By Rida Khan
Qatar attracts people from all over the word and the influence of culture from these expats is most seen in food - as a result of which one finds so many different cuisines like Turkish, Italian, Indian, Iranian etc coexisting along with traditional Qatari food.
The Peninsula got an opportunity to chat with Qatari food blogger Khaled AlRayes who talks about local food scene as he is always on the hunt for the best food in and outside Qatar.
Residing in Doha, Khaled AlRayes works with Qatar Business Incubation Centre, and has visited around 15 different countries in Asia, Europe, America and North Africa. His passion for food took him to blogging and to start a bakery and a street food pop up.
Tell us something about Qatari cuisine.
Qatari food is interesting, actually it evolved and developed through the years. Our kitchen is extremely simple, the main ingredients people used before all the technology and modern life were like flowers, sugar, rice, anything from the sea, from the desert. Over time, trading boomed in Qatar and many travelled to Asia and while coming back from countries like India and Indonesia, they bought back spices and their knowledge of how to cook in new ways. They introduced new dishes, which made our kitchen very interesting as it was a huge mix between our local taste and from countries like India, Iran, Turkey etc.
In your opinion how has Qatari cuisine changed?
We still have our authentic traditional Qatari food. Today’s new generation is not interested in simple ways as my parents’ and grandparents’ used to eat their food. Now we are at a stage where traditional must come with a twist or with an add on to take it to a different level of texture and taste. So yes, the cuisine is different from what our grandparents used to eat. It’s a new kitchen with many different options, but we still have our own authentic food.
Tell us about your popup restaurant ‘Back to Roots’.
‘Back to Roots’ is very simple. The idea came from going to farmers market and food festivals, which are getting very popular in Doha. Whenever I go to such events or an outdoor kind of activity that involves food, I always look for the street food but in Doha street food concept is not very popular. Of course, we have old street food places, but it is the same since we were kids and it never changed or developed. So, when I thought of ‘Back To Roots’ I had to bring something new to the table, new to the market that can translate my passion and love for food. I don’t have a set menu it keeps changing. So, wherever I go out for any event I add something to my food which I think will work and take feedback so as to know if it’s liked by the people or not. I have mixed local dishes with Asian and Mexican dishes, introducing new ways of salads, sandwiches. My food is a street-based concept that uses fresh ingredients from Qatar with the idea of always adding a popular dish with our own twist and flavours.
How Qatari cuisine is different from other cuisines?
If we take Gulf region, then our kitchens are extremely similar to each other depending, of course, the location of the country as well as the culture of the people living there. Some countries use minimum amount of spices compared to others. We have many common dishes in all 6 GCC countries but each have 5 to 10 different dishes that are unique from the neighbouring countries. Our food is different, it’s simple than the many other kitchens, we don’t use that much spices and flavours, which will take away the original taste of proteins.
While going through your Instagram account, I realised that you are a good cook also. Which is your favourite dish that you cook?
Yes, I cook, I love experimenting with food. I have been watching different tutorials, reading lots of books throughout my life. I think I am becoming better and better every year. I love to cook Indian, Japanese, Qatari, European and Moroccan dishes but my favourite dish is from Mexican cuisine and I do have a Mexican dish that is featured in Sugar and Spice, a popular café in Doha.
What has been the most interesting food you have tasted till now?
For me the interesting food is from the Asian countries. I love Thai, Japanese, Korean, South Asian kind of cuisines, which are always on the top of my list. Once in Thailand I went to Gaggan Restaurant in Bangkok, which is run by an Indian Chef Gaggan Anand. The food and the environment were so good that I can never forget it in my life. It was an unforgettable experience, a wonderful ambience.
How do you feel when you go as a representative of Qatar in different countries for food events?
I went to Russia to represent Qatar in Afisha Picnic. I am extremely proud because I was the only start-up representing Qatar in this big event, though many of my colleagues came to represent Qatar, they were all existing restaurants who came with their staff, head chefs, menus and equipment. I mean, they were all prepared and I was the only one with a start-up among these big names. So, I am extremely proud and happy for what I did and achieved.
Which places will you suggest to tourists to have a good Qatari cuisine?
For authentic Qatari food they must go to our traditional kitchens. Most of them do not have sitting area, people will have to go pick up their meal and have it elsewhere, may be at the hotel or at home. If they want to have new Qatari food with a twist, then we have Smat and Al Manchab restaurants in Doha with very good food, which represents our modern food culture.
Sweet dish – No sweet tooth
Tea or Coffee – Coffee
Pick me up dish – No specific dish, I always have concepts and go for healthy dishes.
Food memory – When I visited Bali and had a meal in rice terraces
Street food or a star-hotel food – Street food
Country to visit – There are lots like Mauritius, Bali etc
Comfort food - Street food
Cuisine you can live on – Thai food
Foodie place in Qatar – I love to visit coffee places more.
Travelling for you is – Relief, leaving everything behind to enjoy time.
Street food – I love all the street foods.