to the fact that people from these countries live and work in Qatar and partially due to the fact that the locals also enjoy these foreign foods on occasion.

Staple Foods

Hummus: a dip consisting of mashed chickpeas (garbanzo beans), tahini, garlic, and lemon
Rice: numerous types of rice exist and it tends to be either a side or a base for many dishes
Tabbouleh: a "salad" generally made of parsley, bulgur, tomatoes, garlic, and lemon

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Falafel: fried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) balls served with vegetables in bread
Kebab: numerous styles exist, but usually with a base of roasted lamb or chicken and vegetables in pita bread
Machbous: seasoned rice topped with meat or fish and sometimes also a tomato sauce

Dining Etiquette

When eating in the Muslim country of Qatar there are a couple etiquette rules you must know and follow. If your dining hosts/guests are not Muslim, which is the case often times as the country is quite diverse, follow the dining rules of the host or just follow formal Western European dining customs, although the dress and dietary restrictions or the locals is best observed no matter the company.

First, dress on the conservatively side (see our Qatar Culture Page for more details). Second, in conservative homes and even some restaurants, it is not acceptable to eat with a person of the opposite sex unless it is your child, sibling, or spouse. While this is very uncommon today throughout the country, to some conservative Muslims this is important so observe the local restaurant's situation and follow a local's lead. Sometimes men dine only with men and women only with women so don't bring a guest of the opposite sex to any meal unless you are specifically invited to do so.

Try to arrive on time for a meal and if eating in a local's home remove your shoes at the door if others have done so. Greet the elders first then follow your host's lead. You will likely be offered coffee or tea and you should accept one of these beverages. Let your host seat you and when sitting be sure to keep your feet flat on the floor or pointed behind you as pointing the soles of your feet at another can be offensive.

The next two important rules are two you probably won't have to worry about: Muslims don't drink alcohol nor do they eat pork so avoid these foods if in their company. If in the home of a local they simply won't be served, but if eating out, don't order them if they are available when in the company of a Muslim (pork is not served in restaurants, although alcohol is in most hotel restaurants).

Once the food is served, again follow your host's lead as either you or the elders will likely be served first. Try a bit of everything offered as turning down food is rude. Eat as the locals eat; in most settings this means eating in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left), but on some occasions and with some foods you may eat with your hand, but only your right hand. As you finish your food, leave a bit on your plate to show there was more than enough and place your fork and knife together in the 5:00 position.

If dining in a restaurant be sure to check the bill for a service charge. Many restaurants include a service charge that will replace the tip, but if no service charge is included, leave a tip of 10%.

Celebrations & Events

There are only two major food celebrations in Qatar and both are centered around Islam. Eid al Fitr is an event filled with numerous foods, which differ from family to family, but always includes dates and generally also consists of various meats or fish, grains, and vegetables. This celebration occurs immediately after Ramadan, a religious holiday that requires fasting for 30 days.

The second major food celebration is Eid al Adha, which is only celebrated after a pilgrim returns from haj, the mandatory journey for every able Muslim to go to Mecca. Again, this festival contains a large number of rice and meat dishes, including many of those served during Eid al Fitr.

Drinks

With a greeting you usually receive an offer of coffee as well while in Qatar. Arabian coffee is the most common style, but Turkish coffee and numerous other styles are also found. Juices are also very popular and can be found on busy street corners with one interesting version being an avocado smoothie. If you want more standard juices, milk, or soft drinks, Qatar has them all; especially since the large foreign popular demands familiar drinks and brands.

As a primarily Muslim country, Qatar has very little alcohol available, but it can be purchased in many hotels catered to foreigners.

The tap water is generally safe to drink in Qatar. If you do drink the water (or the ice or salads washed in the tap water), many people may have trouble adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to if you are not from the region.

This page was last updated: March, 2013