Since arriving in Doha almost two years ago, I have been experiencing its building boom firsthand.
My initial residence was at Al Safa Royal Suites in the Musheirib area of the city. There was a gaping pit near the hotel that was the site of the Musheirib Metro Station. From my hotel window, I watched a neighboring building being built floor by floor. Then Qatar University (QU) relocated me to an apartment in Lusail, a quarter-finished city 23 km north of Doha’s city center. In little over a year of living here, an expressway, promenade, and park have appeared. Additionally, just this month, the National Museum of Qatar opened; this major cultural public work was completed after a decade of construction.
With the exception of the National Museum, which was graced by the appearance of Mr. Johnny Depp at its grand opening, many of country’s building and infrastructure projects do not receive much fanfare when opening. It is laughable how inconspicuous construction projects are completed in Qatar. On your drive one morning, you might notice something different. Wait a minute, is that mall finally open? Or, where did all the road construction go?
This past week, as I was driving from my apartment to QU, I noticed police trucks at the intersection near Doha Golf Course. A police officer was hand-directing the traffic while workers were scrambling to remove traffic cones from the intersection. Immediately, I realized I was watching the grand opening of the Al Khor Coastal Road on my commute to work.
The Al Khor Coastal Road is a 34 km expressway that connects Lusail, Simaisma, and Al Khor to one another in a more direct manner. I have colleagues who live in Simaisma and Al Khor, and when the former Coastal Road was shut down for renovation, their commute to work doubled. Now, from the Golf Course, one can reach Al Khor in 20 minutes.
I visited Al Khor once before when I went kayaking in the mangrove forest there. The city is a former fishing village and has a much different vibe than bustling, urban Doha. I liked visiting the city, I just didn’t care for the drive there. But, with the completion of the Coastal Road, I felt like visiting Al Khor.
So, on the subsequent Friday, a friend and I left my apartment around the time of the Jumu’ah or Congregational Prayer. All businesses and restaurants are closed at this time in Qatar, and the roads are relatively empty because a vast majority of the country’s residents are at a mosque. I made a right turn at the Golf Course and was driving the Coastal Road for the very first time.
For most of the drive to Al Khor, my friend and I had 3-4 lanes of the Coastal Road to ourselves. I clipped along at 120 km/hour for most of the 34 km uninterrupted drive. On the way, we passed the site of the Lusail World Cup Stadium, then the Losail International Circuit; and before reaching Al Khor, Al Bayt Stadium was visible outside of the city.
Part of the reason why I wanted to drive to Al Khor was to explore the Coastal Road; however, part of me also wanted to visit the city because there is a Filipino seafood place called the Pearl of Beirut located along the Al Khor Corniche near its fish market. Since we were in the area, we might as well stop there for lunch.
When we arrived at the restaurant, the place was packed with Filipino families who were enjoying their meals of seafood cooked in a variety of ways. There was fried and grilled platters of fish, seafood curries and salads; and because this was an Asian restaurant, there were plenty of huge plates of white rice. I wasn’t exactly hungry — having eaten my breakfast two hours earlier — but abundance of seafood menu items made me visually hungry, so why not order?
I ordered a sour shrimp soup with a side of white rice and can of coconut water. My friend who accompanied me on my impromptu road trip ordered a plate of fried spring rolls — she wasn’t really hungry either, having eaten French toast two hours earlier.
The servers were frantically keeping up with the diners that filled the restaurant and ones who continued to stream in as me and my friend waited for our order. For me, the sight of Asian people scarfing down food reminded me of my mother’s side of the family back home. There’s nothing Vietnamese people like more than fragrant seafood with the heads still attached and a big bowl of rice.
My sour shrimp soup arrived, and I proceeded to pick the shrimp from the savory soup broth and remove their heads and shells. Then I would ladle some of sour broth over my rice. I was easily able to finish all the shrimp, but I had no room in me to drink all of the broth. I decided to take it home to cook a shrimp linguini later. My friend’s spring rolls arrived as I was enjoying my soup. She shared one with me, and I was surprised at how crunchy the wrapping was and how fresh and tender the carrot and cabbage inside were. It was as if the cooks had cut and wrapped the spring rolls immediately before frying. As we finished our meal, a server brought us some sliced watermelon, which is complimentary for all diners.
On our way out of Al Khor, we noticed that city was finishing its construction of a traditional Souq area, which looked very promising for future visits. There was also a plant nursery that had various cacti for sale. However, the nursery was closed on Fridays, so I would need to make a future visit to Al Khor if I wanted to buy some cacti for my balcony.
In all, my Coastal Road adventure was an enjoyable Friday diversion: a neighboring city had been opened up to me for easy exploration and future seafood dining runs.