Monday, January 28, 2008

Food Notes

For all you folks who thought living in the Middle East meant months of hummus & tabouli- I bring you the following news : Krispy Kreme Donuts opens in Villagio Mall this Friday at 5 pm! You know you're experiencing globalization when you see banners advertising the newest location of the State-side donut chain featuring a man in a thobe holding up two donuts forming the the two 'o's' of 'SOON'. I haven't eaten one of these donuts in years but I might have to stop by if nothing else for the novelty of seeing the motley throngs crowd around for their free hot donut.

I recently made lentil soup from, another recipe that called for 'dark leafy greens'. I made my way to the frozen section, where I was told one could find frozen spinach (fresh spinach apparently is not to be found-I will investigate further). I did find the spinach-which I plan to use in another recipe, but I also discovered frozen 'Molokhia Leaves', a dark green leaf the package said to treat as a fresh vegetable. (Turns out it's Egyptian Spinach-often used in soup for its thickening properties).

I had trouble tracking down the lentils- as I made the mistake of shopping on a Friday evening (after the camel races). This meant the store was PACKED and sections of shelves were cleared out of items. Including the 3 spots for lentils. There were countless other bean offerings but with names I had never heard. I eventually grabbed a pack of 'Green Masoor' and discovered at home that it was indeed a type of lentil. The soup turned out quite tasty and nicely enhanced by the saffron yogurt spooned on top (Saffron being one of the 2 spices I brought with me- the other being chili powder :)

Before I left for Doha, folks wondered if the food would be any good. I responded that it's probably as good as I made it- as I would be cooking for myself. (Others might contend that my cooking is also only as good as the quality of the ingredients but I haven't explored the ingredient options enough yet to speak to that aspect). And until last week- that was the case- I made various rice and chicken and cooked vegetable dishes but had not dined on anything amounting to 'local'.

That changed last week when the visiting architecture professors and myself decided to take our post-school day dinner at the local cheap eats spot- Turkey Central. The name makes it sound like a horrible local take on fast-food but that's not the case. Sidenote: the Turkey in the name refers to the country, not the bird. This hole-in-wall cafeteria is on a busy street across from Thai massage parlors and in the midst of stores and barber shops. The dining rooms are upstairs in this two-story cafeteria-style eatery. The drinks (other than the fantastic hand-made juices) are self-serve. The napkins are from a box of tissues on each table. The tabletops are sticky. The food is cheap. And it's good.

My knowledge of regional food is still lacking but as far as I can tell it's a mix of Turkish-Lebanese-Arabic fusion. We had some fantastic soft flat bread with a meza plate of hummus, tabouli, chili salad, carrot salad, and some other dips. We also shared a plate of some sort of BBQ chicken with pickled vegetables and flavorful kebab-looking logs of spiced mutton. It was good. Others seemed to agree- we saw large groups of Westerners, Asian workers, and Arabs (but no Qataris). Another plus about this place- it was cheap. It was 70QR for all that food for the 3 of us- about $20 US. Woah. I'll be back. (I also prescribe to Anthony Bourdain's philosophy that it's the crummiest looking places with the longest line of locals that make the best places to eat). (Note: after posting this entry, my mother and I, in our telepathic witch-like fashion, both made the same realization: how can I say locals eat there if Qataris aren't present? Well- when Qataris make up less than 20% of the population and only 10-15% of the workforce, they no longer serve as the standard definition of 'local'. Also- I have seen the most Qataris at places like T.G.I.Fridays and Applebees. So much for local flavor).

Last of my food notes for now: The tins of 'Americana Quality' Chocolate Chip cookies found in my apartment when I arrived left a lot to be desired, and I quickly began to obsess on making some real chocolate chip cookies. My simple craving turned into a long process of scouting and securing of materials and supplies: I couldn't find chocolate chips (or they were out) so I used a chopped up hazelnut chocolate bar. You can buy regular liquor with a permit here but you can't find vanilla extract in the stores or even at the liquor depot- only vanilla flavoring. (I might have to secure some bourbon and vanilla beans and make my own). And the package I grabbed labeled 'Brown Sugar' turned out to be turbino sugar- a fact I only discovered half-way through my recipe. I went ahead and made them anyhow so they turned out to be more like crunchy-chewy sugar cookies with chocolate/hazelnut bits. Not bad. Not bad at all. Next on the cooking-list: a grain pie, homemade olive oil crackers and masala chai. I'll keep you updated.

مع السلام

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