When Shabbir Ahmad lost his job as a mechanic in Qatar, he had to get creative to remain in the country.
He began selling samosas in his neighborhood, and eventually became sponsored by the owner of a Pakistani school here who recognized his talents.
Now, 38 years after leaving home to help financially support his family, Ahmad runs Al Jamal restaurant, a tiny eatery tucked into a neighborhood in Bin Mahmoud.
Speaking to Doha News during a recent interview, the entrepreneur’s nephew Ahsan said:
“My uncle has had many struggles in his life. From his hardship, he discovered a talent for cooking. He is 100 percent self-taught and very proud of this.
He learned his cooking talent mostly from his own natural instinct in the kitchen. And this has provided for us, his family, for many years now.”
Al Jamal’s started out as a kiosk some 26 years ago. But word of mouth spread and business grew, and it’s now been a proper restaurant for a decade.
Unlike many eateries in Qatar, this one doesn’t have a set menu.
For years, Ahmad has been listing specials on a white board that changes daily, including mouth-watering meals such as chicken biryani, haleem and khadai chicken with roti.
Not having a set menu is his signature; there are just a handful of tasty dishes at a very reasonable price.
And the staff of Al Jamal is similarly pared down, consisting just of Ahmad, his nephews and sons and a few kitchen workers.
According to his son Omer, one of six children:
“My father is the reason we are all here in Doha. He had an idea and a passion many years ago and it turned into our restaurant. And in time, he brought over much of his family to Qatar.”
Ahmad grew up in the rural, impoverished central Punjab region of Pakistan.
He was forced to leave school at a young age to help his family survive, but even back then, he had a unique interest in the kitchen.
He would hunt local birds and cook them, carefully trying out different recipes, he recalled.
In most traditional Pakistani families like Ahmad’s, the females do the household cooking while the men work outside the home.
But somehow, as a young man, the business owner developed a keen taste and talent for cooking.
However, before diving headfirst into cooking, Ahmad spent some time as a mechanic for a British company in Qatar, until an injury put him out of commission.
Bolstered by the popularity of his samosas, Ahmad continued to develop his talent in the kitchen, and his reputation for delicious Pakistani food spread.
When asked what his key to success has been, his relatives said,
“He tries a recipe again and again until he gets it right. He has tested many things in the past and he was not satisfied. He once tried a chicken haleem and it was not good and everyone let him know.”
They added, “He is a perfectionist and he will not rest until his recipe is flawless.”
In the future, Ahmad and his family aim to expand Al Jamal’s into a bigger location – and ideally hire more relatives from Pakistan “to have some stability and to be together,” Ahsan said.
More on Al Jamal restaurant, its timings and Whatsapp order availability can be found online.