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Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Ramadan in UAE - The Authentic Emirati Ramadan Traditions, Rice Farni Recipe

A scene from Old Dubai Market, the Coffee Shop
Photo taken at the Dubai Museum

"We never eat out during Ramadan. It's a time we spend with the family."
- Arwa Lootah, Emirati food blogger 'La Mere Culinaire'

Recent Trends
Perhaps the most prominent image, in the mind of all expats, for Ramadan in the UAE is that of the Ramadan Tents. Set up for the month of Ramadan, these tents usually offer Iftar buffets and an after Iftar gathering place mainly in the form of an indoor lounge set up. The entertainment often features Arabic instrumental music, or large TV screens showing Ramadan comedies or sports programmes... and some tents offer backgammon, card or video games as well as shisha. Foodwise, customers can indulge in a la carte or buffet selections of snacks and desserts, along with hot and cold beverages...etc.

Some Ramadan Tents in Dubai
Photos by Khaleej Times and dealgobbler

While these Ramadan tents are a main feature of Ramadan in the UAE today, they are a fairly new aspect of the Ramadan culture here and did not exist a decade ago. The authentic Ramadan culture in the UAE is in fact richer, more spiritual and very much rooted in the local traditions.

The Authentic Ramadan Culture in UAE
Preparations for the Holy month start in Shaaban (the lunar month before Ramadan). Hag Allayla, is the eve of Shaaban 15th, during which Emirati children put on their best clothes and go singing around the houses of the neighbourhood. The neighbours are usually prepared for the night and will have treats ready for the children to include sweets and nuts. The children will then collect these treats in specially made cloth pouches embroidered with traditional patterns.

When I asked Arwa Lootah, the lovely Emirati food blogger about the traditional kitchen preps for Ramadan she explained:
"In the UAE, we prepare for Ramadan by stocking up the pantry for the whole month. We buy our spices, rice, herbs, meat and everything in between. In Ramadan, the most important dish we have in the UAE is Harees. The preparations could start months before Ramadan. Some of these preparations include choosing the right wheat grains, and of course the number of livestock you'll need for the whole month. Some people buy the calves as soon as they are born and feed them until they reach a certain age for Ramadan. It all depends on the quality you are after. This also depends if you feed other people for Iftar." 
when I asked Arwa about Ramadan's preferred foods she explained that the general preference is of course traditional Emirati cuisine. Harees - which is an Emirati dish that is made from beating together meat and wheat along with some spices and dehen (clarified butter with spices) - is the local food of choice during Ramadan, and Farni - which is a pudding made using rice flour (recipe below) - is the preferred dessert she said.

A scene from Old Dubai, the neighbourhood store
Photo taken at Dubai Museum

Other significant Emirati Ramadan traditions are making sure the family gathers at the house of the male head of the family for Ramadan's first Iftar meal. The social life focuses on family throughout Ramadan, sharing not only meals with them but also gifts and exquisite hospitality. All through the Holy month, the Emiratis also focus on charity and the community. Many people would sponsor charity tents to serve free Iftars to those in need, and at times some would even distribute Iftar meals to cars and passers-by before the Adan (call for the Maghreb Prayer and signaling the end of the fast).
Almost all Mosques in UAE offer what is known as Iftar Saem where people would cook meals and send them to the mosques before Iftar. The mosques will serve these meals to anyone present at the mosque at the time of Iftar. Anyone is welcome to cook and deliver a meal to the mosques and most people do, including the expat communities.

With so much Iftar hosting and home entertaining during Ramadan, the cooking must be very different from any other month I thought. So I asked Arwa, how different is cooking through Rmadan from the rest of the year? She said: 
"Everyone in the household would like to bring out their talent in the kitchen and showcase it for the whole family and even the neighbours and friends!"

Emirati Bedouins
Photo taken at the Dubai Museum

The cuisine of the Emirates is very similar to that of other countries in the Arabian Peninsula. The food draws upon the area's Bedouin roots reliant mainly on the use of meats, rice and bread. Thereed (recipe will be posted on this blog in a few days), for instance  is a meat stew into which rgag (thin bread) is added, and is a very popular dish here too. Also popular in the UAE are other rice-based dishes such as Kapsah and Mandi. Dates, which are known as 'the bread of the dessert' are a source of pride for the Emiratis and are a symbol of fine hospitality, therefore always offered and displayed with great care. Dates are also used in the making of desserts such as Batheeth (mashed dates mixed with spices, clarified butter and sesame seeds, then rolled or moulded). Here too, dates are eaten accompanied with a glass of dairy, usually laban (buttermilk), to break the fast following the prophet's tradition.

Dubai Today

Despite being a very fast growing country and one that houses a large number of multicultural communities, the UAE has its own traditions which the Emiratis have kept alive.

As in any other country, Ramadan has an authentic spirit here and it is drawn from the roots, traditions and culture of the Emirati people.

Avoid food waste during ‪#‎Ramadan‬, If you have any extra food or leftovers contact 8005011 and they will pick it up and deliver it to those in need in ‪#‎UAE‬. Please share as this can help secure the meals of those in need. Ramadan Kareem

إزا عندكم أكل زايد أو بواقي عزايم،اتصلوا بهذا الرقم ٨٠٠٥٠١١ بيجوا بياخدوا و بيعطوا للمحتاجين في الإمارات. شير هاي المسج على بروفايلاتكم ليعرفوا صحابكم كمان، ما بتعرفوا مين ممكن تكونوا عم بتساعدوا. رمضان كريم 

Rice Farni
Photo by Arwa Luta, La Mere Culinaire

Arwa Lootah's
Rice Farni
You Need
1 Litre Milk
3/4 Cup Rice Flour
1 Cup Sugar
1 tbsp Ground Cardamom (placed in cheese cloth or tea bag)
1/4 Cup Rose Water 

In a medium saucepan add the milk, sugar and rice flour. Whisk constantly and make sure it doesn’t stick to the edges.

In the meantime, soak the ground cardamom in a cup of hot water.

When the mixture thickens, add the cardamom infused water and the rose water. Keep whisking until the mixture appears glossy. Pour into serving bowls and when it starts to create a thick layer on top add the garnish.

Rice Farni
Photo by Arwa Luta, La Mere Culinaire

For garnish Chopped Walnuts
Chopped Raisins
Desiccated Coconut
A Sprinkle of Ground Cinnamon

Mix all ingredients together and sprinkle on the farni. 

Cover the pots and chill for a few hours. serve cold.


Meet Arwa Lootah
Mother of two young children, Arwa Lootah is an Emirati food blogger on a mission. Through her blog: La Mere Culinaire, she aims to bring creativity into the home kitchen (where mothers usually are) as well as add new flavours to already existing recipes and adapting them to her Emirati background and personal taste.

Arwa comes from an artistic family and is a surreal artist herself. Besides her passion for food, she is also passionate about art and design. She had only recently plunged into the food world... and describes it as: 

"Raising a toddler and a baby isn’t an easy job, and obviously since I haven’t had time to hold a paintbrush, I had to bring art to something else I enjoyed until once again my fingers caress a clean canvas! Coming from an artistic family, bringing creativity into my culinary aspect of life just seemed natural although at the beginning taking that risk made me nervous."

Some of the information in this post, including the Rice Farni recipe and photos are provided by Arwa and are her property. They are published on this blog with her permission. Please do not copy or use them without her permission.


Food For Thought
Traditions are roots out of which one springs and through which one remains grounded. 

Hope enjoyed getting to know the UAE Ramadan Culture beyond the Ramadan Tents. If there is more that you would like to add about the UAE Ramadan Traditions, I would love to hear it as am sure other readers would too, so please share with us.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Have your country's cultural traditions of Ramadan changed in the past few years or are they still the same authentic traditions? Leave a comment and help me keep the conversation alive.

Come Back tomorrow for 
Ramadan in Bahrain :)

The world is beautiful, all its people are beautiful, all cultures equally important, and all the same in the end - all out there for us to explore...
Ramadan Kareem