I’m going to be honest with you and tell you something that I only admit after a few drinks at a (small dinner) party…I’m mildly agoraphobic.
I don’t do big crowds (and I don’t do stairs but that’s another story). A while back I had a meltdown during a street food trawl in Mumbai. Lost power of speech and had to sit down. It wasn’t pretty.
Which is why, the Qatar International Food Festival is a challenge for me. That said, I have a tried and true strategy – head in mid-afternoon, do a covert swoop, check out the set up and choose my must-eat places.
There is a lot to love about his year’s event – plentiful parking, a smaller venue and more inclusive approach. But honestly, the set up is confusing and meandering and there isn’t enough seating or shade (more about this later).
But this is my “cheat’s guide” – for the time poor and crowd averse. So here are my must-eats at #QIFF2017 (plus a special mention):
- Cheese fondue at The Melting Pot
Seriously, where have these people been all my life? Opening in the Summer, this international chain serves fondue – cheese and chocolate. I tried their cheese fondue, made on spec in front of me with three types of cheese and lots of stirring. While the bread could have been better, the cheese was gooey and frankly heavenly. So 1970s yet so perfect.
2. Anything from the Four Seasons Doha stand
This year they have brought a taste of Nobu Doha with them as well as their other outlets. But for a small outlay you can try their signature, lush Miso Black Cod or do what I did and also try their pan fried Wagyu beef dumplings. Crispy and a little decadent, served with a spicy dipping sauce, it’s a snack or part of a wider pocket-friendly feast. This is the beauty of events like this – you can try something new for a relatively small outlay.
One of the most popular stalls at the festival, it’s hard not to like this place and their charismatic owner Ghanim. This year they have a wider offering, and I can thoroughly recommend their trio of dishes. I opted for the beetroot ravioli (filled with cashew cheese), a vegan cacio di pepe with a creamy nut sauce and raw tacos encased in endives with a carrot and sunflower filling and mango salsa. Not a huge serving, more few bites, but worth of visit. Special note – try their alarmingly refreshing activated charcoal, cayenne and lemon drink (heads up – it’s black).
4. The Burger from Arnag
There are a LOT of burger joints – small and large – on offer this year. Arnag, which labels itself as an “artisnal bistro” and tucked away in Al Wakra’s beautiful Souq, is offering perhaps the best of the lot. The Angus beef patty its well marbled and the filling is simple – lettuce, pickles, tomato, a tangy sauce – encased in a potato bun. It’s juicy and flavorful and the staff are delightfully friendly. Don’t miss it.
5. Baked Camembert from The Cheese Market
Let’s be honest, this is my version of a dessert. I was so pleased to see this gem of a store at the festival this year. They are offering fresh melted Raclette on potatoes or a sinfully decadent small round of camembert, baked to order for QR35. Adorned with a blueberry jam and served with crackers, this will stop you in your tracks. I’m returning just for this…
Wurstbude – This year if the Qatar-German Year of Culture and if that means curry wurst and German potato salad, I’m in. This little stall is a sausage fest – their curry wurst was wonderfully tangy. They also offer Bratwurst and apple strudel. This morning I found a pretzel in my handbag – that’s the best marketing I have seen.
So there we are – a quick and dirty alternative guide to the food festival this year. Some last minute advice:
- As I mentioned, there is a lack of shade and Doha has finally decided Summer is ready to make an appearance. Go at sunset, take plenty of water and maybe an umbrella for shade.
- Take plenty of change (there is a mobile ATM) and some outlets are change poor.
- Spend a few minutes to orient yourself. The layout is confusing.
- While parking is plentiful, you can also park in and around West Bay and walk across.
- Remember you can try the chain restaurants anytime. This festival is about the diversity of cuisines available here as well as flavors. Try something new or an outlet you might never visit in your everyday life).
What have been your favorite stalls this year? And if you are yet to go, what are you excited to try?