From Fasting to Feasting...

Trip Start Sep 22, 2006
Trip End Jan 2007

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Flag of Qatar  ,
Saturday, October 14, 2006

So dining at the Ritz-Carlton isn't usually my scene, but when in Doha during Ramadan do as the Qataris do and head to the finest 5-star hotels to enjoy their Ramadan tents.
Saturday night one of my work colleagues booked about 27 of us in to dinner at the Ritz Ramadan tent. One thing I've noticed about life down here is that there is no such thing as a 'small dinner party'. Or at least it's a rarity. Friday night at the Sri Lankan feast there were about 35 people and tonight we had fully booked 3 large tables for the Ramadan buffet. Even the parties here are the kind that parents were warned about when I was in high school - those urban legends of hundreds upon hundreds of rowdy teens showing up at the house party of some unsuspecting birthday boy or girl. It's the same type of thing here, except no one seems to care that hundreds of people are showing up to a house party and trashing the place. Aaah, the beauty of rental property in Qatar.

At any rate, on arrival at the Ritz we were led into an incredible room which had been themed as a traditional middle eastern tent - incredible swathes of rich red and gold fabric covered the chandeliers and hung from the cathedral ceiling, red and gold beaded lampshades threw shadows onto the brocade wallpapered walls, large couches with plush velvet and sequined curtains were separated into small private rooms by sky-high organza curtains, and shisha pipes sat next to nearly every table. If I had to choose a word to describe the room it would most certainly be opulent.

It was a buffet meal for 150 Riyals, one of the priciest in Doha, yet still only about 40 USD per person. The array of food available presented a huge challenge - I was determined that I would try everything that I wanted, but I realized I would have to come up with some kind of strategy to get through the night (and the buffet) with my dignity still in tact and the top button of my pants still done up. Fortunately I'd planned enough ahead to wear a loose fitting top...
Now if the next bit of this entry seems slightly too food focused, please keep in mind that this is pretty much the only meal of my day. And unfortunately I've been finding that the less I'm eating during the day, the smaller my dinner is. Not good when faced with the incredible food choices I was being faced with!

Strategy #1 was to start with some lighter fare and so first it was off to the cold salads, a variety of middle eastern mezze dishes and some more 'western' choices, all beautifully presented in copper terrines and on china platters. I skipped straight past the bread rolls (Strategy# 2 - avoid unnecessary fillers) and loaded a plate with smoked salmon, marinated artichokes and mushrooms, grilled asparagus, baba ganoush, 3 kinds of olives, green salad and tabouleh.
To wash it down I poured myself a glass of fresh hibiscus juice - made from hibischus flowers the taste very sweet and is the colour of cherries. Absolutely refreshing. Strangely enough, the only other time I've found this juice is in the Muslim Quarter in Xian, China where it was perfect to cool off the spiciness of the hot pot.

Strategy #3 was to pace myself and so I waited at least 1 minute between finishing my first place and going to the tempura station for Round 2. Huge tempura prawns and vegetables with sweet chili sauce, fresh falafel balls with spicy tahini sauce...Some of my table mates had already moved onto the lamb shanks and their third plate by this time - we were all getting a bit over-excited I think! And then quite frankly, my strategies all went out the window (except the decision to take a miss on the pasta bar -- Strategy #4 - avoid anything I can make easily at home) as I joined in the fray at the main entrée section.
Seafood ragout, lamb and cashew nuts with couscous, morroccan chicken tagine, chicken tikka masala, roast lamb and potatoes, shawarma, some more get the idea.

The dining room was starting to fill up as it was getting to be around 10PM or so and many of the local Qatari's were arriving to begin their late evening meal. The buffet is open until about 1:30AM and most of the locals will arrive between 10 and 11 and then stay until the end, feasting away. By the entrance to the dining room was an elevated dais with one large couch and two love seats overlooking the rest of the dining room. There were 3 men dressed in the traditional Qatari dress the Thoub (which nearly all Qatari men wear regularly) smoking shisha, drinking tea, laughing loudly and clapping even more loudly in time to the traditional music being played on the front stage. Initially there were 4 men playing traditional instruments and drums. They were soon joined by a lady in a long black dress with sequins and thin straps who began to sing and dance in a modified belly dance, much to the great pleasure of our Qatari friends on the dais who began to clap enthusiastically in relative time to the music. I had seen these men when they entered the hotel and were personally greeted by about a dozen hotel staff and then escorted to their seats. Throughout the meal there was at least one staff member within 10 feet of their area the entire time and its hard to conceive of the wealth that is abundant in this country.

The other tables were a mix of foreign expats, local Qatari men and even a couple of tables of local women, wearing long black abayas and sitting puffing away on shisha pipes. Quite the sight.

It was an excellent night, topped off by a couple of bowls of unbelievable cinnamon ice cream and then a quick walk on the Corniche to help digest! I'm looking forward to sampling some of the other buffets in town to see how they stack up...
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