Sunshine story: Indian restaurant in Doha lets poor eat for free
Two brothers, originally from Delhi, started 24/7 restaurant, Zaiqa, at the ‘Industrial Area’, 16 kms from Doha, and offer ‘authentic Indian cuisine’ to daily-wage labourers, even if they can’t afford to pay for it
Doha: In a dusty corner of Qatar’s booming capital, a sign outside a modest restaurant popular with migrant labourers reads: “If you are hungry and have no money, eat for free!!!” Sixteen kilometres from the gleaming glass towers of Doha, one of the richest places on the planet, sits the “Industrial Area” of small-scale workshops, factories and low-cost accommodation.
Three weeks ago the brothers, Shadab Khan and Nishab Khan, decided to put up a sign outside their 16-seater eaterie, offering free food to people, who cannot afford to pay for it. PIC/AFP/AL-WATAN DOHA / KARIM JAAFAR
It is only a 40-minute drive south of the centre of the Qatari capital and its luxury shops, upmarket brands and expensive restaurants. But the “Industrial Area”, rarely seen by outsiders, is a different Qatar — one which provides essential labour and materials for the country’s massive and relentless expansion.
It is at the margin of Doha life, both geographically and metaphorically, and home to a restaurant called Zaiqa, which is doing something apparently unique for the oil-rich Gulf state. About three weeks ago the Indian brothers who own Zaiqa decided to put up a small makeshift sign offering free food to customers who cannot afford to pay.
“When I saw the board I had tears in my eyes,” said one of the owners, Shadab Khan, 47, originally from New Delhi, who has lived in Qatar for 13 years. “Even now when I talk about it, I get a lump in my throat.” He said the idea came from his younger brother, Nishab.
The 16-seater eaterie stands on the prosaically named Street 23, sandwiched between another restaurant and a steel workshop. Inside, on brightly coloured tablecloths, “authentic Indian cuisine from the heart of Delhi” is served 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A fish curry costs six Qatari riyals (approximately Rs 100), an egg roast is three riyals and a dish of spinach, Palak Paneer is 10 riyals for those who choose to pay. The need for free food in Qatar is particularly acute among labourers and those working in heavy industry. It is estimated that there are anywhere between 7,00,000 and one million migrant workers in the tiny Gulf kingdom, out of a total population of 2.3 million.
“Many labourers earn 800-1,000 riyals (Rs 13,000-Rs 17,000) per month. They have to send money back home. It’s expensive here so there are people who need free food,” he said. Shadab, who is also a filmmaker, said those asking for food are mostly construction workers from countries such as India, Nepal and Bangladesh.