Here we are again – it’s the 10th Qatar International Food Festival. New venue and new restaurants and a new vibe. I braved the first day crowds to source what I think are the top five must interesting and tasty dishes on offer in 2019. As a price indication, dishes range from QR10 through to QR45 – pretty good value.
Here’s my list (and stick around for some real talk at the end) of what to eat at the Qatar International Food Festival 2019…
- Beef short rib sandwich at Arnag
The breakout star of the food Festival a couple of years ago, this Al Wakra eatery has returned in 2019 with an amped up menu and some seriously great flavors. The short ribs are braised with a smokey chipotle adobo and topped with peppers and two types of (proper) cheese. Encased in toasted sourdough bread this is the sandwich of my dreams. It’s big enough to share, but I wouldn’t.
2. Buratta with olive oil and balsamic by Colosseum Doha
Essentially the company that supplies many of the best ingredients to the city’s restaurants, this year they have come with the goods. The fresh pastas are made in Doha (select your own sauce and type of noodle) and earthy mushroom soup were spot on, but there was something super decadent about eating buratta at a food festival finished with oilive oil and a balsamic drizzle, a great starter!
3. Crispy yuzu shrimp sushi bowl by W Doha
One of a handful of hotels participating this year, yet again W doha nails what the people will want. This little bowl of perfection has it all – crispy fried shrimp, a comforting bed of rice and accompaniments including edamame. The tangy citrus yuzu brings it all together. Easy to eat on the slow walk around the venue.
4. Eggplant and tahini grilled cheese at Halo
If you thought Halo were all about the grammable donuts, think again. Their festival offering includes a selection of grilled cheese and this combination, on paper, shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s a literal savory flavor bomb for QR40 and made to order. It’s also a whopping size and easily shareable (although you may not want to). I definitely want to check this place out post-festival.
5. Chicken karage at Four Seasons Doha
Japanese style fried chicken…where have you been all my life? It’s marinated and double fried so you get the spice as well as the tender chicken. the flavor is brought out by a drizzle of lemon at the end. Deceptively simple, this is a great starter dish before you attack the rest of the menus. Heads up – next week the Four Seasons brings the Nobu menu to QIFF
Special mentions: Safahat, the cafe inside the Qatar National Library, is quietly serving up great coffee but their cakes are the stars. On the menu this week is their pumpkin spice cake – a dreamy mix of fall flavors. The Westin Doha is showcasing their excellent Thai restaurant this week. Their shrimp seaweed wrap is a surprise taste hit – deep fried in a light tempura batter, it’s all prawn.
Now, I know you want to know…in terms of experience, what is the festival like. Well here are some observations, admittedly made on one visit on the opening day of the festival.
- The venue is HUGE. There is the main area comprising of three sections – in itself huge. then there is the food truck area and a small hike away is Torba Farmers Market. Wear sneakers. Bring water. Be prepared to walk.
- Parking and access on the first day was…chaotic. Wherever you park there is a hike to the venue(s). I came in Gate 5, as instructed, was almost thwarted by traffic. Once inside parking in that area is plentiful and underground. you can also park near Torba – but it is a long walk to the main venue. Hindering the flow of traffic is construction, confusing signs and security waving people in different directions. Be patient or take a cab.
- Toilets are on the perimeter of the venues and again, walking is involved.
- To me, while this is physically the biggest festival, the offering was not as diverse as previous years. There were some standout dishes (as above), but many big name hotels missing (this is also not a bad thing – but I do think it’s nice otherwise expensive hotels offer their food at reasonable prices in a festival), enabling the smaller vendors to shine), but not exactly enough for multiple repeat visits.
- The layout of the venue is not diner-friendly. For example, each section is grouped so you cant get a “full meal” in it. Coffee vendors and cafes are in one area, those selling main dishes and more substantial offerings, are in another. and again, the size of the place means you cant wander around, grab a few things and sit and eat.
- There is very little shade – bring a hat and sunscreen to guard against that March sun.
- Speaking of seating – huzzah! There are more seats and tables than last year…but still short. For example, a lot f tables sans benches because people snagged them for bigger groups.
As I have mentioned, these impressions are from day one of the festival. Once it gets into its grooves, some things may snag out (and vendors finally open – I’m looking at you the Cheese room!).
For my guide of where, and when the festival is running (including the celebrity chefs visits) click here.
Are you planning to attend the Qatar International Food Festival this year?