Saturday, January 21, 2012

My Arab Games Experience and Discovering Qatar


The Arab Games in Doha, Qatar last December 2011 is one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. I couldn’t describe it in one word or even chronicle the whole event in just one post. I don’t even know the right title for this blog post. But for the past two months, my affair with my job and leisure in Qatar is both overwhelming and challenging yet it was a colourful and a rewarding encounter. When someone asked me to talk about it from day one since I left for Doha until the day I got home, it was ridiculous to tell what happened in that manner. Because the whole experience is not just about being part of the catering team cooking and serving the athletes but to explore and understand a different part of the continent, its culture and its people in a way that I never appreciated it before.


As one of the chef de partie in garde manger station (there’s five of us), I really don’t know what to expect most especially in an Arab country (and also for being a woman). I’m not questioning whether I deserve the position or not but I always try to be a team player as well as a leader to everyone. Although my position wasn’t established when I started working in the kitchen at Athlete’s village, I did whatever I can to get things done. Sometimes and most of the time you have to forget the position given to you and work as a professional cook just like everybody else. It also means you have to lower your pride and just allow everyone to be right all the time. Besides, we are all small fish in the same ocean regardless of our positional standpoint (that’s according to my mentor Chef Mike). But that doesn’t mean you will allow others to step on you. There’s also a boundary where you have to let people know their limitations and to let them know that you deserved to be respected. And that’s what I did. There’s time to lower your pride and there’s also time to guard your individual self. Even if they want to be right all the time, you also have to declare out your integrity in life through your words and actions.


Working 12 hours a day, seven days a week for almost one month is a pain to handle at first. But it becomes customary after a few days. The only thing that concerns me every day is work, eat, sleep and shower, and of course laundry for clean chef’s uniform. When it gets too busy, it’s every rare that I will have a chance to eat right at the right time or even go to the bathroom. Sometimes I forgo the water because I want to finish the task right away. Time is of the essence (you will notice there’s no food photos) and every second counts. I know it’s an unhealthy habit and if you’re not healthy enough to start with, you will definitely get sick.


I have about almost two weeks of free time to visit a few places in Doha before we started working. Qatar is a beautiful country and the architecture in Doha just blew me away. I was awe-struck when I was in front of one of the buildings just staring on how tall and how massive it is but the attention to detail of the structure is absolutely amazing. I also enjoyed the bumpy camel ride on a hot Friday morning. And then there’s also a first time to the Souq Waqif and Katara courtesy of my new friend Gordon. I love the atmosphere at the Souq where traditional architecture, time-honored Arabic cuisine and customary items such as garments, handicrafts, souvenirs and spices are the highlights of the visit and of course the shisha, perfumes and jewelry. But no, Prince of Persia is nowhere to be found even at the labyrinth-style market but you can always have that impression if you’re inside because of its ancient yet sophisticated Arabic flair to it.

Would you believe I didn't buy a single scarf??

Katara, a cultural heritage park is another place to visit most especially if you’re into arts and culture. I absolutely love this place because they have their own concert hall for philharmonic orchestras to have a performance. And all my life, I’ve always wanted to attend one but never have that chance. One night while having gelato, I heard "I want to spend my lifetime loving you" from the soundtrack "The Mask of Zorro". Although it was only played through the speakers, the quartet was good enough to allow passion, chivalry and heroic dreams come to life. It was enchanting and impressive.  I visited Katara twice at night but seeing this place while the sun is still up would have given me a different appreciation as well most especially it is located by the water. One of the places that I’ve always wanted to visit before I left is The Pearl, a man-made beach which took many years in the making. But I never have this chance to visit at all. So, we headed to the Museum of Islamic Arts instead, where art and science are realized through its detailed composition and substance. But this place is not for everyone most especially if you’re not into history but the place is really spectacular. Another place I failed to visit is Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. This is probably more interesting to other people who are into paintings, sculptures and other artworks where they would have a chance to learn through their workshops and exhibitions.

My dream of playing the violin.   
The quartet played "My heart will go on". It gave me goosebumps.
The Summertime cupcake with lemon made me smile.
Many years back, I’m always curious about Persian cuisine but I never dig deep into it because I was busy with something else. To my former late- chef instructor, Persian cuisine is the mother cuisine because most of the ingredients that are used by the world today started in Persia, with two and half thousand years of saffron and rosewater scented history. Studying Persian cuisine would never be complete without studying Arab cuisine and its neighbouring countries. Although I do have knowledge about their food, it’s not enough just to read about it, I have to be there to learn more about it. They used a lot of lemons and parsley and of course they spices, nuts, dates, yogurt and honey. Now that I’ve tasted it in Qatar, I am more intrigued by it. It’s not just about the food and the spices that they used but I’m also fascinated by their culture and history (just like every other cuisine) that goes with it. Who knows, I might go back again to Qatar or another Arab country in the future.


Modern Contemporary Architecture at the Museum of Islamic Arts
The Museum of Islamic Arts

I didn’t take food photos of all the restaurants that I’ve visited. Ironically, I failed to take photos of the really good foods that I’ve tasted. Although I’ve been making cold items in garde manger, I finally got to sit down at one of the restaurants at Souq and have a taste of their hummus, arugula and tomato salad, Mujaddara rice and lentil pilaf and the labnah with mint, all eaten with pita bread. There’s this Iranian Restaurant that serves really good soup, kofta, grilled chicken and fish, of course serve with some pita bread, fresh arugula, rice and lemon..It's cheap and very flavorful..

My trip to Qatar is very short. At Athletes Village, one day is like one week, while one month is like one year. Now that I'm back in Cebu City, it was indeed a very short trip. This blog post is just the tip of the iceberg but the experience is something that I will never forget. I might go back there one day for the same or even a different reason. I'll never know what lies ahead. But I am definitely open for opportunities and possibilities. In the meantime, Arab Games 2011 is Khalas!!