Pleasing Your Palate @ the Qatar International Food Festival

The International Zone. Sample four and five star cuisines from some of Doha's top hotels as you dine picnic-style atop a soft bed of grass. Sure beats sitting on bare sand!
Happy picnicking!
After much anticipation, the 4th Qatar International Food Festival (QIFF) opened with much pomp and pageantry at the Museum of Islamic Art Park on Thursday, 28 March. This year's four day festival sits perfectly among lush greenery and panoramic views of the waterfront; a welcome change from its previous venue outside the Doha Exhibition Centre. There's a certain air of organic relaxation as my family and I dined against the stunning backdrop of the Museum of Islamic Art. In an effort to promote healthy eating, the prevailing theme for this year's event is Healthy Food for a Healthy Lifestyle.

Sunday, 31 March is the final day of the QIFF. Opening hours are from 2pm to 10pm.

Some handy tips:

1) The Qatar Museums Authority site  stipulates that shuttle buses will be made available at Al Aqsa Street - opposite the Airport Marriott Hotel and adjacent to the Ministry of Interior on the corniche.

2) Accessibility is quite the challenge. Parking spaces are available around the area but be prepared to walk. Do don on a good pair of walking shoes as you will most likely be crossing the busy main road and walking quite a distance from the MIA park. Drop-offs are allowed but you may have to deal with the massive number of cars queuing up to do so as well as super stern security guards.

Hummus! @ the Ritz Carlton Hotel tent.
The Ritz in all its Bedouin tent glory
Getting comfy in the Bedouin tent.
3) Do not purchase your vouchers at the very first voucher booth as there will be a long queue. Instead, walk a little further and you will soon spot another booth with less queues. Vouchers are available in four sets: QR40QR 80QR 120 and QR 160. Before purchasing your vouchers, check out the food prices and approximately ballpark how much you intend to spend as each additional purchase will incur a QR 10 service charge. The vouchers are valid throughout all four days of the event regardless of the date of purchase. So you can return on Sunday to use your remaining vouchers if you still have some left over from Saturday.

Plush dining areas. 
4) The dining tables around the International Zone are usually full. You can sit on the grass so you might want to bring your own foldable chairs or a picnic blanket. You could also walk a little further at the end of the Healthy Zone where there's less of a crowd and a large white tent with more seating options. I would personally recommend grabbing a sit along the seawall for that amazing view of the MIA.

5) Just because there's a large crowd surrounding a booth doesn't mean that the food will be particularly up to par. Ask for what the portion sizes are and what is included in that meal before making your purchase.

The "Dinner in the Sky" crane hangs above thousands for an ultimate vertigo dining experience. To the left, the entertainment stage and on the right, the MIA. 
Up they go! For QR500, you'll be hoisted up by a crane for approximately 45-minutes and served a 3-course gourmet meal.

We fly. We ballin'. 
 Enjoy arresting views of the lit-up Museum of Islamic Arts and watch the waves gently crash against the sealine barricade while you munch the night away.
We attended the festival on Day 2 although we did attempt to make our way through on Day 1 but the traffic along the corniche was simply unbearable. The museum's designated carpark has been closed off to the public, making it highly inconvenient and time consuming to find a proper parking space. This time around, the event drew an incredibly large crowd. Possibly much larger than the organizers had expected. The change in venue to bring it closer to the city not only increased the influx of visitors but as the corniche road is usually traffic-ridden on ordinary days, cars were stuck in almost gridlock position on Day 1.

The cheery maidens of Crepe On!  
Upon reaching the festival, we lost no time at all lining up at the very first voucher booth located after the entrance arc. Admission is free but you'll certainly want to try the smorgasbord of food on offer from top hotels and restaurants at a price range of QR5 - QR25.

The queue was fairly long but we soon discovered more voucher booths sporadically placed around the festival with hardly any queues in sight. It would have been better if more voucher booths were set up at the entrance rather than the current single one.Vouchers, not cash are used to buy the food and a service fee of QR10 is charged with every new purchase of vouchers. So buy all the vouchers you might need at one go to avoid incurring an additional QR10.

Air-conditioned luxury at the VIP Lounge where your every tasting demand is waited upon.
Me sampling some rainbow cupcakes and Easter cookies from the Kempinski cart.
First stop was at the Radisson Blu Hotel tent. We picked up two packets of sushi at QR20 each. Pricey considering each packet only held 6 pieces of sliced sushi. No sashimi either. Delicious but disappointing portions considering the price point.

Gordon Ramsey's Opal
Feels like the UK already!
Next up was the Opal Restaurant, St Regis booth. Decorated in true British fashion, Union Jacks adorned its exterior while picnic tables decked out in bright red and blue gingham patterns beckoned visitors to savour a taste of the notorious Hell Kitchen chef and restaurant owner, Chef Gordon Ramsey's offerings. We had a chicken sandwich at QR15 and a Cornish pastry for QR20. And boy was it delectable! Portions were sizable and the picnic seating was a nice touch.

Grab your health boosters at the Hilton Doha booth! We had a detox shake for QR10 and a Union Jack - psst! it's a salad with crushed biscuits, dried raspberries, ruffled rockets, onions, tomatoes and cucumbers - priced at QR 20. Value for money indeed! You can tell by the crowd lining up for its juiceshakes and salad mixes.

Traditional Arabic sweets and desserts.
Colorful candies
To the left, the sea. To the right: Health food central. 
The "Healthy Zone" was however located at the furthest corner of the festival and is a bit distant from the entrance. Although there was clear signage pointing out the five zones: International Zone, Qatar UK Zone, VIP Zone, Healthy Zone and Family Zone; I do feel that the Healthy Zone deserved a better location with the healthy lifestyle theme in mind. It does appear to be the forgotten zone with a trickling of visitors on their way to the seaview path.

Spinning Dervishes at maximum speed.
Crowd pleaser this one.
There's plenty to feast one's senses upon after you've had your fill or are resting between meals. The massive stage up front offers live music; dance performances both modern - break-dancing, and traditional - cue the spinning dervishes or Sufi spinning; and dj-ing. Families with young children will be enthralled by the playground set up at the Family Zone. Worryingly, the many cases of children reported missing on the PA system were constant fare throughout our visit.

This is by far the most interesting form of high-octane sport for toddlers. YES! Toddlers are harnessed as they jump on the trampoline and this little dude in yellow did a triple somersault in front of my eyes.  
I'd avoid the Fast Thai Food tent though. Having lived in Thailand for a decent three years and feasted upon endless portions of authentic Thai cuisine, my family and I found the Pad Thai Kai priced at QR20 to be absolutely horrible. Soggy, devoid of any flavour and mixed with tomato sauce (the horror of horrors!), the noodle dish was an absolute shame; giving Thai food a bad name.

Chef Ramzi from Lebanon in action at the Qatar Airways Cooking Theatre

Hello Chef Ramzi!
Delicious! Chef Ramzi's fragrant spiced rice was the perfect explosion of cumin, turmeric, ginger, and cardamom.
Courtesy of Qatar Airways as the primary sponsor this year, the Qatar Airways' Cooking Theatre made for an interesting and educational addition to the festival. We managed to catch celebrity TV chef, Ramzi Choueiri hailing from Lebanon prepare a flavourful spiced rice dish served with pine nuts, almonds, pistachos and lightly sautéed chicken cubes from a dedicated stage set-up. Sadly, the cooking commentary was fully conducted in Arabic which is all well for the locals but some English translation of the steps would have been much welcomed for the international crowd. It is afterall the Qatar INTERNATIONAL Food Festival. Chef Ramzi was however, wonderfully delightful in answering the crowd's questions - in Arabic and English.

Posing with some new found friends. Such lovely Qatari ladies
The QIFF is a fun-filled trip with loads of sights to take in for foodies and families alike. Thumbs up to the organizers for making the festival feel like one big party and for switching up the venue. Perhaps more carpark spaces will be made available next year when the neighbouring Souq Waqif's underground carpark that'll hold some 2000 cars is fully constructed.


Occasional hand model with a taste for adventure.

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