A First-timer’s Guide to Iftars & Sohours
When in public, dining during daylight hours, or even drinking water, is strictly forbidden regardless of whether you’re a Muslim or not. Don’t feel unduly put out by this. One of the reasons Muslims fast is to physically appreciate the suffering of those who have less than you and are always hungry. By following Ramadan's rules you’re not only supporting your Muslim friends in their honourable endeavours but if you experience a little hardship along the way, see it as an opportunity to empathise with those less fortunate.
Food and soft drinks will still be served during the day in restaurants and cafes, but this will be done behind screens and curtains so as not to make a display of it. However, the best meal of all will be iftar. Ramadan is your chance to experience regional cuisine in the most ambient of settings – a time of good will to all. Hotels across the region host lavish buffets and families gather to share quality time and break their fast together.
Iftar – the breaking of the fast – starts at sunset, sharp. It is considered poor form to be late for the breaking of the fast so if you're invited to join others doing so, make sure you're punctual. Iftar is followed by suhour, either a later seating for meals in hotels and restaurants, or at home, the meal before sunrise.
Ramadan cuisine tends to be heavily Arabic inspired so is the best time to try difficult-to-cook regional specialities. Here are just some of the amazing dishes you should try:
THE TOP MUST-TRY DISHES
This is a Middle Eastern lentil soup with tomato and coriander, lightly spiced with beans and meat.
A very mild wheat dish similar to a congee. It will usually contain shredded slow-cooked lamb or chicken.
Filo pastry triangles filled with sweet spiced lamb or minted feta cheese.
Spiced lamb with rice. Usually a whole lamb is used (innards included), and cooked for 24 hours. Spices are sweet and fragrant – cinnamon is often a key ingredient, and often combined with nuts and dried fruit.
An Iranian chicken stew often made with pomegranate molasses and walnuts although each cook tweaks the recipe to make it their own. The dish usually has a slightly sour tang (though some make sweeten it up) and is gently spiced with saffron.
Roughly meaning ‘upside-down’, a chicken and rice casserole similar in style to a biryani, but without the Indian spice mix and with added tomato, cumin and usually larger pieces of meat. Can be made with lamb and/or eggplant, depending on the preference of the chef.
Rice and lentils with savoury spices (cumin, garlic and bay leaf) and brown lentils, topped with sweet crispy fried onions.
A traditional Arabian sweet made from pastry soaked in sugar syrup, filled with cream, cheese or nuts and topped with a crunchy vermicelli-shaped crumble or chopped pistachios.
Originally an Egyptian staple, this bread and butter pudding, literally meaning 'Ali's mother', is flavoured with rose, cardamom and pistachio and sprinkled with cinnamon or nutmeg. Croissant pastry is sometimes used in place of bread giving it an even richer, more decadent flavour.
A creamy, white rice dessert, usually served cold, given an exotic twist with the addition of rose-water and pistachio nuts.
THE TOP 5 IFTARS IN DUBAI
Hotel Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina
This Ahlan! sponsored iftar will pull out all the stops to mark the Holy Month in style.
INFO: Dhs165, iftar 6pm -10.30pm, suhour 9pm-3am, 04 399 3333, www.lemeridien-minaseyahi.com
The Address Dubai Marina
You’ll be thankful you’ve fasted the entire day after arriving at The Address Dubai Marina – the selection on offer is huge, ranging from Arabian faves to Italian staples and British roasts!
INFO: Dhs170 per person, iftar buffet sunset-9pm, à la carte suhour menu 8pm onwards, The Address Dubai Marina, Dubai, 04 436 7777, www.theaddress.com
The Oberoi, Dubai, Business Bay
If you’re not quite sure what you fancy for iftar, Nine7One’s spread of culinary delights from nine Arabic countries will leave you spoilt for choice. Live cooking stations will add an element of culinary theatre with a variety of grilled dishes made fresh to order.
INFO: Dhs180 including Ramadan drinks, iftar sunset-9pm, 04 444 1407, www.oberoihotels.com
The Palace Downtown Dubai, Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard
It’s full-on festivity at Ewaan and its popular Ramadan tent situated in the heart of Dubai’s vibrant Downtown district. A live oud player and fine Arabian fare enhances this authentic five-star experience.
INFO: Dhs220 including water and Ramadan drinks, iftar sunset-9pm, 04 428 7806, www.theaddress.com
The Ivy Dubai
Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Sheikh Zayed Road
Fill up on four courses of à la carte sharing dishes. Entrées include warm harissa with chickpeas and feta, hummus with Arabic flatbread and chicken shish taouk with garlic toum, while the main courses celebrate authentic flavours of the Arabian. Finally, sate your sweet tooth with a tasting plate of five Arabian-inspired desserts.
INFO: Dhs250 including unlimited soft drinks and mocktails, Sunset onwards, 04 319 8767, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.theivy.ae
TOP 3 IFTARS IN ABU DHABI
Grand Canal, Khor Al Maqta’a, Abu Dhabi
Offering traditional Middle Eastern favourites for iftar and a blend of Arabic and Mexican cuisine for suhour. The real draw is the location of the hotel, situated directly in front of the iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand – the centre of community life during the holy month of Ramadan.
INFO: Iftar Dhs215, Dhs65 for children aged four-12, Dhs161 for children aged 13-16; suhour and shisha Dhs55 weekdays, Dhs75 weekends,iftar sunset-9pm, suhour 7.30pm-2am, 02 818 8282, www.ritzcarlton.com/AbuDhabi
Almaz by Momo
The Galleria, Al Maryah Island
This North African inspired Arabic café is laying on an open buffet of treats to indulge in for both iftar and suhour, making this a perfect destination to slowly graze and enjoy the evening with family and friends.
INFO: Dhs170, iftar sunset-8.30pm, suhour, 9pm-2am, 02 676 7702, www.momoresto.com
Cuiscene Ramadan Tent
Fairmont Bab Al Bahar, Khor Al Maqta
While dining on traditional dishes such as samak harra (spicy tahini fish) and dijaj bil laban (chicken with yoghurt) you will also be doing your bit for charity with Dhs10 from every iftar purchased going to your choice of either the Special Care Centre in Abu Dhabi or Operation Smile, a worldwide children’s charity that helps treat facial deformities.
INFO: Dhs185 for iftar, à la carte suhour with minimum spend of Dhs134, iftar, sunset-9.30pm, suhour, 9pm-3am, à la carte suhour offered 10pm-2am Sat-Wed, 10pm-3am Thu-Fri, 02 654 3333, email@example.com
Dress appropriately: behave with the upmost respect during Ramadan. Cover your knees and shoulders at the very least, but try to stick with maxi dresses, trouser and jackets or cardigans so you don’t cause offense.
Show courtesy at the buffet. There’s plenty of food to go around, so invite your fellow diners to go first – even if you’ve been fasting all day. A few more minutes won’t hurt.
Say hello. During iftar it’s common to share huge tables with other families – introduce yourself and wish them “Ramadan Kareem!”.
And finally... try the kunafe desserts. They’re worth the calories!