The modern skyline of Doha, Qatar, is an otherworldly assortment of glass, steel and light; as flashy as Vegas and as incongruous in this swath of dessert as Tataouine. But just 10 minutes away are the low buildings, crowded streets, and windy roads of old Doha, including a charming souk, full of locals, tourists, and families into the late hours.
There are numerous shisha cafes full of tea-drinking smokers, and a selection of Middle Eastern (and Italian!) restaurants – tanginess, tandoors, and tabouli abound. You can sit outside in the sweltering heat and people-watch to your heart’s content.
But for a slightly different and entirely pleasant experience, head inside to Shebestan Palace, a Persian restaurant that glitters like a Judith Leibler bag. The interior walls and ceiling are encrusted with glass and mirrors, as if you’re dining in a cave of rubies and emeralds (Why does that image strike me as familiar? I think I saw something like it in Return to Oz. Am I the only person who saw that movie? The WHEELERS!!!)
Anyway, get one of the sit-on-the-floor cubicles along the wall, where you and your friends can lounge on Persian rugs, leaning against pillows and bolsters. The very friendly waiter will spread out a plastic mat in the middle and once you order, a parade of plates will be laid out in front of you – yogurt dips, baskets of crusty lavash, platters of raw vegetables, mezze, and on and on.
A chicken kebab was juicy and well-seasoned; and a lamb curry with lentils was rich with tomatoes and beans (and strangely, topped with a tangle of French fries). Don’t miss their rice menu, which includes rice mixed with saffron, with dill, with lamb, with pomegranate, and a half dozen other options. It’s easy to over-order here, and the waiter, while helpful, won’t stop you – so beware!
No alcohol is served here but a mint lemonade was sweet-tart and refreshing, and they have the traditional Iranian drink of dough – fermented yogurt.
Eat at the Palace, wander the souk, and you’ll forget you’re staying in a city of glass houses. It feels like a totally different world.Shebestan Palace Restaurant Souq Waqif +974 4441-1494 Doha, Qatar