Strolling Through Doha’s Souqs
What the thumb-shaped peninsula of Qatar lacks in space, it more than makes up for in culinary offerings. The country has an array of superstar chefs, top-flight restaurants, and wide range of chain restaurants, making it difficult at times to not mistake it for Los Angeles, New York, or London. However, underneath that gloss, the Qataris roots are evident in the pulsing souqs, Arabic for markets, of Qatar’s capital, Doha.
If you follow the old pilgrimage route to Mamoura off Salwa Road you will find the Wholesale Market, a conglomeration of souqs that specialize in the foodstuffs needed to make most Qataris' daily meals. Early in the morning, fisherman deliver their catch to the large gleaming tubs in the back rooms of the fish market, and then fishmongers sell the fish in climate-controlled tiled rooms. As Doha is a seacoast town, expect crabs, lobsters, crayfish, and locally caught fish like hammour (grouper), snapper, and shark. Next door are the fish-cleaning rooms, where you can have your whole fish gutted and filleted.
If you are looking for something heartier than seafood, there is the animal souq next to the fish market, where you can buy livestock including goats, cows, and even, sometimes, a camel; pork is forbidden. The slaughtering in the souq — not for the squeamish — conforms to strict Halal standards (a method of slaughtering that follows to Islamic rules). For those who are a little less adventurous, air-conditioned poultry and meat shops are available next door.
For the less carnivorous, there are bustling open-air fruit and vegetable markets. This is the place to get fresh seasonal offerings of zucchini, watermelons, and leafy greens, and it's also the place to rub elbows with the top chefs in town, who are there selecting what will be on your plate at Doha’s elite restaurants. Try not to get run over by the Pakistani porters that scramble about with their wheelbarrows vying to haul your purchases for you.
Beyond the wholesale market, day-to-day foodstuffs and cookery purchases can be made in the same location where Bedouin peddlers have been hawking their wares for centuries — the centrally located Souq Waqif ("standing market"). The Souq Waqif has the same Old-World look and charm of mud walls and stone paths, but it is a modern re-creation of the old souq with modern conveniences and a parking lot. Despite the time warp, the Souq Waqif is still the place to go in Doha for spices like fenugreek, cardamom, curry mixes, and coriander. There are alleyways lined with bags of rice, grains, locally grown honey, and stainless-steel pots large enough to cook a whole goat (or two!).
The Souq Waqif is also a tourist spot, where visitors can stroll the walkways and buy everything from souvenirs to local items like authentic Arabian incense and oud (agarwood) perfume, sandalwood oil, and even pet falcons. Plus, the Souq Waqif has dozens of tea and coffee shops, restaurants, and stalls selling food from Qatar and abroad.
Qatar has many other souqs that cater to various other palates and ethnic groups. For the many guest workers who crave delicacies from home, there is a Filipino souq near the Museum of Islamic Art. For Westerners who crave haraam ("forbidden") items like alcohol and pork, there is the Qatar Distribution Center, which is next to the Department of Islamic Affairs.