- Doha restaurateurs say a lot has changed, but not their recipes
- As the city grew, Indian, Lebanese and Qatari restaurants also expanded
- New highways and relaxed social norms mark the city’s transformation
DOHA (Reuters) – A hummus recipe and a cashier’s table are the only remaining elements of the original Beirut restaurant, which opened its doors in Qatar in 1960 and has since traced the transformation of the capital, Doha, from a dusty outpost to hosting world football. Glass.
Jihad Shaheen’s uncle opened the Lebanese restaurant in Msheireb’s old business district, but the building that housed it was demolished as part of a development project that has produced one of Doha’s most modern districts, teeming with trendy cafes and lunch spots catering to top executives.
Beirut Restaurant moved to the more affordable neighborhood of Bin Mahmoud in 2010, the year Arab Gulf Gas was awarded the rights to host football’s biggest global event that kicked off on Sunday.
“Doha has changed a lot – more than 360 degrees. It was very small in the beginning, like a virgin territory. Look at it now,” said Shaheen, 55, as he watched football fans dine at a fast food restaurant he runs with his sons. and nephews.
The only constant, he said, is the popular hummus recipe.
The restaurant used to close at 8:30 pm (1730 GMT) after the last diners had polished off bowls of hummus or creamy beans, but now, he said, they can only take a three-hour break a day.
Clients include breakfast Qataris, building guards and security on night shifts, and this week tourists in soccer jerseys descend on the country, where foreigners, mostly migrant workers, make up the bulk of the 3m population.
“We are part of Doha’s history,” said Shaheen.
The selection of Doha to host the World Cup kicked off a phase of accelerated development that has brought new multi-lane highways, a nifty metro system and large businesses ranging from university campuses to hotels and technology centers – and their employees.
Not far from Beirut is North Indian restaurant Gokul Gujarati, which moved from its original location in Msheireb after a few years.
“They were literally building the MRT under the old restaurant and Msheireb station is right across the street, so we moved here,” said Ajay Joshi, whose father opened the restaurant in 2012.
The staff, all from the same region in northern India, serve up traditional fare including roti, thick and spicy vegetable stews, and an array of homemade sugar-free sweets.
Its first location had two tables but the new one has 10, catering to the now expanding base of migrant workers in Doha.
Joshi said that because it is located at a distance from any stadiums or accommodation housing tourists, the first week of the World Cup group stage did not bring an influx of newcomers. He said, “We do our own thing.”
Football fans, however, have been flocking to the more central Shai Al Shamous – a traditional Qatari breakfast spot in Souq Waqif, where fishmongers and other merchants sold their wares centuries ago and was rehabilitated in the early 2000s.
Football legend David Beckham appeared in a photograph on the walls of the restaurant standing next to its owner, Shams Al Qasabi, who was hailed as the first female restaurant in Qatar.
Al-Qasabi, who never learned to read and doesn’t know the year she was born, opened her restaurant in 2004 with six seats — and now serves more than 200 at a time.
“I wanted to show people what Qatar is and what Qatar’s culture is, from the customs and traditions of Qatar to Qatari food, specifically home cooking, not restaurant food,” she told Reuters.
While she loves tradition, Al Qasabi has also bucked it: pushing against the conservative norm that only male-run businesses operate in Souq Waqif – creating one of its most popular destinations.
This, she said, is also a sign that Doha is changing.
“There are a lot of Qatari women who have restaurants now,” she said proudly.
(Reporting by Maya Jubaili). Editing by Emilia Sithole Matares
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