When we moved to Qatar for the first time a decade a go, I remember well the look of horror on our friend Neil’s face as he declared “What on earth do you want to go there for?! There’s nothing there and you can’t even get pork.” He was speaking from experience as he had lived here for some time before moving to Bahrain. Bahrain is also a Muslim country but pork, bacon and sausage were freely available in separated sections of Spinney’s supermarket in the capital, Manama.While I enjoy a full English as much as the next person, I always felt sorry for the Muslim shop workers who still had to handle the pork produce at the till.
Devouring a bacon sarnie in a Muslim country did add extra flavour, like doing something illicit. Eating my favourite snack in my kitchen in Awali reminded me of that beautiful rebelliousness, going to communion after my very devout mother, knowing that I was technically in ‘mortal sin’. Even if she suspected my transgressions with my boyfriend, how could she prove it? Qatar’s pork ban resulted in peculiar expat behaviour as scores of business men and visiting relatives passed through Doha International baggage claim with suitcases stuffed full of tightly wrapped packages marked Turkey Ham or beef bacon; turning entire families into smuggler’s. A sin I have to admit occasionally indulging in.
Spinney’s did open here, just for a week, six years ago. It closed when the authorities stood their ground and said “No, not here.” I remember feeling proud that they had stood up for their Muslim faith and identity in a world where difference is increasingly less available. Interestingly, being deprived of pork in Qatar only made it more delicious for me. Months of delayed gratification just wetted my appetite as I fantasized about toad in the hole with lashings of onion and bacon gravy. On re-entry to Europe, gorging on a porkfest became a treasured family ritual. Sadly, no more. For the first time in Qatari history, look what we had for tea last night.
No, I have not been breaking the law or encouraging others to do so for me. This is pork produce purchased legally in Qatar, for the first time. It is so extortionally priced it will remain an occasional treat. Ironically the bacon label reads “Dutch Farm back bacon.”proving what a small world this is becoming with this slice of value smashing globalisation. We never saw bacon like this in Holland and the Dutch cut available was very different to our British pallets. At the time we could only get ‘proper’ bacon in the equally pricey expat shop.
Just to give you a glimpse of how my international life has been woven together in a sandwich. I am sitting writing this in my garden. It is warm and sunny with a refreshing breeze carrying the mid-day call to prayer to my ears. I am tucking into a delicious bacon sarnie, crusty French bread with lashings of Brittany butter, crisp Dutch bacon perfectly cooked by Lena, my new Indian house keeper who is the best international indulgence of all. Heavenly.