DOHA, Qatar — Although Mexico‘s men’s national team is out of the World Cup, the country’s impact remains strong. El Tri fans have stuck around to watch knockout round matches, with countless Mexico jerseys and flags seen on the streets and in window shops. And interestingly enough, Mexican cuisine has emerged as a prevalent food option in Qatar.
Mexican gastronomy in Qatar is literally and metaphorically miles away from that in Mexico or the United States, but around occasional corners and plazas, it’s not too difficult to find tacos, burritos, and even a refreshing glass of agua de jamaica, made from the petals of hibiscus flowers.
These examples are just a small sample of the larger impact across Qatar, a country mired in criticisms ranging from human rights issues to questions on how it won the bid to host the World Cup altogether. Focusing on food can feel trivial in light of these issues, but it can also help put a separate spotlight on what’s happening beyond the confines of the stadiums and FIFA-designated zones.
Once the World Cup is over and millions leave, the culinary postcards will remain, providing a lasting impact that was here before the tournament began.
A ‘little piece of Mexico’ for hungry World Cup fans
Following in the footsteps of a family who had already lived in the area, married couple Silvia Gonzalez and Gilberto Hossfeldt both realized something when they moved to Qatar from Mexico in the early 2000s: there was nothing that tasted remotely close to the meals they had back home.
“It was horrible,” Gonzalez said about the Mexican food they found, which sparked an idea. “We half-jokingly said ‘what if we opened something’ to our Mexican American friend, who is married to a Qatari man.
“It eventually became a reality.”
By 2013, they all took a chance on Viva Mexico, a restaurant that now has two locations here in the country’s capital — one in The Pearl neighborhood and another in Msheireb.
They brought over tortilla-making machines and key ingredients like guajillo peppers and achiote. Creativity was needed for some elements that were expensive to ship or not up to the standard they wanted, leading to purchasing items such as cinnamon from Sri Lanka and hibiscus from Sudan, all to bring that small slice of their culture.
“It’s really rewarding for us to see people be surprised to find a place that’s a little piece of Mexico because we’ve adorned them [the restaurants] with traditional decorations that are very representative of the country,” Gonzalez said.
“The cushions, the decorative plates, the art, it’s from Hidalgo, Puebla, Guadalajara, different spots. It shouldn’t just look Mexican; it should actually be Mexican.”
It rapidly won over not only Qataris and tourists, but most notably over the past few weeks, Mexicans and Mexican Americans who have visited during the World Cup.