Doha's best-kept secrets

Camping spots, back street cafes, hidden wi-fi and more Comments

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We’re opening the coffers of Team TODO to reveal our favourite things (like Oprah!). The tips and tricks we’ve picked up along the way, the secret hotspots we love, and even the places we’ve kept to ourselves (so we never have to wait in line). So far, our lips have been sealed, but this month, just for you, we’re spilling!

Our favourite camping spot
There’s nothing like heading out to the sands for a night under the stars, and with limited light pollution, there are a lot of them. But we’ve gone beyond just driving out and pitching a tent on the nearest sand dune: our favourite camp site? Purple Island, otherwise known as Al Khor Island. About 40km from Doha, it actually comes up on Google Maps, so finding driving directions a snap. The island is linked to the mainland by a causeway surrounded by a mangrove forest: the hike in makes this feel far more adventurous than another night on the Inland Sea. The themselves are an incredible sight, a little ecosystem within themselves, and Qatar’s lucky to be one of the increasingly few places on the planet where there are still wild mangrove forests to be found. If you look closely you can spy crabs, birds and more all over the island. Humans have been visitng for around 4000 years, and in fact the island get’s its purple nick name from a purple dye made from shells found on the island over 3,000 years ago. You should always pick up after yourself anyway, but it’s especially important here to leave no trace. Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints!

Our local caffeine fix
If you want Qatar in a cup, look no further than karak. Made from a mixture of tea and evaporated milk, it’s a super sweet concoction that owes its roots to Indian chai tea, an international mix that’s very Doha. It’s a real taste of the city though, especially as it’s best gotten at various shacks where you don’t even leave your car: instead, you honk and attendants bring you out a steaming cup. Our top place to grab some? Chapati & Karak in Katara Cultural Village. Ridiculously cheap (a beverage and a snack won’t break QR15), this is a favourite drive by spot on a weekend night, with locals and expats mixing over sweet tea. If you’ve got a flash car this is also the place to be: cars cruise up and down the parking lot in front of the café, with especially impressive ones parked on display, their owners comparing notes.

The best taste of Qatar
If you’re after local street food, head to the pancake ladies in Souq Waqif. They’re the go-to people for the thin, crispy crepe-like items that go by many names across the region (one of the most common is mankouche). Set up in the square by the car park, next to Jasmine Thai Restaurant, this isn’t fancy and it’s not a dish that’s unique to Qatar—but the experience certainly is! Prepared on dome-like ovens, the thin dough is fried then filled with either labneh and za’atar (a mix of sesame seeds, thyme and sumac) or in a slightly less traditional version, Nutella. Prices start around QR5, so you can go back for seconds (or thirds—hot Nutella is amazing). If you don’t fancy the pancakes, take a walk around the other tables in the square: made at home by the ladies selling it, you can’t get more ‘home cooking’ then this. Hunt and you might find malfouf, meat rolled in cabbage or stuffed grape leaves called waraganab. If you fancy manoeuvering with plastic fork and knife, try the madrooba, fish cooked in a creamy sauce or harees, chicken with wheat, ghee and cream.

The secret to our fabulous wardrobes
A certain portion of our staffers are determined flip-flops-and-jeans types, which isn’t a problem until it’s time for the annual Time Out Doha Restaurant Awards, with it’s Oscar-worthy dress code. Thankfully, Qatar is blessed with an abundance of tailors and amazing fabrics at reasonable prices. No matter the occasion, whether gown, cocktail dress, or just regular work clothes, you can find someone willing to make it for you, often for less than you’d pay in a shop. Head to Souq Al Dira (located behind Fanar: Qatar Islamic Cultural Center, next to the Gold Souq) for a treasure trove of fabrics, from simple printed cottons to elaborate silks. Once you’ve acquired the perfect fabric, you just need to find a tailor—the best bet is to ask around, either amongst your friends or the fabric vendors themselves. Tell them what you’re looking for, and they will point you towards tailors who might fit the bill.

Regardless of where you go, check out their work (good ones will have samples on display). Check for seams, lining, and the general quality. If you’re still not sure, commission something simple, like to have an existing piece of clothing copied, to judge their work. Most importantly, talk to the tailor: some design clothes themselves and will be able to make suggestions, and no matter what, the more direction and input you can give, the happier you will be in the end.

Where we get our groceries
Head out to the Wholesale Market, part of the Central Market, just off Salwa Road on the way to Mamoura for anything your stomach could desire. Especially popular on Fridays and Saturdays, you can get fresh fish and seafood at the stalls selling crabs, lobsters, crayfish, prawns and whole fish, much of it caught locally. Parts are air-conditioned but head out early in the morning before the heat takes hold for the best freshness. Not sure what to do with that whole fish you’ve just purchased? Head to the Fish Cleaning section where staff will gut and clean it for you, and even fillet it if you ask nicely.

Or, if red meat is more your thing, head next door to the Animal Souq. Not for the faint of heart, it’s often referred to as the Meat Souq for good reason. You can buy butchered meat here, but this place is known for selling whole goats, sheep and cows—live. The government slaughterhouse is just next door, so it’s not uncommon to see a man with a sheep slung over his shoulders heading out of the Souq. The vendors at the various pens often don’t speak much English, but in our experience they’re happy to pose for photos and may even offer you a cup of hot tea. If you’re not buying meat, this is also a great place to check out camels within the city limits—there are often vendors selling camels there as well. And when you’ve had enough dead thing trauma, head to the Vegetable Souq, the happy green place next to the animal pens, where you can rub shoulders with chefs from all over town as you barter for fresh fruits and vegetables, both imported and even grown locally! The produce on offer changes with the seasons, and negotiating is allowed: buy by the box rather than the kilo and use the money you save to hire a porter to take your haul to your car in a wheelbarrow.

Our Pearl Guy
Qatar started out as a pearling hot spot, and you can still see evidence of it all over town, from the shape of the dhows, originally used for pearl diving before they became popular for parties and assorted revelry, to the statue on the Corniche that all newcomers must have their photo taken in front of. There’s no better souvenir from the city we call home than something pretty in pearls—even better if you can get them with a side of local history and quirk. While pearls are available at various points across Doha, including in the Gold Souq, we head to Al Bida Park on the Corniche near the National Theatre. Tucked among the shops there is a man who’s known to many simply as ‘The Pearl Man’. He doesn’t speak much English, but one room of his shop is packed with trinkets and news clippings from past decades—he’s been there for longer than most of the city has been around, and poking through the dusty bric-a-brac can keep us occupied for hours. But pearls are his thing, and he’ll insist you take them outside to see the colour in the sunlight. He’s got it all, from the classic white to black pearls and shades of pink and purple. His creations on display range in price, with a bracelet running around QR100-QR150. Best of all, he’s willing to make something specifically for you—whether that’s a multi-strand necklace or earrings made from your choice of colours.

The super impressive cultural thing we show our visitors
Falconry has a long history in Qatar, where even today people train and hunt with these impressive creatures. Tucked away in Souq Waqif, the Falcon Souq is where you’d go if you were looking to buy a bird that retails for more than most people’s cars. Here, you’ll find everything falcon, from hoods to training materials and the birds themselves. There’s an outdoor area where the birds are exercised several times a day. If you miss their outdoor time, the keepers will let you walk through the falcon showroom, where the birds rest on their perches. Most are hooded, as these are not pets—they’re highly trained and highly dangerous. You won’t be petting one, and we weren’t kidding about the car thing: a falcon can cost more than a high-end sports car. In fact, they’re so highly prized that on Qatar Airways, falcons must have a seat booked for them in business class, along with their keeper.

Our private dance party
We like to dance, we like to boogie, but we don’t always want to do it crammed cheek to jowl with our neighbours. When we want to get down with enough space to do so enthusiastically, we head to Admiral’s Club at The Ritz-Carlton Doha (4484 8000). Downstairs might be all patios and sports on the television, but upstairs is a nightclub with its own bar and DJ. It’s popular for private parties, but it’s not jammed on a weekend—we’ve been there repeatedly when it was basically just the people we came with. This meant crazy dance party as well as a DJ who was happy to take our requests (we’ve had Britney Spears marathons there when the mood struck). There’s even an outdoor terrace connected to the club upstairs, overlooking the water.

By Time Out Doha staff
Time Out Doha,

User reviews:

Posted by: Margaret-Anne Rodden on 01 Jul ' 14 at 07:55

Very interesting. My partner has moved to Doha for work, we are getting married in September and I will be moving over with him, so this site has helped me out a lot. Thanx for all your hard work! Can I have a job lol x

Posted by: Josef Piers on 08 Sep ' 13 at 07:44

I would appreciate the mailing address or an e-mail contact for the Pearl Man Doha. He does beautiful parquetry wood work also and i would like to purchase one piece of woodwork if possible. I am from Australia.

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