The serving of traditional Arabic coffee plays a special role in Qatar as an expression of hospitality and welcome. Freshly ground and flavoured with cardamom and other spices, the coffee is served from a distinctively shaped pot (called dallah) in tiny cups with no handles.
The majlis is one of the most important spaces in Qatari life. It tends to be a male only space, with women meeting inside the home. Located near the entrance, the majlis is a separate room which allows visitors to circumvent the more private spaces in the house. Guests in the majlis are offered dates and served Arabic coffee in a characteristically shaped pot (called dallah) in tiny cups with no handles.
The most decorated space in the house, the majlis was traditionally the only room with windows opening onto the street. Less ornate houses utilised simpler decoration with recessed niches (roshaneh), while wealthier residences filled the windows of the majlis with coloured glass, with some incorporating window screens or carved gypsum panels with symmetrical geometric designs.
One of the oldest trees on the Arabian Peninsula, date palms are the principal fruit trees grown in Qatar. Packed with nutritional benefits, they have long been important in the region, with Qatar the sixteenth-largest date-producing country in the world.
Serving Arabic coffee and dates remains a symbolic expression of hospitality in Qatar. Sweet and sticky, date syrup has been used in eastern Arabia for centuries, and is extracted with a madbasa, a traditional date press.
Examples of these date presses can be seen in the town of Al Zubarah, revealing the importance of dates to Qatar’s early culture and economy, as well as for meeting the nutritional needs of the local population.
Incense is very popular in Qatar and throughout the region. Made from scented wood, it is burned in a special incense burner called a mabkhara to produce a rich smoke to perfume the home and clothing. As a show of hospitality, visitors are often invited to waft the smoke around themselves.
Qatar is a country inextricably tied to the sea. For generations, fishing, pearl diving and trading provided a livelihood for much of the population. Traditional wooden dhows, largely unchanged in design over the years, are a remnant of this seafaring tradition and still ply Qatar’s waters today.
Boats were built by qalalif, and the craft of traditional boat building is kept alive through a number of specialised dhow workshops across the Arabian Gulf, such as the Emiri Shipbuilding Workshop in Qatar.
There are many types of wooden dhows, based on design, usage, and size, and with specific names such as Sanabeck, Tieeh, Jalbout, Al Baggara.
Also known as 'liquid gold', oud is made from a rare dark resin found in the agar (aquilaria) tree, a species indigenous to Southeast Asia. Used for thousands of years in the Middle East and Asia, today oud is popular all over the world, recognisable as the ingredient that gives many popular ‘oriental’ perfumes their distinctive rich and woody fragrance. In the Middle East, oud is commonly available in the form of wooden incense chips, body oils and fragrance, and is a fixture in both Arab homes and at important ceremonies.
For centuries, pearls were an important export for Qatar. Although the country’s economy has long since evolved, Qatar still maintains an affinity for these unique natural treasures. Today, visitors can find an excellent selection of genuine pearl jewellery at fine retailers across the country; for the best deals, head to Souq Waqif and the Gold Souq in Doha.
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48 hours in Doha
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