Ever had those days when pizza seems passé, pad thai pedestrian, and tandoori a little tired? Italian, Thai and Indian food regularly appear in my mealtime rotation – but when I have a hankering for the peregrine, I turn to these restaurants serving what I consider more exotic fare. Exotic because in most cases, they’re one of the very few commercial sources for that cuisine in Doha.
Nepalese – Nepali Banchha Ghar
Abdullah bin Thani Street, opposite Jaidah Tower
Open Daily, 9:30a.m.-midnight
Not only can you get a full meal for under 10 Riyals, you’ll leave in a happy state of full: perfectly satisfied without being stuffed. The spices in Nepalese cooking are milder than its Indian cousin, though the dishes are equally delectable. The momos (dumplings co-opted from Tibet) are obligatory, but this is also the place to try the food of the Newar tribe who call the Kathmandu Valley home.
Ethiopian – Habesha
Ibn Seena Street, Muntazah
Open Daily, 6a.m.-midnight
Doha’s open secret for fluffy injera and scrummy tibs (gravied meat cubes) has rapidly gained a loyal following. Far from the Ethiopian enclave in Muaither, this restaurant off C-Ring in the city is open from breakfast through to late dinner. Ignore the spaghetti and burger offerings; instead take a plunge with any the firfir dishes with injera or wonderful wat stews with clarified butter. End the meal with an aromatic cup of Ethiopian coffee. Bam!
Balkan – Gino Panino Trattoria
Asas Towers, West Bay
Open Daily, 9a.m.-11p.m.
I know what you’re thinking: Gino Panino is a pizzeria. Indeed, that may be the mainstay of this clubhouse restaurant. But turn the menu over and look out for the small section of Balkan specialties such as pleskavica (beef patty) and gulash (beef stew). The stuffed cabbage sarma is succulent and oh so wondrous; good thing it comes in portions massive enough for leftovers. The hit of the house: its signature cevapi kebabs reminiscent of koftas. (n.b. Gino’s has sadly closed down. It was announced after the magazine went to print that the owner passed on and the restaurant would shut.)
Indonesian – Central Restaurant
Umm Ghuwailina Street
Open Daily, 11a.m.-3p.m., 4:30-9p.m.
For a quick meal, get a plate of rice and pile on the assortment of ready-made dishes featuring stews, curries and stir-fries. There’s also a menu with items cooked to order such as meat skewered satay and soto nodles. The restaurant is plain but remarkably clean. Just try not to grin too widely when the bill comes – you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled upon a steal of a deal. You have.
German – La Gourmandise
Al Jazi Gardens Compound
Open Daily, 11a.m.-10p.m.
My cravings for schnitzel and streusel haven’t gone unanswered since friends introduced me to this gem. To enter the residential compound, just inform the security guards you’re heading for the restaurant. Make sure you arrive with an appetite, especially because you’ll want extra portions of the potato salad (proper German kind with mustard, not mayo). If you’re feeling adventurous, ask the chef to whip up the daily special.
Malaysian – Oriental Kitchen
Al Khalidiya Street, Najma
Open Daily, 8a.m.-10p.m.
This humble yet bustling joint could very well be transported from the streets of Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur. The food is decidedly Chinese Malaysian, featuring authentic stir-fries with sambal, ginger and even Marmite. Those in the mood for a one-dish meal can look forward to noodles of every width in sauces of every colour. Vegetarians could have a field day in the tofu section of the menu alone.
Yemeni – Bandar Aden Restaurant
Souq Waqif, down from Al Bidda & Arumaila Boutique Hotels
Open Saturday-Thursday 8a.m.-11p.m., Friday 12:30p.m.-11p.m.
The utensils are your fingers, and the floor is your seat. Come in a group, get settled on the carpeted rooms, and indulge in the hearty food served in portions to share. The mandi dishes of grilled meat over rice are glorious, as are the salta and fahsa stews. The best part of the meal must be the oven-hot bread, which keeps coming until you wipe the bowls clean. And yes, there are tables and cutlery for the faint-hearted.
Somali – Harjisah Restaurant
Al Dostour Street, near Doha Stadium
Open daily 5a.m.-11:30p.m.
Speaking of the faint-hearted, this isn’t the place for one. Loud and crammed, this home-style restaurant has served Somali meals every day from sun up to way late for decades. The specialty at breakfast is the pancake-like lahoh with egg and honey (called hard cake here) while stewed meats, fish and rice are available thereafter. There are no menus – you just point at what other diners are having and the food arrives in minutes no matter how packed the place is. And it always is.
** A version of this appeared in Time Out Doha **