- Doha’s restaurateurs say a lot has changed, but their recipes haven’t
- As the city grew, Indian, Lebanese, and Qatari restaurants also expanded
- New motorways and relaxed social norms characterize the city’s transformation
DOHA, Nov 24 (Reuters) – A hummus recipe and cash counter are the only surviving elements of the original Beirut restaurant, which opened its doors in Qatar in 1960 and has since followed the capital Doha’s metamorphosis from dusty outpost to host of the soccer world has cup.
Jihad Shahin’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 yielded one of Doha’s most modern neighborhoods, full of trendy cafes and high-level eaterys.
The Beirut restaurant relocated to the more affordable Ben Mahmood neighborhood in 2010, the year the Gulf Arab gas producer won the rights to host the biggest global soccer event, which kicked off on Sunday.
“Doha has changed so much – more than 360 degrees. It was initially so small, like new territory. Now check it out,” said Shahin, 55, as he happily watched football fans eat at the fast-food restaurant he runs with his sons and nephews.
The one thing that’s constant, he said, is the recipe for their popular hummus.
The restaurant used to close at 20:30 (1730 GMT) after the last diners washed away plates of creamy hummus or broad beans, but now, he said, they’re only allowed to take a three-hour break a day.
Customers include breakfasting Qataris, night-shift construction and security guards and this week tourists in football shirts invading the country, where foreigners, mostly migrant workers, make up the bulk of the country’s 3 million people.
“We are a piece of Doha’s history,” Shahin said.
The selection of Doha to host the World Cup ushered in a phase of accelerated development that brought new multi-lane highways, a streamlined metro system, and large corporations ranging from university campuses to hotels and technology centers and their employees.
Around the corner from Beirut restaurant is the North Indian restaurant Gokul Gujarati, which moved from its original location in Msheireb a few years later.
“They literally built the subway under the old restaurant and Msheireb station across the street, so we moved here,” said Ajay Joshi, whose father opened the restaurant in 2012.
The staff, all from the same district in North India, serve up traditional fare such as rotis, thick and flavorful vegetarian stews and a range of homemade sugar-free desserts.
The first location had two tables but the new space has 10 and serves the expanded base of migrant workers now in Doha.
Because it’s far from stadiums or tourist accommodation, the first week of the World Cup group stage didn’t see an influx of newcomers, Joshi said. “We do our own niche thing,” he said.
However, football fans flocked to the more centrally located Shay al-Shamous – a traditional Qatari breakfast spot in Souq Waqif, where fishmongers and other traders plied their wares several centuries ago and which was rehabilitated in the early 2000s.
Football legend David Beckham is pictured hanging on the restaurant’s walls alongside owner Shams al-Qassabi, who is being hailed as Qatar’s first female restaurateur.
Qassabi, who never learned to read and does not know her year of birth, opened her restaurant in 2004 with six seats – and today serves more than 200 at a time.
“I wanted to show people what Qatar is, what Qatar’s culture is, from Qatar’s norms and traditions to Qatari food – especially home cooking, not restaurant food,” she told Reuters.
While she loves tradition, Qassabi has also bucked it: she’s bucked the prevailing conservative habit of running only male-owned businesses in Souq Waqif — creating one of his most popular tourist destinations.
That too is a sign that Doha has changed.
“There are now many more Qatari women who have restaurants,” she said proudly.
reporting by Maya Gebeily; Edited by Emelia Sithole-Matarise
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