“We never eat out during Ramadan. It’s a time we spend with the family.”
– Arwa Lootah, Emirati food blogger ‘La Mere Culinaire’
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. 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 menus or buffet selections of snacks and desserts, along with hot and cold beverages…etc. However, 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 Sha’ban 15th, during which Emirati children put on their best clothes and go singing around the houses of the neighbourhood in celebration of the approaching month of Ramadan. 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. The preparations could start months before Ramadan. Some of these preparations include choosing the right wheat grains – as in Ramadan, the most important dish we have in the UAE is Harees, which is made out of wheat- and of course we decide the number of livestock we’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 her 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 so is Farni (recipe on this link) – which is a pudding made using rice flour. Farni is the most preferred dessert she said.
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 the Holy month, sharing not only meals with them but also gifts and exquisite hospitality. All through the 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 Sa’em (literally meaning Iftar of a fasting person) 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 Ramadan 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!”
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 on this link), as an example, is a meat stew into which rgag (thin bread) is added, and is originally Saudi, but also a very popular dish here too. Also popular in the UAE are other rice-based dishes such as Kapsah and Mandi all of which are from the cuisine of the Arabian Gulf. 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 molded). Here too, dates are eaten accompanied with a glass of dairy, usually laban (yogurt), to break the fast following the prophet’s tradition.
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. So 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. This spirit and these traditions are experienced in the local community, and those expats living in neighborhoods that house local Emiratis get to experience some of them too. However, most expats see only the new and commercial side of Ramadan in the UAE, which revolves around the Iftar Buffets, the Ramadan tents and the lavish displays at hotels. Some even carry out their local traditions at home with their small local communities. A fact that makes Ramadan in the UAE very multicultural as the city itself is and therefore also very rich.
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.
إذا عندكم أكل زايد أو بواقي عزايم،اتصلوا بهذا الرقم ٨٠٠٥٠١١ بيجوا بياخدوا و بيعطوا للمحتاجين في الإمارات. شاركوا اصحابكم هاي المسج وحطوها على بروفايلاتكم ليعرفوا الكل كمان، ما بتعرفوا مين ممكن تكونوا عم بتساعدوا.
Food For Thought – Traditions are roots out of which one springs and through which one remains grounded.