The traditional food of the Arabian peninsula was suited to the lives of nomadic tribes, who ate foods they could easily carry, such as rice and dates, or the meat of sheep and camels that traveled with them. Today, Qatari cuisine reflects the influence of other countries, including India, Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon. American fast food is becoming increasingly popular.
Many kinds of fish and seafood are available in Qatar, including lobster, crab, shrimp, tuna, kingfish and red snapper. Lamb and mutton are favourite meats. Milk from cows or goats is usually made into laban (yoghurt) or labneh (cream cheese). Rice and cracked wheat, called burghul (bulgur), are used in many dishes.
Because the workday begins early, breakfast is usually served at about 6:00 a.m. It is light, consisting of olives, cheese, yoghurt and coffee. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day. People eat after 1:00 p.m. and then rest before going back to work. Lunch often begins with appetizers, followed by fish or lamb stew, salads, cooked vegetables, bread and fruit. Many people eat without using cutlery; instead, they hold a piece of bread in the right hand and use it to scoop up the food. Dinner is served late in the evening and is usually light, except during Ramadan and on special occasions.
Common Arab specialities include hummus (a paste made from chickpeas and sesame seeds), tabbouleh (chopped parsley, mint and crushed wheat), ghuzi (a whole roast lamb on a bed of rice mixed with nuts), wara enab (vine leaves stuffed with rice), koussa mahshi (stuffed zucchini) and shawarma (grilled shavings of lamb or chicken, mixed with salad and rolled inside a pocket of Arab bread).
Local dishes include matchbous (spiced lamb with rice), hareis (slow-cooked wheat and tender lamb) and seafood served with seasoned rice. Some favourite desserts include a type of bread pudding called umm Ali (literally "Mother of Ali"), a sweet cheesecake with a cream topping called esh asaraya (meaning "bread of the harem") and pudding made with rosewater and pistachios, called mehalabiya.
Muslim Qataris do not eat pork or drink alcohol. They eat halal meat, which has been specially prepared by the butcher according to Muslim laws.