• Nia Alexander

What the Heck is a Hypermarket?

What You’ll Find in This Post:

  • The reason why I’m writing a boring grocery post

  • What my usual diet was before entering the country

  • Fun facts about grocery stores & places to shop for groceries

  • Prices of groceries (and how the embargo impacted things)

  • Tips for prices conversions from QAR to USD

  • American brands in Qatar & trying new foods

  • What foods I bought and the types of meals I prepared

  • Some tips about packing food & snacks

Potato, peas, corn, onions, and tuna. A typical dinner beside some of the ingredients I used.

When you stay in Doha for as long as I did, grocery stores and eating at home are unavoidable parts of your routine. So how did the whole “grocery shopping in another country for four months” situation pan out? What food did I find? What food did I not find? What is a hypermarket? Why are there “trollies” sitting around the food court at the mall? And what meals was I able to toss together in a kitchen I could barely work and with the “ramen noodle every night budget” that followed me from Richmond? That’s some of the stuff I’m going to hit on in this post!

I know, grocery shopping and sad college budget meals isn’t the most exciting topic, but before I left the country I remember asking a lot of people questions about the boring details of life everyone needs to know about, things like transportation, living quarters, grocery stores, and what sorts of food was available in the country. Thing is, no one had answers to my questions and I found myself planning to move to a foreign country for four months without much information when it came to things like, well, eating. The people in Richmond seemed as clueless as I was, the people in Doha kept skipping over details (a problem that arises when attempting to explain your normal everyday life to someone who’s never experienced it), and Google results were always too broad.

Granted, grocery shopping is one of those things best learned by doing, but I was anxious about it. I had so much to worry about—class registration, graduation, moving out of my apartment, packing my bags, getting the international phone situation straight, struggling to make enough money to survive there for four months (the list seemed to never end)—and having an understanding of how and what I was going eat in the country was just as important to me as everything else I was stressing. I’d like to think, though, that if I had had something like this post to just skim over, I would have been more prepared for what I experienced in the country, and I probably wouldn’t have had as rough a time as I ultimately did. So, here you are! Hopefully something in here will give some insight, and maybe even some comfort, when it comes to finding sustenance in Doha.

First things first: What’s my usual diet?

I had a few food allergies (to fruits and nuts) and I was lactose intolerant, so pecan praline ice cream and all its food cousins were never on my shopping list. I also didn’t digest oils too well, so anything fried—even those frozen bags of tater tots you pop in the oven—didn’t agree with my tummy at all. Most notably, though, I was a pescatarian. At the time, I had been a pescatarian for four years, but I tend to tell people I’m a vegetarian (especially while travelling abroad) because everyone knows what a vegetarian is and sometimes the word “pescatarian” seems to throw people off. What does it mean to be a pescatarian, though? It means I eat everything a vegetarian eats + seafood.

That said, though, I’m all about eating meat when it’s part of a bigger experience, especially when it comes to travelling the world. Turkish döner, Lebanese spiced meatballs, Mexican al pastor, Greek lamb souvlaki, oh you had best believe I’m going to taste whatever the country has on the menu. I can’t finish a whole serving, my body won’t allow it, but that bite of shawarma or half a meatball will always be most welcome in my mouth. The only thing I still tend to shy away from, though, is beef, which I never intentionally ate even before I became a pescatarian (and yes, that means my childhood was hamburger-less, ground beef was never in my taco, all the hotdogs were pork, and the smell of steak never made my mouth water).

I tell you these things because my particular eating habits really effected the way Doha affected me when it came to finding food. Sometimes my lactose intolerance made shopping more affordable, something my veggie & fish lifestyle made finding food difficult, and sometimes my allergies popped out of nowhere and made eating—well—impossible . . . it was always a toss-up.

But enough of that, let’s get into the real business!

Grocery shopping

These are . . . zucchini? And those are daikons!

Here are some fun facts I learned about grocery stores:

  • “Hypermarket” is synonymous with “superstore” in that they sell everything.

  • I heard that hypermarkets were generally a bit more expensive than grocery stores, but I can’t say for certain because I only experienced hypermarkets and minimarts.

  • Shopping on Friday can be crowded and confusing because some grocery stores are understaffed (Friday is legally Qatar’s holy day [akin to Sunday in the U.S.] and socially their family day [akin to Saturday in the U.S.]).

  • “Grocery carts”, “shopping carts”, “grocery baskets”, those things were called “trollies” in Qatar.

  • Paying for produce in Qatar is different than in the U.S. You know how in the U.S. you bag your own produce and then take it to the checkout counter where the cashier weighs it and tells you how much it costs? In Qatar you bag your produce, take it to the nearby attendant (standing behind a counter), the attendant weighs it for you, and then they print a barcode sticker with the price. Then you take your freshly-stickered bag of produce to the real checkout counter, where the cashier scans the sticker along with whatever else you bought. If your produce doesn’t have a barcode sticker, you—or the cashier—has to go back and weigh it in the produce section.

  • Many grocery stores are inside of malls. In the case you’ve been shopping around the mall and need to stop for groceries, there will sometimes be a guard in front of the grocery store who will staple your bags from other stores shut (so that you don’t steal stuff by stashing it in your H&M bag). It was also common to see people pushing their “trollies” through the mall and parking them outside of mall restaurants while they go eat.

  • Some grocery stores had attendants to help you when you need something, as in to say, their only job was to walk around and ask if you needed help. This sounds common, but I had never been to a grocery store where there was someone who offered to help me.

Places to shop

These are a few places to shop for food in Doha, but they definitely were not the only options. These are just the ones I experienced firsthand.

  • Lulu Hypermarket – An Indian grocery chain, like Walmart on steroids. They had one of the few standalone grocery stores in Doha (as many others were attached to malls) and the building had two or three floors. There were escalators—and possibly elevators—inside the grocery store, and some of their carts were huge (making navigation extremely difficult for someone of my stature). This was the first grocery store I visited, and I coincidently visited it on a Friday. My experience there was hectic, confusing, and rushed, and it unfortunately gave me the impression that all grocery stories in Doha were normally like that.

  • Lulu Express (near Education City) – A smaller Lulu about ten minutes from campus. There was a van that shuttled people there & back every 20 minutes. My roommate and I had a hard time finding the van because the only thing to distinguish it as the grocery shuttle was a small Qatar Foundation logo (otherwise, it’s just a white van). Once we found it, though, it was coincidently the last van of the night, making for yet another rushed shopping experience in a multileveled unfamiliar store where everything needed USD price conversions. Even though I was somehow able to finish my shopping within 20 minutes, my roommate needed more time and I didn’t want to leave her there alone, so when the van returned, I told the driver to go ahead and leave (explaining we’d catch an Uber home). At that, he rudely dismissed me with a hand gesture and sped off . . . awkward.

  • Carrefour– A French hypermarket chain, similar to Walmart. This was the second grocery store I visited, but I only visited it twice (first to buy a tea mug and later to buy a Vanilla Coke, one of my favorite sodas). It felt very familiar compared to American grocery chains (all the way down to asking if I was a “Carrefour MyCLUB Member”) and they generally seemed brighter & better organized compared to Lulu. The prices were generally the same as Lulu, but its more likely to find European brands of stuff (which were similar to American brands).

  • Al Meera – Essentially the grocery chain run by the Qatari government. I never went inside one, oddly enough, but now you know they exist. I heard that the words “Al Meera” is specific to Qatari Arabic and means something along the lines of “the food that is consumed/the body’s fuel”, “the place where you find your supply of food”, or “the place where you store your food”. One source on the internet even said that the term harkens back to the food that the nomads carried when they were travelling around old Qatar. Whatever the definition, though, trust it means something, you know?

  • (Mini) Al Meera (in Education City) – There was an Al Meera inside the Student Center in Education City. Snacks, candy, tea, ramen, canned tuna, pasta, sauces, juices, bread, and fresh fruit & veggies (wrapped in plastic) . . . it had the basics. In fact, it may have had more, but I only ever ventured into the right half of the store; what can I say, everything I needed was always on my right. There also seemed to be some sort of . . . Fresh food kiosk? I don’t know, but to the left of the store there was a place to get some sort of fresh food, I think, like the POD Market in the Student Commons at VCU-Richmond. Don’t get too excited, though; this was a reasonably small store, about the size of a mini mart, and for some reason they always stuffed all my stuff into two big bags, which wound up being super heavy and awkwardly lumpy.

Doha also had a substantial number of mini marts, typically found in little strip malls (and Doha had a lot of little strip malls in addition to its regular malls). There was one right across the street from Education City where you could find more drink and ramen options. Sometimes there were farmer’s markets that popped up (often in Education City), but they were always a bit too pricey for me. You can also technically buy food in Souq Waqif, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a place for true grocery shopping. I think it better functions as a place to find unique candy & snacks and hot food (both street food & sit-down restaurants).

This is at Al-Qudsi Sweets in Souq Waqif. Tons of candy, fresh honey, pistachio cotton candy . . . they had a bunch of stuff, guys.

How much did stuff cost?

Rule of thumb: If it was a U.S. brand, it was usually more expensive in Qatar than it was in the U.S. This wasn’t the situation with everything, though; American candy, for example, was a lot cheaper than in the U.S., but something like Tide liquid detergent was nearly $15 USD. One reason for the price variations was because some U.S. brands had manufactures closer to Qatar, while other goods had to be shipped in from further away. The closer the manufacturer was, the cheaper the product was, and that seemed to be how most everything was priced (having that Qatar imported roughly 80% of its food because of the whole “we live in a desert” thing).

Ah, but then there’s the embargo.

In June 2017, some of the other countries in the GCC essentially accused Qatar of violating the “stop being nice to terrorists” agreement they had signed way back in 2014. They asked Qatar to sign a new agreement with new guidelines, guidelines that Qatar thought were unreasonable. So, Qatar didn’t sign the agreement and some of its neighbors (including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE) placed an embargo on the country, meaning that Qatar couldn’t get goods from its neighbors and its neighbors couldn’t get goods from Qatar. There were some more restrictions that came out of the embargo, but that’s the only relevant one for now.

The point, my friends, is that when you usually get your jelly from next door (Saudi Arabia), but now your neighbor isn’t selling, you’ve suddenly got to get your jelly from your friends down the block (Turkey, Iran, & Pakistan). It wasn’t jelly that was impacted, though; it was mostly dairy products and chicken, two things that had notably price increases and two things that were never on my shopping list. Sure, other food was impacted, but Qatar used some of their immense wealth to subsidize the food prices, which essentially meant that they paid the bulk of import costs so that citizens wouldn’t have to. This kept the prices of some imported goods at a rate similar to what they had been before the embargo, but I can’t give you a direct “before & after” comparison; after all, I arrived in the country seven months after the embargo started, so everything I bought was already price-adjusted to fit the current political climate.

However, the peeps I talked to in Qatar seemed very unconcerned with the embargo, a sign that they weren’t pissed off or stressed out about price increases or food scarcity. Often, people would shrug and say, “We just get our milk from Turkey now.” So, if they weren’t worried about it, I didn’t see a reason for me to be worried about it (when it came to grocery shopping at least). Better still, once the embargo started Qatar had a boost in local farm production—and yes, there were vegetable and animal farms hiding somewhere in that desert—which has economically helped the farmers. Granted, it’s also made the price of local produce shoot up, but it also added to a sense of national pride. “Made in Qatar” stickers were proudly slapped onto all sorts of products in the grocery stores and at times people seemed to be sort of happy about climate the embargo had inspired.

And don’t forget about price conversions

Taking the time to convert the price of every object you’re considering purchasing from QAR (Qatari Riyal) to USD can be annoying and sometimes overwhelming. It’s inherently a time consuming task, but mix that with being in a new grocery store, being in a crowded grocery store, getting used to everything being written in English and Arabic, trying to steer a cumbersome basket, and being worried about your phone battery dying (since that’s your only means of converting prices and communicating with the one other person you know in the country). Then you’ve got to keep track of how much money you’re spending and how much your bank’s foreign transaction fee is going to be (since you have yet to acquire cash and have no choice but to pay with your American card). You’ve also got to remember to buy stuff for the entire apartment (since you only moved in yesterday) and you’ve still got to compare products like a normal shopper, hoping to get the better deal or better-quality item. All of this, plus the stress of having already been in the store for an hour and yet there’s only three things in your basket and you’re supposed to be leaving in fifteen minutes.

In short, imagine being fresh off the boat in a grocery store where you don’t know where anything is, what the product is, how much it costs, or how to purchase it. You are clueless and having to convert everything to USD is just an addition.

At the time, 1 QAR was equivalent to $0.27 USD. What does this mean? Honestly, I couldn’t explain it to you, as simple as it is. Currency conversion rates have always been tricky for me and I’m not sure if that conversion rate meant I was getting a good deal or a bad one. What I did know, though, is that if I added up everything in QAR and then converted it to USD in an app, I’d know how much I was paying, and that was all I needed to know.

Even still, it was rough for a while, you guys, and I relied on my currency app (Currency Plus) for two months. Eventually, though, I almost got used to converting QAR to USD in my head. I would just divide the QAR price by three and then round down a little bit. So, if something costed 10 QAR, I’d divide it by three (which would get me $3.33 USD), but then I’d round it down to $3 USD. In reality, 10 QAR was $2.75 USD, but at least I was close and was able to function fluidly when I had to buy stuff.

Another thing that might help is remembering just a few prices and what sorts of things are associated with those prices. For example:

1 QAR = Cheap

50 QAR = Price of a meal

100 QAR = The price of two meals

180 QAR = Pricey

360 QAR = Expensive

With something like this, if you’re paying for a meal that costs 180 QAR per person, you’ll have a rough understanding of just how much your wallet will be crying.

Were there any American brands in Qatar?

In addition to things like Hershey’s and Uncle Ben’s, I could also find brands like Aunt Jemima, Log Cabin, and even Everyday Essential (the cheap brand you get when you can’t afford the well-established brand).

I got this question a few times upon my return to the States and the quick answer is, yes, there were plenty of U.S. brands in Qatar. Food, toiletries, home goods—you had options—and someone could technically fill their Qatari apartment with familiar U.S. goods.

But why do that?

As I mentioned earlier, some U.S. brands are expensive in Qatar, and for me that was enough incentive to try the cheaper foreign brands. Another incentive, though? You’re on an adventure in a new country! I say take every opportunity to experience your new environment, even when it comes to menial things like dish soap and chicken nuggets. Don’t be nervous just because something isn’t stamped with “Made in the USA”. Besides, let’s be real, the U.S. often had recalls on our own domestic products; salmonella somehow managed to get into everything, from peanut butter to spinach to bottled water. And things like pesticides, steroids, and preservatives were in a lot of U.S. products, making them inherently unsafe to eat (or, at the very least, creepy; apples coated in wax and chickens the size of turkeys are objectively creepy). I say all this because the risk you’re taking by buying some random, seemingly obscure foreign brand of anything in Qatar may not be a dangerous risk at all compared to our usual shopping habits in the U.S. So, try some new stuff! You may love it, or you may hate it, but at least you’ll be able to say it was part of your experience abroad.

Some of the interesting things I saw at the store included sheep yogurt (often spelled yoghurt), “Happy Nuggets”, fresh squid, crab, & cuttlefish, and “chicken pop corn” (or as we call it, “popcorn chicken”). I also remember being fascinated by bread in a bag. I realized later that all bread comes in a bag, but I mean buying singular pieces of bread and to open them up in the same way I’d open a bag of potato chips.

Also, a lot of the American brands—most notably cereal—were called different things in Qatar than they were in the U.S. Frosted Flakes became Frosties, Cocoa Krispies became Coco Pops, and the Cookie Crisp wolf became the Cookie Crisp panther. These differences didn’t throw me off too terribly; it was just one of those things that could make a casual conversation suddenly stall, a situation of saying, “The same shade of blue as a box of Frosted Flakes,” only to have the other person slow down and say, “Frosted Flakes . . . ?”

Photo taken by Paulo Fugen

A lot of American brands (and knock-off American brands) also had flavors in Qatar that weren’t available in the U.S. Some chip flavors included ketchup, caviar, yogurt, and shrimp cocktail, and jelly came in a lot of flavors (including pineapple, my new favorite). Things like guava and papaya juice were easy to find on shelves and mayonnaise came in more varieties than I had ever imagined. If nothing else, but the end of my four-month stay I had a new appreciation for mayonnaise and learned that ketchup Pringles are surprisingly addictive.

I’m pretty sure these Lay’s were imported from Turkey and Walkers are an English brand (and subsidiary of PepsiCo)

Some last notes about grocery shopping:

This is “Veggie Wash”. It removes wax, soil, and agricultural chemicals, the sorts of stuff that can be found on both standard and organic produce. I had never seen it before, and I thought it was really weird until I learned what it was used for.

  • It was easy to buy things in bulk, though I never did it. Lots of grocery stores allowed you to buy entire cases (i.e. 64 juice boxes), individual packages (i.e. 8 juice boxes), or individual items (i.e. one juice box). The same went for things like cookies, pasta, and chickens . . . yes, you could buy whole chickens in bulk. To be fair, though, chickens in Qatar were a lot smaller than chickens in the U.S., so buying them in bulk sort of made sense if you’re feeding a family.

  • That in mind, the meat in Qatar was usually fresher and inherently more “organic” than meat in the U.S., which made for smaller, more naturally-sized meats. Fruits and vegetables—even the standard ones—also seemed to lean more toward “organic”, which meant they were better for your body, but spoiled a lot faster than produce in the U.S.

  • The fresh produce in mini Al Meera in Education City came in vacuum sealed Styrofoam plates (like when you buy cuts of meat). I had never seen produce packaged that way before, but eventually I got used to it.

  • All the produce is labeled with its country of origin

  • Nuts and spices were super cheap

  • Celery was $4 USD in Qatar and I will never ever get over that. For comparison, celery in the U.S. was $1.70 USD max.

  • Powdered laundry detergent is more popular in Qatar than liquid laundry detergent. This really threw me off because I had never used powdered detergent, or even noticed it in the U.S. laundry aisles; I didn’t know what a box of powdered detergent looked like, you guys. That in mind, I wound up buying what I thought was liquid detergent, but it would up being some sort of blue goo that may have been fabric softener (though I heard it makes clothes greasy when used in place of soap). Well, whatever it was, I used it all semester as if it was soap, even though I knew good and well it wasn’t. The way I saw it, as long as my clothes came out the washer cleaner than before and in one piece, I was in good shape. Not once did anything ever feel greasy.

So, what did I end up cooking?

A typically snack included tea, an apple, and baked eggs (until the eggs started to freak me out). And those gummy vitamins in the background? My meager attempt to give my body some of the nutrients it desperately needed.

Lord knows I did not eat like I was supposed to those months I was in Qatar. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Lack of funds (I was broker in Qatar than I was in Richmond, and I already was scrambling in Richmond. This was really the biggest reason for my lame diet).

  • Lack of access to real grocery stores (my only options before discovering the Lulu Express van were to either pay for two Ubers or walk)

  • Lack of interest in real grocery stores (after all, my first few grocery experiences were anxiety-inducing and I thought every grocery store in Qatar was like that)

  • Lack of food I was used to eating (I’m pretty sure Qatar sold things like tofu, bagged salad, and veggie burgers, but I never came across them)

There was also the fact I couldn’t work half the kitchen equipment in the apartment. It took me three weeks to figure out that my apartment came with a microwave (and that the microwave was inside the oven). The stove, however, never worked. My roommate and I thought it was because we didn’t have the special induction pans needed for the induction stove but come to find out the stove had never worked anyway. So, for the bulk of my Qatari adventure, I only had access to an oven, a microwave, a freezer, a refrigerator, and an electric tea kettle.

There was still a lot that could be done with those things—and I still managed to eat at least twice a day most days—so let me give you a rundown of what food I wound up purchasing and what meals I could throw together. Note, though, that this isn’t a super awesome, “make your dollar stretch”, inspirational idea list for low budget meals. No, this is a list of the best I could do with my lack of food, lack of money, lack of appliances, and lack of knowledge.

So, what did I end up buying?

Let’s go through it alphabetically, shall we?

  • Apples (from a variety of different countries. I just bought whichever were cheapest at the time)

  • Banana chips (these came in a big ‘ol plastic container and I loved them . . . even though they made my throat itch. Can’t say I was surprised, though)

  • Bolognese sauce (it was cheaper than the spaghetti sauce, so I thought I’d try it. I quickly learned that it was so not spaghetti sauce and super gross)

  • Bread (specifically sliced “brown bread” [wheat bread]. White bread was still called “white bread”, though)

  • Candy (I loved the candy in Qatar, both the foreign brands and the U.S. ones. They had my longtime favorite [Hersey’s Cookies & Cream] and my introduced me to my new favorite [Kinder Bueno]. Even better, U.S. candy brands in Qatar came in way more varieties than what was available in the U.S. and the American chocolate candies tasted totally different than what they tasted like back home. I thought it was just me, but then I was told that the chocolate was better because whatever factory Qatar got them from used a different formula with more chocolate and less sugar (compared to U.S. factories, which use more sugar and less chocolate). I’m not usually a candy person, but I will say all the candy perks in Qatar rekindled my love for Kit Kats.

Qatar’s Kit Kat game was fire! And I had never seen this type of Reese’s before.

  • Canned tuna (my favorite was Goody brand tuna. It was very affordable, and the fish came in sunflower oil, which I thought was fancy).

Goody brand canned tuna. I thought it was pretty for tuna fish.

  • Cheerios (not Honey Nut Cheerios, just Cheerios; Honey Nut was a teeny bit more expensive)

  • Crackers and biscuits (most notably animal crackers and Belvita Kleija with Cardamom biscuits. The latter were my absolute favorite and I missed them after returning to the U.S.)

Animal crackers and Belvita Kleija with Cardamom

  • Cranberries (dried and very, very good. They came in a huge container)

  • Eggs (I couldn’t fry them because the stove didn’t work (and boy, did I miss my late-night egg sandwiches), but I did figure out how to bake them in the oven. However, one day during my second week in Qatar, I opened an egg with a blood spot and got freaked out for the rest of my trip [even though it was technically safe to eat])

Baked eggs. How were they, you may ask? Odd. Some parts were hollow, where the air bubbles were, while other parts were thick.

  • Frozen fish nuggets (disgusting)

  • Frozen fish patties (tolerable)

  • Frozen vegetables (specifically peas, corn, onions, and mixed vegetables that interestingly included turnips)

  • Jelly (any fruit flavor imaginable)

  • Juice boxes (most were not real juice, but “drink”. Guava drink was my favorite, though)

  • Macaroni pasta (these were always small enough to fit in the one microwavable bowl I owned. I couldn’t boil pasta on the stovetop, so I had to learn to microwave them)

  • Mayonnaise (I bought a teeny tiny jar of mayonnaise, a size I had never seen before, and I thought, this is perfect for one person! After all, I’m not going to use but so much mayonnaise in four months! Turns out one can eat but so much mayonnaise when it’s the only thing around to flavor your food with)

Remember when I mentioned Qatar had a lot of mayonnaise options? This is the mayonnaise in the mini Al Meera and only a fraction of mayo options in the country. I was surprised to learn that mayo was on par with ketchup when it comes to dipping sauce, as in to say, if you ordered French fries they’re going to come with ketchup & mayo (as opposed to, I don’t know, ketchup & honey mustard).

  • Mini muffins (chocolate)

  • Nutella and it’s similar off-brands (I really should have laid off the Nutella, though . . . it ignited a minor addiction and I took it way too far)

Nutella had my heart, in part because it was so much cheaper in Qatar than in the U.S. In the other photo you can see the Lulu brand of “chocolate hazelnut spread” and in the background are my chocolate mini muffins.

  • Parmesan cheese (but Lord knows that wasn’t real cheese. I was probably eating grated plastic, but that’s the risk you take when you’re on a budget)

  • Peanuts (I wasn’t allergic to peanuts, but I had a really bad allergic reaction to the ones I ate in Qatar. I’m guessing they were produced in very close proximity to the tree nuts I am allergic to)

  • Pineapples (dried, sugared, and came in a big plastic container. These lasted me a long time)

  • Potatoes (I learned how to cook potatoes in the oven [since I didn’t know we had a microwave for a while] and I successfully cooked potato skins one time. Did you know it takes nearly an hour for a potato to cook in the oven? I learned that the hard way)

  • Ramen noodles (my favorite brand was Indomie, most notably their vegetable flavor and fried noodles. This ramen even beat out my lifetime favorite, Maruchan Creamy Chicken, and I brought some home so my family could try it (since Indomie is a bit difficult to find in the U.S.). In fact, my ramen experience in Qatar was unlike anything I had experienced in the U.S. For one, Indomie was a better-quality ramen than Maruchan or Top Ramen, the brands I was used to eating in the U.S. At the time, I had laid off ramen noodles for two years because they began to make me sick, but I noticed that Indomie noodles were perfectly fine on my digestive tract. They also came with more seasonings in the package [the soup base, some oil, and a spice pack], making for a much more flavorful ramen experience . . .although, I definitely didn’t cook them correctly. For one thing, I had to cook my ramen in the microwave—something I had never done before, not even in the U.S.—and I definitely didn’t follow the cooking instructions (but to be fair, I have never followed the instructions on ramen noodles). Granted, not every ramen experience was amazing; Wai Wai brand ramen sometimes tasted like cardboard, and some sort of black bean ramen I tried was the color, consistency, and possibly flavor of the symbiote from Spider-Man)

I didn’t try this particular flavor, but the standard ramen flavors available in Qatar were much more varied than what the U.S. had to offer.

  • Salt (but I couldn’t find the small salt-shaker-sized salt, so I wound up getting an unnecessarily big bag)

  • Salt/pepper mix (I couldn’t find regular pepper, so I settled for the mix . . . I could barely taste the pepper)

  • Soda (those tiny, the 7.5 fl oz cans were the perfect size for me; I think I only drank about five of them throughout my whole stay, though (what can I say, I’m not much of a soda drinker). Interestingly, though, my favorites in the U.S. [Coca-Cola, Vanilla Coke, & Root beer] got 1UP’d by 7UP and Pepsi while I was in Qatar. Similar to the chocolate candy, the sodas shipped to Qatar may have been made with different formulas)

  • Soy milk (I had drank soy milk plenty of times before, but the brand I bought in Qatar made me a little sick. I never bought it again, or any other soy milk for that matter. I ate dry cereal for four months)

  • Stackable chips (Pringles, London Chips, Lay’s Stax, Mister Potato . . . I had an unhealthy addiction, similar to my obsession with Nutella).

Aside from that can of salt & vinegar Pringles, the rest of those canisters are actually poppadoms, fried flour-based crisps.

  • Strawberries (a one-time buy . . . they got moldy in three days)

  • Sugar cubes (I had never seen sugar cubes in person and had definitely never used them before. They came in both white and brown sugar, and though I would have preferred brown, the white ones were cheaper)

  • Sunflower seeds (they came in a big container, but I had a slight allergic reaction to them. They were probably manufactured around nuts)

  • Tea (I tried a few flavors and brands, but my all-time favorite was Moroccan Mint ever since I tried it in Morocco. However, that flavor wasn’t a common find in the U.S., so you can imagine my excitement to see that Lipton sold a big box of Moroccan Mint in Qatar)

Lipton Moroccan Mint tea

  • Tomatoes (the tomatoes always tasted like tomatoes, a quality not always found in U.S. tomatoes [which sometimes just taste like water])

Tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches became one of my staples. Those specks in the mayonnaise is pepper, or more aptly, that pepper and salt mix I was stuck with.

And what did my meals look like?

Well, despite my budget I didn’t actually have to eat ramen noodles every night (every other night, though? That’s a different story). During the day, I mostly relied on snacks and at night was when I cooked my meals. So, what were the meals like? Well . . .

If you feign excitement hard enough, a bowl of pasta, corn, and peas feels like a real dinner.

Dinner was usually defrosted vegetables and a starch. Sometimes some tuna would sneak in there, though! And sometimes I'd toss frozen vegetables in with my ramen.

Two last tips

Pack snacks

I always kept a mini bottle of water, an apple, and some sort of grain thing (like crackers or granola bars) in my bag. I also would buy the big containers of dried pineapples, peanuts, cranberries, and sunflower seeds to make my own trail mix. Granted, I would up having an allergic reaction to some of that stuff, but it was still a good idea! And what did I pack my snacks in? Well, I never came across any plastic sandwich bags, so I started reusing my glass Nutella jars. They were small, sealed, and fit in my purse!

Pack food with you that you won’t find in the country

Moms and grandmas. What would we do without them, you guys?

I didn’t pack any food with me when I packed my travel bags, but my mom & grandma were kind enough to send me some food. Two of my requests were grits and Old Bay, two things that Qatar doesn’t even have a remote comparison to. It was funny, though, because some of the VCUQ students who had been to Richmond and tried grits seemed more excited than I was to suddenly have access to them again. I was like the local grits dealer.

Conclusion

Grits and Moroccan mint tea. It was a bit symbolic, I thought. A little piece of home and a little piece of my adventures.

At first, Qatar came across as a food desert, an urban area with few options when it came to affordable and high-quality fresh food. I learned, however, that that wasn’t entirely true.

Qatar was full of all kinds of food, in part because the country had the money to import whatever they needed (or wanted), but it just so happened that I didn’t have the means to experience much of the country’s grocery scene. Qatar also offered a variety of shopping options (and a variety of shopping experiences) just like in the U.S. A Martin’s was different than a Kroger, a Walmart was different than a Target, the Target in this neighborhood was different than the Target in that neighborhood: Qatar was similar in that way.

I only scratched the surface when it came to finding food in Qatar, but I hope that the information I was able to gather was enough to give you guys an idea of what to expect and to hopefully diminish any food-related panic.

About the Creator

Nia Alexander Campbell is an artist and writer from Richmond, Virginia. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in...

 

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© 2020 by Black Girls Abroad

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