Qatar’s Culinary Journey

Discover ingredients, dishes, objects, and stories related to Qatari cuisine. Qatar’s Culinary Journey is a series of colourful and diverse exhibitions reflective of many personal micro narratives.

The Qatar's Culinary Journey Artwork (2020) by Deborah (Amnah) KlattNational Museum of Qatar


From ingredients to serving rituals, this exhibition presents the multi-faceted narratives of Qatari food and beverage. The exhibition features our museum collection of objects and archives, as well as, community submissions and their personal stories. 

In Qatar, having a meal and gahwa (Arabic coffee) are social activities enjoyed by both men and women. Historically, women from the extended family would gather to prepare a meal for the entire family to share and enjoy, while the men in the family prepared the coffee.

Remembering Life in the Past

In Arabic, Shareefa Al Mohannadi discusses life and food in the past. She says, people used to get up before fajr (dawn prayer) and take their herds to graze. By dhuhr time (noon prayer), they were exhausted, so they would eat lunch, pray and rest until asr (afternoon prayer). 

In the summer, people ate lighter dishes like laban, or fish with rice. During winter, they consumed hot meals and heavier dishes. 

Woman Inside the Tent (1959) by Klaus FerdinandNational Museum of Qatar

Our Tools and Ingredients

Qatari cuisine is heavily rooted in and inspired by the natural surrounding environment(s) including local ingredients. Historically, trade played a significant role in the seasoning of traditional local dishes (i.e. spices traded from India, Basra, Bahrain, and Oman). Typical flavourings in Qatari cuisine are cardamom, cloves, loomi (dried lime), and cumin. 

Before vegetables were widely available, the Gulf diet relied heavily on meat that came from their animals like lamb and mutton, as well as, on seafood. Camel, male sheep and goat meat were consumed, while female sheep and goat were kept for milk and breeding. Fresh seafood is regularly consumed, as well as dried for future consumption (a practice still done today).

Hunting was both a social and necessary activity practiced amongst men in the family. Large birds could sustain the average family for up to a week. Falcons and salukis were trained by hunters to catch prey such as hares, curlew, houbaras, and ghazels. The meat of ghazels was often dried and saved for later.

The Scarcity of Fresh Ingredients

Speaking in Arabic, Nasser Al Othaman remembers how fruits and vegetables were very limited in the past. Some farms in Qatar had watermelon and tomatoes, but most fruits tended to be imported mainly from Oman and Iran, arriving on the dhows by sea. Mangos and pomegranates were some of the common fruits that were imported. Many fruits arrived in Qatar hardened or damaged. In the past being able to have an apple was a big deal!

The waters of the Arabian Gulf are teeming with fish and home to many species of fish including hamour (grouper), kan’ad (Spanish mackerel), safi (rabbitfish) and rubiyan (tiger shrimp).

Cooked meats served with fragrant and fruit-studded dishes reflect the roots of Qatar and the trade patterns. A few of the main ingredients traded include: Loomi (dried lime) imported from Oman; ginger, curry, cloves, anise and black pepper from India; dates from Al-Hassa, Basra, Bahrain and the Gulf; cinnamon from Sri Lanka; Peshawar rice from Pakistan; garlic, tawabel (ready mixed spices), cumin from the Levant. Even water was traded and brought into Qatar!

"Spices add flavor to our dishes and make food taste better. Spices that have been blended accurately into the perfect seasoning mix are called "bizar". This blend is used to flavor most traditional Qatari dishes prepared today. I mix my own unique composition of spices to achieve the perfect blend."
– Chef Aisha Al Tamimi

Chef Aisha Al Tamimi discusses in Arabic how she takes inspiration from local ingredients and various nutritional spices that have been used in Qatari cuisine throughout history. These spices were mostly imported from India, as result of existing trade networks.  

Spices Stall at Souq (20th century) by Eigil KnuthNational Museum of Qatar

A Source for Ingredients: Trading and the Souq

The souq represented the focus of commercial and social activity in the town and was in a constant state of flux as goods were imported and exported, and as people travelled through the town towards the desert or overseas. Everything from cooking utensils, serving platters, spices, food stuff and more could be found in a souq. 

Dates, imported from places such as Al-Hasa and Basra, were made locally into syrup called dibs. Dibs is made by pressing dates in a madbasat (ridged floor dibs room). In Al-Zubarah, the archaeological site, the souq shows evidence of this activity on a large scale. In the past, piles of dates would rest on palm fronds over the madbasat, used to collect the syrup. The weight of the dates themselves and the heat were sufficient to create dibs. The exported date syrup had a longer shelf life than the dates themselves, and therefore travelled well. For the most part, however, date syrup was not exported but consumed locally.

Chef Damien Nicolas Leroux is the first Executive Chef at the National Museum's restaurant Jiwan. Damien’s lifelong passion for exploring new flavours started from an early age. From a family of restaurant owners, Damien grew up in the kitchen, surrounded by the buzz and excitement of a busy service.

At 16, Damien travelled from his hometown of Chateaudun to the south of France where Chef Bruno Cirino from L’Hôtellerie Jérôme introduced him to the art of gastronomy. This experience confirmed his love for haute-cuisine, and soon after, he spent several years establishing himself around the Mediterranean region. During this period, Damien met Alain Ducasse, which proved to be a pivotal moment in his career. He joined the team 3-Michelin-starred Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse in Monaco, where he worked for three years with the Executive Chef Franck Cerutti.

Damien rapidly adopted the philosophy of “La cuisine de l’essentiel” based on the respect of produce and brings his passion for being true to the ingredient – delivering its best flavours – to the tables of Jiwan.

Gargour (Fish Trap) by UnkownNational Museum of Qatar


The gargour (fish trap) is an enclosure made from palm fronds and ropes made of plant fibre. It was used in shallow waters to catch certain kinds of fish such as safi (rabbitfish). 

Man with Fishing net (20th century) by Hans Jørgen MadsenNational Museum of Qatar

Nets varied to suit an environment or to catch specific kind of fish. Weaving the nets required skilled work; the holes had to be the right size and consistent, which was often very large. One type of net, the aleekh, was up to 22 meters in length, and took 15 days to be woven.

Fishing in Qatar

Shareefa Al Mohannadi speaks about how fishing sustained the local diet. Traditionally, the everyday meal consisted of rice and freshly caught fish. Such dishes were referred to as baranyoosh and muhammar. The fish was grilled and the food was very simple and clean, this is why many people in the past were very healthy and rarely sick. Food was regularly distributed, and if one house had a surplus of rice and the other had fish or laban, they would share their food to complete the dishes.

Girba (Milk Churn) (19th and 20th centruty) by UnkownNational Museum of Qatar


The girba was a bag made from animal hide. It was used to shake milk and produce zibd (butter) and laban(buttermilk). Women would boil fresh milk and then leave it in a shaded area to sour for up to 5-6 hours. 

Next, it was poured into the girba where it was shaken for 30-60 minutes. Then two things were formed: a small amount of zibd(butter) and laban (buttermilk). Boiled ghee/fat was referred to as zibd and was placed in a small container or in a girba made from rabbit skin. 

Boiled yegert (cottage cheese) or laban could be eaten straight away or dried after it was placed on a big tray and left in the sun.

In Arabic, Shareefa Al Mohannadi and Safiya Suliman discuss traditional ways of preparing laban (buttermilk) and zibd (butter). 

Milas (Cooking Utensil) (Date Unkown) by UnkownNational Museum of Qatar

Our Dishes and Drinks

Qatari cuisine is simple. This derives from past socio-economic conditions. In the 1950-60s, people lived off the land and the sea. They did not have the ingredients or the utensils we have today. After the oil discovery, access to international products increased dramatically. 

Popular Qatari Dishes

In Arabic, Moza Al Bader lists sweet and savory Qatari dishes as well as talks about the traditions associated with the dishes.

Al-Tawaah (Iron Plate) (19th and 20th century) by UnkownNational Museum of Qatar

Our Dishes: Khubs Rgag

Khubs rgag is a very thin, flat, and crispy bread, similar to a crepe. It is made of flour, water, and salt. It is used to accompany dishes such as aseida, harees and thareed.  This hotplate, referred to locally as al-tawaah, was placed on hot coal and used to make it.          

Our Version of Rgag

To make khubs rgag, dates are mixed with water in one bowl. In another bowl, flour is filled and around two thirds of date water (no dates though!) is added. A handful of this dough is taken and placed on the edge of the al-tawaah (hotplate), where it is spread to create a thin, even coverage. Any excess dough is put back in the mixing bowl. Once the mixture is cooked for several minutes, a palette knife can be used to scrape away any further excess before the bread is eased away from the hotplate with a knife. Then the bread is folded into quarters and placed in a serving bowl.

Making Khubs rgag

Arabic video of Lolwa el Badi discussing how khubs rgag used to be made with al-tawaah.

Traditional Serving Dish with Floral Motifs (20th century) by UnkownNational Museum of Qatar

Our Dishes: Thareed

Thareed is a stew made from bread, meat, and vegetables. Thareed is made by adding khubs rgag to a broth of meat and vegetables, the bread soaks up the water to make a nourishing meal. 

Leaf and Flower Low Bowl (20th century) by UnkownNational Museum of Qatar

Our Dishes: Baranyoosh

Baranyoosh or Muhammar is a seafood dish made with grilled fish and rice topped with date syrup. The fish used depends on the fish caught that day (today it is more commonly made with kanad (king fish).      

Hilal (Crescent) and Nijmah (Star) Traditional Dish (1920) by UnkownNational Museum of Qatar

Our Dishes: Balaleet

Balaleet is made of vermicelli pasta/noodles that are prepared with sugars and spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and saffron. Sometimes, it is served with an omelette or eggs cooked with onions on top.          

Cooper Stock Pot (Gidr) (19th and 20th Century) by UnkownNational Museum of Qatar

Our Dishes: Machboos

Qatari machboos is a dish similar to biryani. It consists of rice seasoned with spices, meat, onions, and tomatoes. It is sometimes seen as Qatar’s national dish.      

Chef Noof operates the Desert Rose Café at the National Museum of Qatar, and is amongst the most well-known Qatari chefs. Chef Noof created the menu and ideas for the Desert Rose Café in 2018 and is responsible for the preparation of innovative and locally inspired dishes at the café.

Chef Noof Al Marri is determined to take her delicious dishes global. She has attended and participated in food related exhibitions in China, London, Spain, Turkey, as well as other countries. Chef Noof also created Kashta Café in 2014 under Luxury Restaurant that owns and operates more than 50 international franchise concepts across the Middle East and North Africa.

Below Al Marri shows how she prepares the machboos for guests at her resturant.

Machboos by Chef Noof

Chef Noof operates Desert Rose Café at the National Museum of Qatar.

The machboos is a revered dish in Qatar, and is one of the most prepared dishes in Qatari households. Qatari Chef Noor Al Mazroei is a an expert in Qatari cuisine. Her primary focus is to recreate Qatari dishes using  healthier alternatives to traditional ingredients.

Al Mazroei’s recipes tend to be  gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options of Qatari dishes. Her pursuit in reimagining Qatari dishes stems from her own personal allergies to certain ingredients.

 Her goal is to ensure everyone has the chance to experience traditional Qatari food, no matter their allergies or food restrictions.

In Arabic, Chef Noor Al Mazroie remembers her experiences with her grandmother in the kitchen, and discusses her infinity towards Qatari cuisine.

Gidar (Bowl) (19th and 20th century) by UnkownNational Museum of Qatar

Our Dishes: Harees

Harees is a savoury porridge made with grinded wheat, salt, water and meat (sometimes chicken). The dish is cooked in a special pot. In the past, it would have been cooked over firewood.

The Communal Aspect of Preparing Harees

Lolwa el Badi speaks in Arabic about how women used to gather to take turns grinding the grain in pairs, while singing. 

Harees is typically prepared in the morning as it takes a long time to make. After 5 to 6 hours of cooking, the harees pot is removed from the burner. Then it is placed between the legs while the ingredients are pummelled with a special wooden stick until the wheat and meat are fully mixed together. Finally, the harees is topped with Qatari oil made from animal fat and is placed on a plate or in a serving pot.

During Ramadan, harees would be served just before iftar. A small girl from the family distributes it to neighbours who are usually connected by kinship. The custom of sending and sharing meals during Ramadan persists till today.

Chef Aisha Al Tamimi discuses how her mom used to prepare dishes and drinks in the past.

"Growing up, our house consisted of bedrooms, a liwan, a small open private space, and an open side kitchen. My mother would use two silver gas tanks to prepare food. The small one was used for tea and coffee, and the large one was used to cook food. Cooking utensils and tools were simple. My mother never let anyone prepare the food or coffee and tea, this was a practice only she participated in."
- Chef Aisha Al Tamimi

Shua'a Ali and Bouthayna Al Muftah Breakdown HareesNational Museum of Qatar

Shua'a Ali and Bouthayna Al Muftah Breakdown Harees

Artists Shua'a Ali and Bouthayna Al Muftah present their own artistic take on Harees breaking it down into ingredients and utensils. 

Shua'a Ali and Bouthayna Al Muftah Breakdown Harees Al khanfaroosh (2020) by Shua'a Ali Al Muftah and Bouthayna Al MuftahNational Museum of Qatar

The contemporary style of art is depicted within the photos to form a relationship between traditional dishes and contemporary art compositions, prominent in both artist’s artistic practices.

Shua'a Ali and Bouthayna Al Muftah Breakdown Harees Al khanfaroosh (2020) by Shua'a Ali Al Muftah and Bouthayna Al MuftahNational Museum of Qatar

Shua'a Ali and Bouthayna Al Muftah Breakdown Harees Al khanfaroosh (2020) by Shua'a Ali Al Muftah and Bouthayna Al MuftahNational Museum of Qatar

Shua'a Ali and Bouthayna Al Muftah Breakdown Harees Al khanfaroosh (2020) by Shua'a Ali Al Muftah and Bouthayna Al MuftahNational Museum of Qatar

Shua'a Ali and Bouthayna Al Muftah Breakdown Harees Al khanfaroosh (2020) by Shua'a Ali Al Muftah and Bouthayna Al MuftahNational Museum of Qatar

Men Having Gahwa (Coffee) (20th century) by Jette BangNational Museum of Qatar

Our Drinks: Gahwa

Gahwa (Arabic coffee) is made from Arabica roasted coffee beans mixed with cardamom. It is often served with dried dates.

Kettle by UnkownNational Museum of Qatar

Our Drinks: Karak and Chai Ahmar

Locally, chai ahmar (red tea) is typically made with mint or saffron. Karak is made with black/red tea and fresh milk (lightly boiled), sugar, cardamom and/or saffron.

Karak is an extremely popular drink in Qatar. Over time, many variations came to exist largely because of trade with different countries. These variations include chai bil haleeb (milk tea), chai Adeni (tea from Aden), and chai masala (masala infused milk tea from India). 

Want to Read More?

- Experience the second part of Qatar's Culinary Journey to learn about how food plays a role in local celebrations.

- Learn how to make and serve gahwa in four easy steps.

Credits: Story

Qatar's Culinary Journey includes media from the National Museum of Qatar's digital archive, the Moesgaard Museum and special contributions from Chef Damen Leroux, Chef Noof Al Marri and Deborah A. Klatt, The Cooking Academy: Chef Aisha Al Tamimi & Mohamed Abdulmalik, Chef Noor Al Mazroei.

© The National Museum of Qatar and Moesgaard Museum.  

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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