By Javier Picasso Velich
Doha, October 4 (EFE). Doha, the main venue for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, is a modern and futuristic metropolis where skyscrapers, contemporary buildings and streets, as well as parks completely reconfigured for the event, contrast. With the traditions and history embodied in Souq Waqif, its cultural heart.
But, as with everything in Qatar, the market is also a recent innovation.
While the market originally dates back to the end of the 19th century as a center for the livestock trade between Bedouins and traders, the Souq Waqif (meaning “permanent market”) we see today is the result of a renovation completed in 2008.
It extends over the Al Jasra district of Doha, a traditional fishing area with tombs, and now there is a huge underground car park and part of the land reclaimed from the sea.
The souk’s mud walls and bamboo and wood ceilings preserve the local architectural style while providing a respite from the sweltering summer temperatures.
It will be a major tourist attraction for football fans heading to Qatar this year, as many of them will feel as if they have stepped into a movie set or an amusement park.
The market is a charming environment. Its walls are speckled with light from small hanging lanterns, its attractive courtyards teem with life and its labyrinthine lanes are covered by thousands of stalls selling everything from soccer jerseys to fabrics, spices, coveted jewellery, pearls, gold and animals of all kinds, including falcons.
Adding to the flavors of spice are the various food options on offer, from the best street food stalls in Qatar to fine dining restaurants.
“Souq Waqif is over 100 years old, and it is a real market,” says Berthold Trinkle, Chief Operating Officer of Qatar Tourism. “It is still used by locals. And of course it’s a great tourist attraction while you’re in the square and I would definitely go to one of the restaurants there. You will find plenty of cuisine, whether it is from Iran or any of the neighboring countries.
The Qatari market is a feast for all five senses. So, let’s take a closer look.
1.- Parameters: Inside the laboratory
Covered stalls spread across the bazaar like a maze in which it is easy to get lost. To keep your eye on the trends, pay attention to the utensils on display, which are divided into specialized sections – rugs, fabrics, spices, gold, kitchenware, and thousands of hidden treasures and antiques.
During the hottest time of the day, the market changes completely, plunging into silence as businesses close their doors until the return of cooler temperatures in the evening.
However, this is a good time to visit as well. Stroll around the lanes and enjoy the architecture and design in a much quieter setting.
As the sun sets, the bazaar comes alive. Colored lights shine from lanterns and merchants distribute their wares to shoppers who stroll through the cobbled lanes.
Among the jewels within the souk are the traditional ‘majlis’, sitting rooms decorated with cushions, rugs, low tables and tabletops, a staple of traditional Qatari pastime.
These majlis, frequented mainly by men and included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, provide a haven in the marketplace to drink tea and coffee, catch up on the latest news and meet friends. It is also used on occasions such as weddings, parties and funerals.
High above the souk is the majestic Al-Fanar Mosque, whose curvilinear architecture dangles until you reach a minaret reminiscent of a minaret. The mosque is one of the main sites in the Qatari capital and can be seen from the Doha Corniche, the Museums of Islamic Art and the Qatar National Museum.
2.- AROMA: Spice and Perfume Dealers
One of the most colorful spots in the winding streets of the market is the spice section, where scents from the Middle East, India and Iran mingle. Here, stalls sell saffron, dried flowers for tea, dates, curry, and honey.
Merchants are less willing—though no less proud—with spice blends, or bezar recipes. In Qatar, every family makes their own mix with a secret recipe passed down through the generations.
At the spice stalls in Souq Waqif, you can choose and mix your own flavors – would you like an Iranian cardamom and cloves tea? just ask. Maybe an Indian curry with cumin and cinnamon? Not a problem. The possibilities are endless.
Perfume and skin cream stalls in the market release a different bouquet of scents with many products designed to order mixed ingredients such as oud, musk and argan oil, known locally as liquid gold.
3.- Tasting, restaurants and street food
You can find everything in Souq Waqif, and the food is no exception. Street food, desserts, flame grill restaurants, Qatari dishes, Lebanese dishes, Yemeni dishes, Turkish and Iranian dishes – a wide range of options are available.
Why not start with a samosa filled with vegetables, beef or cheese followed by falafel. The market also serves traditional meatballs “kofta” with hummus or salad, as well as regional Mjbu rice dishes and desserts such as lugaimat, sweet honey pies often believed to be the world’s oldest pastry.
“Qatari food is a great experience. It has a lot of flavour, a lot of spice. Every dish has its own unique recipe. So I guess when you try it, they aren’t alike. So you have to try everything.” Prominent Qatari chef Noor Al Mazrouei says, “Fans must When they come to Qatar, go to places that serve Qatari food and experience this wonderful experience.”
4.- Touch: pearl and gold
Pearls have played an important role in the history of Qatar. While the number of bold pearl divers operating today is dwindling, there are still a large number of pearls on offer on the market, mostly of pink, white and gray varieties.
“Pearling was the old way, how the economy was run, maybe, say a hundred years ago,” says Trinkle of the Qatar Tourism Authority. “And you had Bedouins who roamed all over the area, but you also had people who settled and the main way or means of making money was pearl fishing.”
He adds that the invention of synthetic pearls “largely eliminated pearl fishing”.
“You can still find genuine pearls from Qatar, but they are very expensive.”
Gold is another key element at the heart of the market, as it is weighed in front of the customer before it is sold. Even with a tight budget, visitors can purchase gold necklaces and bracelets with their names on a silk screen in Arabic.
5. Voices: Hawks and pets
The falcon is an integral part of the Qatari culture. Its legacy in the nation is not only traced back to the Bedouin tribes, but it is a national symbol and a source of pride. Any visitor to the nation will quickly learn this – at the airport you are greeted by a huge golden statue of a falcon.
The birds in Souq Waqif have their own section, the falcon market.
Here, dealers not only sell breeds such as the gyrfalcon, falcon falcon and the famous peregrine falcon, but also useful pieces of gadgets such as GPS monitors, hoods and cages.
The area is a must-see on any visit, even if it’s just to catch a glimpse of the falcons – and their owners – waiting to be checked out.
Upon returning to the market, the visitor is greeted with chirping as he enters the pet area. Most of the animals sold are songbirds, many of which are kept in cramped cages, but there are also rabbits, parrots, ducks, and turtles. EFE
jpf / jt / ks
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