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Baked Potatoes

December 14, 2014

As a vegetarian I can have very little food outside my home in Qatar. Even if veggie entres are listed in their menu, I don’t trust the foreign eateries/food courts in malls/restaurants because I don’t like the idea of them using the same ladles and saucepans for everything. Rarely I am assured such a mix-up does not happen.

About potato wedges and french fries, I had this doubt if they could be deep-fried in the same chicken-fried oil. I was told it was not so.

I asked the same about mashed potatoes and came to know they are 100% safe. So my regular is mashed potatoes with cream topped coffee always if we eat out in western restaurants.

In Arab ones I go for filafel sandwiches. Again I have a problem here. But the Lebanese, Syrian or whoever listens to patiently what i have to say and prepares for me a special sandwich changing even the gloves for my sake. There is good respect here for vegetarian culture which is heartening to note.

Chinese – openly affirm to me it is difficult to get me clean veggie noodles.  Or they can but they can’t use a separate pan or tawa to toast my noodles. The pans are in use since the morning roasting the ham or beef or whatever. Some upscale chinese restaurants do it though. They have the time and the extra pans and they charge extra. So the real posh ones say they can afford to make me a separate veg dish without any kind of mixing with spoons etc. Same goes for Thai, Indonesian. We generally love south east Asian food. My family is addicted to chinese.

Once when we went to an Afghan restaurant we were received with raised eyebrows. Looking at me, the chef said in hindi/urdu he could get me special veggie food without our prompting! He got me a bowl of bindi stew that looked like our very ‘kaara kozhambu’ or ‘vatha kozhambu’ to go with rotis/breads. Minus the tamarind/imli twinge that is. It looked reddish – probably made with the Kashmiri red chilli paste. He laid out the bread basket but did not give us the individual plates. Then he seemed to remember something: óh you are Hindustani!’said he and rushed to get back our plates. Cuisine is slightly different from north Indian/Pakistani but mostly the same. If you don’t know its Afghan, you will think its Pak/north Indian or even Mallu who knows hahaha. Because more than Paki/Afghans its our Mallus who are running successful non-veg restaurants promising Afghan/Tandoor Naans lolz that are bigger hits lolz. (Btw I expected snarling pathans for bearers but was surprised to see shorter sweeter versions instead).

Typical Menu in Mallu restaurant runs like: South Indian, North Indian/Tandoori/Afghan, Chinese, Continental, Arab, Ceylonese (parathas) ! There’s nothing they can’t fix for you!

INNOVATIVE MALLU RESTAURANTS PROMISING NORTH INDIAN CUISINE go with names like Chapatea for instance (means here you will get Chapathi with Tea, a super combi like nowhere else) (no subzi because they cannot make it!) Needless to say, its patronized by Arabs like anything! This is a very popular diner. Horrified to see they are doing brisk business over the asli Afghan restaurant over the corner! Don’t ever get deceived by names like ‘Frontier Food’ and ‘Afghan Kebab’ in middle-east. Check the counter to see if any ‘malayala vaadai’ is blowing through!

Another Mallu restaurant prides itself as ‘Idli express’ although they don’t know an iota on idlis and dosas other than puttu and aappams! But this eatery is another success story rivalling with mega chain south Indian veggie restaurants like Saravana Bhavan and Vasantha Bhavan here!

Ente Malayala Chetta, unna maadhiri oru manushan/business mind jeevikka undo yee gelfil?! prabanjathil???!!!

In Pakistani restaurants, a glance at me and the chef immediately assures he would get me a pure and unadulterated vegetarian thali! ‘Dal makhani, Kadai panneer’ whatever you wish he grins, ‘we use separate spoons and pans don’t worry. we get a lot of Indian customers.’ One look at my husband and son and he knows they are die-hard non-vegetarians (still a big ‘no’ to beef & pork. son, i don’t trust in. for the moment he is obliging). For them he gets tandoori. And even to them he reassures, ‘no gravy mixing from beef.’ My family feels its like eating in north Indian restaurants. Even the kheer and gulab jamun are the same to our disappointment (!) What do we expect.

For north Indian, we have lots here from Bombay and Delhi. Bombay Chowpathy is a runaway hit. I like ‘Bombay restaurant’ – a cheaper one with super food. Asli desi khaana. Lots of Pakis come here. 100% vegetarian. There are some non-veg north Indian restaurants that are equally popular but are mostly expensive. Arabs are regulars in north Indian non-veg restaurants. And westerners. A big, big hit each and everyone is.

For that matter even south Indian like Saravana Bhavan get a steady stream of western customers. There are even ‘filter coffee’ fans. My personal favourites are Mallu restaurants (with Kerala menu – I always go for Appams and Puttus with Kadalai Kozhambu and Veg Coconut Stew/Korma) – one called ‘Thani Naadan’ to be specific. I also like Mysorean/Karnataka cuisine. Udipi chain Swagat is here. Nearly 2 dozen Mysore restaurants in Doha.

Authentic Kerala food is something you’d rather find in middle-east over the state these days. What happened to Kerala ‘sudu vellam’-wherever you go you are served the bottled water.

There was a fastfood Pakistani near our place wherefrom my husband used to get me the vegetarian falafel. After a couple of days once when he was hesitating at the counter, the Pakistani laughed and asked him, ‘your wife wants to know whether this is really vegetarian?! come inside and take a look at how we deep fry the falafel!’

Not satisfied. one day I wanted to go see the joint myself. No sooner we got down from the car the owner said, ‘your wife has come to check on us! come madam, see we use separate oils to deep fry the vegetarian falafel.’ Then he showed me the separate trays where the veg and non-veg fillings were arranged. ‘What about gloves?’ I asked and he showed his 2 Nepali workers. One was for frying exclusively the veggie falafel. It was only after that I started eating their falafel sandwiches freely. Now that ‘Just Falafel’ the 100% Arab veg restaurant chain has opened up, I am safe. They serve baked falafel, a healthier option.

I am surprised to see the little Pakistani joint has vanished! What can a small shop do in front of a big powerful business group. The shop was charging 1/10th of what the Arab chain was charging but was going strong. It used to be a blessing for labour population.

Mashed potatoes I like best in IKEA (!) where we go for eating and not buying anything!

Baked potatoes I was hesitant to try out in the Mexican in the foodcourt in a mall. When I stood there ordering nothing, the Nepali worker came forward and assured me to try the baked potatoes. He threw away the used gloves, took everything out fresh and made for me the freshest and ‘unadulterated’ Baked potato with vegetable filling right in front of my eyes.

As I saw, he scooped out a little and filled the large size potato with vegetables like capsicum, corn, broccoli, olives, tomato and cheese and put it to bake. It was yummy! But for him, I would have had only a creamed coffee for dinner.

I don’t have a cooking range like him at home – otherwise I would attempt it. I have an OTG at home in Chennai, no microwave. Here in Doha I have microwave and an LPG cooking range with grill. Still I don’t think I can get the desired temperatures. These restaurants are using top-of-the-range grills and ovens that make it feasible to turn out the dishes they list in their menu.

On finishing the potato, I was window-shopping in an imported bag shop. In front of my eyes, a woman from the west paid 200 QR for a bag. The salesman was Bangladeshi. Discouraged by the prices I walked out. I really liked the kind the woman bought before me. One last piece was remaining of the same model. Besides I don’t have a clutch or slim purse to take out in Doha. I have only the big tote I use for travel so I really wanted to get one. ‘To you I shall give it for 170 QR! Take it!’ the salesperson called after me. My husband was glaring! It was a good deal and I got it without a second thought! It must have been still profitable for him otherwise why should he offer. But it was a good gesture anyway. The man said, all the other 5 pieces were sold for 200 bucks – I got it only because he liked the fact that I was Indian. (More glaring from husband and son who the guy hardly gave a look!!!)

Thank you brothers, your kindness goes a long way in winning our love and confidence.

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From → Vegetarian

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