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Friday, July 2, 2010

Dinner at the Old Souq Doha

Last night we decided to venture into the Old Souq Waqif where merchants sell gold, foodstuffs, antiques, pets, textiles etc.

The single storeyed buildings are probably not as ancient as they look but designed to give you a sense of walking through olden times.

There was a myriad of alleyways keeping us happily lost and revealing occasionally, through dirty windows, minute coffee shops or shisha cafes. The men manning these shops are weathered and paid little attention to us. The younger merchants were more persistent, offering pashimas at every corner.

Parts of the Old Souq were not there a year ago, said T. The newer sections were very posh and had rooftop terraces where restaurants operate. Some had the big screens set up for the World Cup. Most had mobile airconditioning units to keep the locals cool. Even at 7pm, you feel warm, I reckon it was about 30 degrees at least. The Souq is closed between 1-4 pm due to the harsh heat but the stone walls obviously trap the heat too well.

In the new annexe, expensive restaurants offer Italian, Thai, Moroccan and Lebanese food. I even found a Malaysian restaurant there, dishing up 30 riyals ( RM 27) Nasi Lemak and Mee Jawa !! Guess if I am really hankering for some sambal, I know where to go!

As we got lost in the maze, we came across the Iranian spice and sweet merchants. Sacks of all manner of rice, grains, nuts and spices with Arabic labels greet you as you enter. You could get slivered almonds, jewelled pistachios, tart barberries by the kilo. I went round the shop to sniff around while T practised his Farsi with the shopkeeper. His Farsi is getting better and I love hearing it.

See how they combine ribbons of colourful spices in jars? No idea what they are.

Here the man is weighing 200 gms of pistachios for me. I bought some barberries and Iranian spice mixture called Advieh to try cooking with.

We plan to return to stock up on more spices and nuts after we settle into the new flat and it is much cheaper and more fun shopping here than in the hypermarkets.

It was time for dinner and we were in search of Iranian cuisine. Isfahan Gardens was not hard to find, the grand entrance, a long elaborate walkway decorated with folk paintings and mirrored walls, beckoned. 

You reach the end of the tunnel and the ceilings soar above you to reveal a massive glass chandelier and arches in jewel toned tiles.

In the middle was the quintessential water fountain whose faint trickling of water echoed throughout the restaurant gently. We were shown to a table but chose to sit in the raised booths where carpets lay and you eat, sitting cross legged, on plush cushions.

The meal was memorable. As we perused the menu, a plate of fresh mint, rocket leaves, feta cheese and rehydrated walnuts were offered alongside warm flatbread.

T ordered a starter of eggplant dip, made with dried yogurt and turmeric. One of the mains were a Khoresh ( Persian stew) of lentils, lamb and limes, served with saffron rice. The other was slow cooked lamb shank with a rice cooked with dill and broad beans.

Food was exquisite, the meat was soft as butter and I could not stop eating the rice. Persian rice has a distinct combination of saltiness and smoky flavour that I can't get enough of.

As usual food was too much and we asked for the remainder to be packed. Lunch today will be leftovers and I can't wait to tuck in.

Because we were filled to the brim, I passed on dessert but next time I will try the iced vermicelli with iranian ice cream and lemon juice.

This is the VIP room captured by talented photographer Fariborz Alagheband who posted these amazing shots on Flickr. See more here

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