Nothing like a break away from your domestic personal life and work. I took a little time off for me — so very self-serving of me to some people — and went to the other side of the world. I had reconnected with an old high school classmate who I was very close to when we were in school. She had mentioned that she has a cousin in Doha, Qatar, and my lights went on. There are no Qatari restaurants in Chicago, considering all of the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants that are here. So it was off to the other side of the world for a rendezvous.
First stop: Paris, France, for a two-day layover. Yikes! While Paris is visually stunning — at night when the lights are on showcase — my appetite was a complete wreck until I escaped to the countryside away from the smell. Bon jour, Chalon. Fantastic provincial food, heavy with cream and rich sauces. And, of course, no smell with the exception of the aromas from the kitchen. As much as people boast about Paris, and I have been there several times myself, I noticed that my wanton lust for food wanes until I am out of the reaches of street vapours courtesy negligent pet owners.
Next stop: Doha, Qatar, for the remaining time of my personal holiday with my pretty-pretty high school classmate. Oh, and she looks just as splendid as she did when we were in high school — ahem, ahem — twenty-five years ago. Nothing like the American propaganda that we see on the telly about the Middle East. The civil unrest that has been brewing in Bahrain, Yemen, Oman, and Libya seems to be a generalization of unrest in the whole area of the Middle East and that could not be any closer to the truth as it pertains to Doha as two plus two equals five. It could be that Doha is fast becoming an international hub and does not want to have its reputation marred with ignorance on a global scale. I have learned to travel to different places with no expectations, an empty slate, and let the locals and atmosphere fill the slate accordingly. Walk into any establishment and the clerks and merchants greet you with decency and respect. Ask for directions and the locals do not scatter like rats. Smile and people want you to continue. By the second day I found myself acknowledging the fact that I will return for another visit. By the end of the visit, I had resigned myself that I could live in Doha, but the notion that you must be Qatari to own property there was a bit of a deterrent. However, there are condominiums going up for ex-patriots. I know a thing about being an ex-patriot and can get my arms around leaving America — again.
Aside from the beauty of the landscape, for Doha to be on the edge of the desert, the delicacies of the land were really a big highlight for me. With the natives being a bit leery of cameras clicking away in public places, I did not photograph food the way I would have and certainly not with carte blanch the way I do at restaurants here in Chicago. Most of the time, we were touring the holes in the wall where the cooks’ English was non-existent and my Arabic was limited. But I knew enough to order some damn good street food. For those of you who are familiar with the concept of street food, you do not get a table with cloth so that you can eat. You eat with your hands while you are walking to the next spot to sample some eats. Now, my classmate is not adventurous with her food the way that I am, so there were times when we found restaurants in New Downtown Doha that were more appealing to her palate. But I was in my element, nevertheless. Although I cannot say that Qatar has dishes that are specific to Qatar only, the common dishes of tabbouleh, hummus masabacha, babaganoush, couscous prepared like cornbread dressing with dates and raisins, chicken schwarma, salmon, falafel, shrimp, lobster, tuna, red snapper, crab and kingfish, and vegetables done up in spices make your mouth burst. This made my little food adventures in places that would have the average American acting like we taking the stairway down to hell worth the trip to the other side of the globe.
Now that I am back in Chicago, I am going to have to find a Qatari and commission him or her to prepare me a meal. I will pay a nice, hefty price of course for the meal, but I need to fill in the letter Q on the blog. Hahaha. I am glad that I went to Doha, as I really enjoyed the land, the people, the culture, the food, and the all-around escape for a nice stretch of time. Plus it was the absolute best time spent with my classmate, who is now my muse, because it proved that 25 years is only time. Seeing her was a highlight that will make 2011 worth remembering. There are numerous restaurants representing the Middle East in our fair Midwest, quite evident with the fact that hummus is the new guacamole. Chicago now needs to represent Qatar with a restaurant. My quest for a local is now on. And with the weather warming up, just a hint, I shall resume my restaurant crawls for all the good things that makes a food addict like me smile.