As American Thanksgiving approaches next week, Qatar residents preparing for the festivities have been scrambling to find the traditional centerpiece of their celebratory meal: turkey.
The country is apparently seeing a shortage of the birds in both fresh and frozen form following outbreaks of avian (bird) flu that began last December and spread to at least 15 states in the US by spring this year.
Since then, Qatar has imposed restrictions on importing American turkey, meaning that popular brands such as Butterball have been effectively banned from the country.
Meanwhile, other brands have been getting held up at customs, representatives of local supermarkets told Doha News.
Although the risk of human infection from birds with avian flu is low, Qatar joined dozens of other countries in imposing an outright ban or heavy restrictions on the import of poultry from the US.
US poultry products can currently only be imported to Qatar if they have been heat-treated to a core temperature found to kill off the virus – 70C for at least 3.6 seconds, or to a core temperature of 74C for at least one second, according to the latest regulations posted on the US Department of Agriculture’s website.
Thanksgiving is a national holiday that is celebrated in the US on the fourth Thursday of November, which this year falls on Nov. 26. During the day, people traditionally give thanks for the harvest and the bounties they enjoyed during the year.
Roasted, stuffed turkey with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, vegetables and other trimmings is the classic meal for most families and friends who gather together on the day.
However, Americans celebrating this year in Qatar may have to get creative, as almost none of the supermarkets contacted by Doha News said they had any turkeys available.
French supermarket Monoprix, which is located in West Bay, said they are taking pre-orders for fresh birds this week, and should have shipment in a few days before Thanksgiving.
Pre-orders must be made in person at the store as soon as possible. Turkeys cost QR110 a kilo, and are coming in from France, a representative said.
Meanwhile, a manager at Spinneys supermarket at the Mall said that there were no fresh or frozen turkeys in stock. This is partly due to restrictions on importing Butterball turkeys, which he said had been in place for at least six months.
Shipments of other turkey brands – including the popular Jenny-O label – have been held up at Qatar customs for around three weeks for unclear reasons, he added.
Additionally, Family Food Center branches in Al Rayyan and near the old airport are out of stock of all fresh and frozen turkeys, store representatives said. They were unable to say if they would get more stock ahead of Thanksgiving.
Lulu outlets have frozen turkey breast, but no whole birds in either fresh or frozen form.
Carrefour outlets across Qatar also do not have any turkeys in stock, spokesperson Benoit Vaillant said.
Neither does Megamart. One representative said the company’s branches have neither frozen or fresh birds, explaining:
“Because of bird flu, we cannot get any turkeys from the United States. We have been trying to bring them in from other countries, but right now we have nothing.”
Lamenting the shortage, Qatar resident Jennifer Ahen said, “Thanksgiving dinner without turkey is like Eid lunch or a Qatari wedding without machboos (meat and rice).”
Despite the restrictions, several hotels in Qatar are hosting Thanksgiving dinners with turkey on the menu, and some are offering the turkey meal, including stuffing, vegetables and the trimmings as a takeaway service.
Though some, such as the St. Regis Doha, are now fully-booked for Thanksgiving orders, others are still taking bookings, including:
- Doha Marriott Hotel: 72 hours notice required for all orders, 5-6kg bird is QR860 while 7-8kg is QR1,200. A 50 percent deposit is required to be paid in person to confirm the order.
- Sheraton Hotel Doha: 72 hours notice is required. QR450 for roast turkey and trimmings. Orders to be placed in person with a deposit to secure; and
- La Cigale Hotel: Orders should be placed at least 1 day in advance, in person. A 4kg turkey with trimmings costs QR960.
For those not willing to fork out that much money for a roasted bird, Doha Mums suggests considering cooking geese as an alternative.