Life on the Wedge's Rachel Ann Morris has her finger on the pulse of Qatar's local food scene, and here's what she has to say...
26 February 2020| Last updated on 26 February 2020
We interviewed the refreshing and honest voice behind Life on the Wedge
If you've passed through Qatar recently or you're a resident foodie in the peninsular, then you might have come across Rachel Ann Morris' infamous food blog, Life on the Wedge. The Australian expat shares her essential guide to all the good things in life, from eating, drinking, and travelling.
Rachel, who has also written for the BBC's Good Food Middle East and Forbes, critiques not just the meal but the service and ambiance as well, complemented by mouth-watering clicks that allow you to fully enjoy her culinary treks across the country.
So if you're planning your next trip to Qatar, you've got a date with family, friends, or your partner this weekend, or you want to treat your tastebuds to something delightful, it may be worth your while to check out Life on the Wedge for Rachel's latest updates. You never know - she could be writing about your next favourite haunt this very minute.
The ExpatWoman team had the opportunity to chat with Qatar's favourite food and travel blogger on the local food scene, her expat life, and how the country transformed her tastes in cuisine.
What brought you to Qatar and its local food scene?
As with most foreigners in Qatar, it started with a job.
"I came to Qatar as the Editor of the Peninsula newspaper as journalism is my background," said Rachel, who also works as a Digital Media Consultant.
I wanted to set up a blog about living in Qatar but I ran out of inspiration or content and another one did not come to fruition so a friend asked me why I don’t set up a food blog."
What led to Life on the Wedge?
"My initial take is that there are so many food blogs out there, whether it be with cooking or critiquing, so it would be challenging to carve out a niche. But my friend persisted and suggested that I follow my passion – which happens to be cheese! I seriously love cheese! So I created a blog with the concept of trying 365 different types of cheese in 365 days. I called it Life on the Wedge: Around the World in 365 Cheeses."
"I completed 365 cheeses in approximately 380 days! In the first 2 years, this is what I focused on and it seemed this was a new experience in Qatar and suddenly people were asking for me to expand. It became apparent that people were crying out for legitimate food reviews that were not necessarily ‘everything is great’ or ‘here is a picture of my food'."
"Qatar’s food scene was expanding at the time so I got seriously into it about 3 to 4 years ago. I truly believe that it is really important to be authentic. And if you meet me you quickly realize that I don’t need another free meal."
"As a result, I worked on developing good contacts in the market and a positive reputation for being honest. I think people follow me for that, people come to me for information and real reviews. In the end, it comes down to the fact that I love living in Qatar and I like to showcase all that it has to offer."
What have been the most unexpected rewards and challenges of blogging the local food scene?
"When I first came here 13 years ago, the food scene was literally 5-star hotels or bland bits here and there. About 4 to 5 years ago things started to shift a bit and this has been one of the most unexpected rewards – seeing Doha flourish in terms of food."
"I think we get compared to Dubai so often and there is such a large market and tourist population that there is always going to be a big diversity of food. But here, this hasn’t been the case and the local food scene has taken time to evolve and come into its own."
"If you would have told me 5 years ago that there would be a Peruvian restaurant, with an international chef attached to it, I would have laughed hysterically. But look at it now! There is so much diversity and it is really refreshing and exciting."
Rachel also runs a Facebook group called Doha Foodies with over 12,000 members, promoting a safe, vibrant, and cosmopolitan local community.
"It is a real cross-section of Doha and I think this could not have existed 5 years ago. This has been a real reward, to see it grow and flourish."
"One of the challenges is that people have very thin skins here and they do not take criticism easily, but it is slowly changing. Speaking frankly there is not a culture of debate or constructive criticism here so if you give candid feedback the result can be quite defensive. Thankfully, the market is more accustomed now to the way I operate, but sometimes there is a real negative reaction."
"For example, after publishing lightly or highly critical reviews, some hotels will stop inviting me to things but thankfully that doesn’t last very long. A big contributing factor to this is that social media is huge in this country and everyone considers themselves a social media influencer. This means that a restaurant can invite a critic or influencer, and they will post a hundred photos of pretty food and pretty people. I think that I try to set my self apart from that and it isn’t always 100% successful."
Do you have any local tips to avoid falling into a “foodie tourist trap?”
"My greatest tip is that if you go to Souq Waqif, and you must certainly visit Souq Waqif, avoid the chain restaurants."
"Go into the alleyways and visit the Qatari ladies selling their homemade food. Always look behind the brands and you will find a more authentic experience."
"I think Qatar is lucky in a sense as it does not really have foodie tourist traps because there are a lot of home-grown brands. Another thing is I believe Katara will be a real foodie destination in 1 to 2 years from now. It has always been a little disappointing but recently there have been a few good places open there like Boho Social and small coffee shops that have opened."
"Another area to watch out for is Msheireb. It will become a real big food hub in 12 – 16 months' time, and this is exciting."
What are some stereotypes about Qatar’s food scene do you find people believe, and you want to dispel?
"That Qatar is only Arabic food. While there is excellent Arabic and Qatari food, there is also a lot more selection. There is a real diversity of food here and there are some great Asian restaurants."
"Another one is that there are only ‘brands’ here but in the last couple of years, there has been a real growth in what American’s would call ‘mom & pop’ or small shops or stand-alone restaurants."
"Mama Rozie Restaurant is a good example of this! They are a Malaysian/Indonesian family that set up a shop and restaurant in Al Khor and a lot of people rave of the authenticity of it. There are a bunch of other independent restaurants springing up too."
"There is a Filipina lady who set up a Korean restaurant called Fudo and a lot of people love it. BAO is amazing – take my money! So when you scratch the surface there is a lot of diversity and small brands popping up. I could spend every day in a 5-star hotel but I love going to smaller, independent restaurants. I would love to see more street food in Qatar, I hope that is next."
Has expat life in Qatar changed the cuisine you prefer prior to coming to the Middle East?
"Actually, yes it has influenced me! Before I would have been a bit Asian focused on my comfort foods. Australia has a large Asian population, so it is what I grew up on."
"Now I love Indian food. I had a little bit of exposure to Indian food in Australia but coming here has opened up a whole new world. Indian food is incredible! It is very authentic and diverse."
"I am doing a thing with Zomato in a couple of weeks where we are going to find Doha’s best butter chicken. I think this appeals to a wide range of people. Indian food – wow! what a revelation."
What’s the most surprising menu item you’ve seen in Qatar?
"There is a new Scandinavian restaurant, SNoULL, at the Al Mesilla, and they are doing some really interesting stuff. Very daring for Doha!"
"I tried this dehydrated beetroot dish laying on a bed of seashells. The dish has nutritional yeast in it, which is unusual, and it goes through multiple steps before completion. It is served with this divine dipping sauce and my mouth is watering just thinking about it."
"It was honestly so surprising and one of the most intriguing dishes of last year. The head chef is a woman, which is also a rarity here, so it is one of those all-around delightful surprises. Also, Edam at the Museum of Islamic Art has surprised me. They have included locally sourced and extremely different dishes on their menu, like camel and squab."
Describe the single best food experience you’ve ever had while in Qatar...
"I know I bang on about Nobu, but I absolutely love it! I get along really well with the chef and team at Nobu. I am also quite critical, but they appreciate the constructive feedback. A few weeks ago, I visited and the chef asked what I would like and I asked him to choose."
"It was one of the most delectable and delicious meals I have ever experienced! It was so interesting and it shows when a chef doesn’t have to stick to the rules or the confines of a menu, he or she can create something spectacular. I cannot even pinpoint the best dish; it was all superb. I loved it and it was fantastic!"
"They have their Nobu DNA, and that is the core of what they do, but they also alter their menu to accommodate the local palate."
...and the worst?
"There are a few. These restaurant reviews are on my blog, actually, there are three."
"The first, and most famous and viral negative review, is of a place that really has reinvented themselves since my review. It was shambolic! On my blog I wrote a review themed ‘Here are 6 things that we could better spend QAR 1500 on compared to X’. But they have really pulled themselves back and they are wonderful now! It is now one of my favorite top 5 restaurants."
"Another review on my blog was a bizarre restaurant where the staff dressed up as Romeo & Juliet and you sat on tuffets to eat. The menu was unusual and not appealing. Every 20 minutes or so a bell would ring and a couple would prance through the dining room in period costume. I felt bad because the owners had a true passion and I was critical, but I have to be true to my experience."
"The last, which was quite recent, was a very over-priced Turkish restaurant where I felt financially violated. One of the frustrating things about the Doha dining scene is there are some restaurants that charge an obscene amount of money for inferior quality."
What food trends do you suspect might pop up in the new decade?
On the next big thing in Qatar’s food industry, Rachel answered: "Coffee is still big. Burgers are not going away any time soon but bao buns are definitely happening. We are starting to see this and I like it."
"I mentioned earlier that local brands are popping up and it is positive. I went to a really terrific café the other day called the Twisted Olive in Burj Doha. It is locally owned and it is fantastic. So, I think we will see more of this trend, small local eateries with well-executed food. Also, a couple more celebrity restaurants will open in the next few years, but thankfully not too many."
"Thinking internationally, unicorn foods are dead, I hope. I also wish that big food is also on its way out. Also, we will see more vegan restaurants which is encouraging. Lastly, I think we will see a lot less single-use plastic and this is a positive trend."
Which one of Qatar’s local food scenes is a “must visit”/”must try”?
"This is like asking me which is my favorite child but I must say it is Nobu! For something local, I would say Bander Aden in Souq Waqif for a local experience. Oh, and don’t forget a really good shawarma!"
Follow Rachel and her documents on food and travelling here:
- Twitter: @rachelannmorris
- Instagram: @rachelannmorris71
- Facebook: facebook.com/LifeOnTheWedge
- Food + Travel blog: www.lifeonthewedge.net