‘Ramadan Kareem’ in Dubai or ‘Ramzan Mubarak’ in Kolkata, the feeling is the same!
The countdown to Ramadan has begun. Each calendar year, Ramadan falls earlier by a few days. The last Ramadan fell during the school summer holidays and we were in Kolkata on our annual summer hibernation, (yes, that’s what I like to call it). I dragged the Z-Sisters to the Mallick Bazaar area near Park Circus, with the intention of experiencing an Iftar meal or the fast-breaking-meal in one of the many Muslim restaurants that are around in the area. The thin crescent of the moon peeping through the electricity lines of the trams, the faint sound of Adhan or Azaan drifting from the far-away minarets, the prayer-goers flocking to their loved ones so that they can break their Rozas/fast together – yes, I was feeling the spirit of Ramadan. The road-side kiosks of Mallick Bazaar (below) was full of Samaiya/Semolina, mixed fruits, Firni mix, glass bangles and mersmerised the Z-Sisters. The realisation that ultimately set in – whether it is ‘Ramadan Kareem’ in Dubai or ‘Ramzan Mubarak’ in Kolkata, this was the holy month for the Muslims the world over and a sense of solitude and profoundness hung in the air. Staying in Dubai during Ramadan is however, very different. Here, everybody – both the Muslims and the non-Muslims, is cued in to the holy fervor of the holy month. In the UAE, the non-Muslims too have to refrain from eating and drinking in public during the Roza/fasting hours and Iftar can be enjoyed by everybody at various Iftar Buffets, organised in many restaurants and hotels around the city. If you are living around the Bur Dubai region, you can actually hear the cannon of the Union House boom, every evening, to signal the end of the day’s fasting (the calculation of the Iftar and the other prayer timings is a very laborious process). This is, in fact a Dubai tradition (watch here).
A grand Iftar Preview to set in the mood of Ramadan
This year too, Ramadan falls during the school summer holidays. And like most summers, we will be off somewhere, thus missing out on the traditional Iftar buffets and the home made desserts that my Muslim friends make for us. But this year, I am going to eat the cake and take it too – I will have the solace of having attended an Iftar buffet, much well in advance. Designed in the manner of a traditional Ramadan tent but inside a modern air-conditioned set up of a ballroom, the Iftar preview in the Address Marina was to give an idea of what it’s going to be like during the month of Ramadan. Traditionally, Ramadan tents are erected during the month of Ramadan, where people can meet right after Maghrib or the sunset so that everyone who’s fasting for Ramadan can break their daily fast with friends and family over an Iftar meal. Dates form an important part of Iftar (three dates are eaten to break the fast, in the tradition of the prophet Muhammed, who broke his fast in this manner). Following this, an entire section in the buffet area is being designated to various kinds of dates (further below). Arabic tradition is typically reflected by geometrical patterns, colours, lavish renditions in their Middle Eastern cuisine and of course the communal bonhomie amidst friends and family. These were definitely in place the Address Marina – traditional Arabic lanterns lit up in each round table, colourful silk spreads thrown over the buffet counters, patterned boxes of Backgammon (below) lying around, elaborate food spreads, Kawa cups and the polished Arabic tea pots for the diners to pour some tea or coffee – complete with a little Majlis (a low seating on the ground) in one of the corners!
The Iftar Menu
The Iftar spread is quite elaborate. Starting with cold Mezzeh counters (Mezzehs are small dishes served traditionally at the beginning of Middle Eastern meals like Starters), soup and bread stations, salad bars, there will also be hot buffet and live cooking stations serving traditional Middle Eastern, Asian and International cuisine. Apart from live warm Mezzeh counters, grill stations, Pasta stations, cold dessert and hot dessert counters, there will be live cooking stations preparing a few traditional desserts as well. Chalking out a bit of the Menu, as much as I could (yes, I have also left out some!) –
The traditional Middle Eastern cold Mezzes being served are Hummous, Moutabel (the traditional moutabel as well as Carrot and Beetroot moutabel), Mouhamarah, Tabouleh, Fattouch, Babaganouj, Warak enab (vine leaves); Middle Eastern Salads like Kossa salad, Rocca salad with Sumac dressing (Sumac is a very popular spice used in the Middle-Eastern dishes, that is often used as a substitute for lemons), Couscous salad with grilled vegetables; Mixed Salads with Tomato Mozzarella,Greek salad, Carrot and Raisin salad, Pasta salad, Nicoise salad, Roast Pumpkin salad; a selection of Sushi with Maki and California rolls; Soups like Arabic lentil soup, Moroccan Harrira soup and a selection of mixed bread rolls and herb butters; Hot buffet and live cooking stations serving made to order Saj bread, Saj Manakish, traditional Shawarmas, handmade Fattayer (cheese, zatar, moradella); carving and grill station serving whole lamb Ozi cooked over Oriental Rice in the traditional way, Arabic mixed grills like Shish Taouk, Kofta, Shish Kebab, Arayaas, Shrimps; Live warm Mezzeh stations serving Meat Sambousek, Spinach Fattayar, Kebbehs (lamb, potato), Falafel; flat grill section where Egyptian Soujuk will be cooked with spicy sauce, Fetah, Mosakhan; hot Arabic food buffet like Vegetable Saloona, Dawood Pasha, Chicken fass, Beef Kalia, Prawn Macboush; Asian food with live cooking of Egg fried rice, Teppan fried soba noodles; a selection of Dimsum, sweet and sour chicken, Vegetables in Xo sauce, Beef in black bean sauce; live Pasta station (penne arabiata, farfel carbonara, fusili tomato sauce); other International dishes like Chicken vegetable casserole, slow cooked lamb with sweet onion and pumpkin, grilled Nile perch with broccoli, Vegetable au gratin, Vegetable lasagna, Rice and lentil stuffed capsicum with tomato sauce, hot dogs and mini burgers, Chicken nuggets, Fish goujons; Indian Cuisine with made to order Vegetable pakodas with dips, Chicken Tikka, Lamb Masala, Vegetable Jalfrezi, Vegetable Biryani and a selection of Nann, Roti and Pappads; Arabic Desserts like homemade Aych Al Saraya, Halawet El Jibn, Namoura, Baklava (Almond and Pistachio), Basboussa, Chaibeyat kachta, Katayef Nuts, homemade Assayfiry, Maamoul Maad with Dates, homemade Awamat, Ward Al Cham, Katayef Kashta, Balah el sham, Mafroukeh Pistachio, Mouhalabia; mini Desserts and cakes with Chocolate Jelly, Vanilla Cream, Lemon Meringue Tart, a selection of Crème Brulee’s (Pistachio, Chocolate, Raspberry), Italian Tiramisu whipped Ganache, Fresh Berry Trifle, Crème Fraiche Cheesecake, Chocolate Cake, mini Fruit Tartlets, Tarts (Apple, Honey and Rosemary) with caramelized Pine Nuts, homemade Doughnuts; hot Desserts like Um Ali, Sticky Date Pudding with Caramel Sauce, baked Fig Tranche; cooking stations serving fresh Waffles and a few of the traditional Arabic desserts… and of course Ice Creams.
The Address Dubai Marina – in the Constellation Ballroom
An extensive Iftar Buffet (at a very reasonable price of Dhs 155/person) is available from sunset until 9pm during the entire holy month of Ramadan and an a-la-carte Suhour menu to be enjoyed in the Terrace Tent from 8pm onwards. The buffet spread is overwhelming with the seating in the main ball room, which can accommodate up to 400-500 diners. Families and friends can seat themselves around round tables decorated with traditional Arabic lanterns and date platters. Well, if the preview is to go by, the Ramadan nights are going to be gorgeous.
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Ramadan is being celebrated in the Address hotels in other locations too.
In preparation of Ramadan, the artisan chef and food blogger Dima Sharif doles out daily recipe posts during the entire month of Ramadan for those who plan to prepare traditional meals at home. According to her, While in Dubai, and especially among the expat community, Iftar Buffets are very popular – probably because they are away from Family, and in Ramadan tradition has it that you break fast with a large number of people – it is not the actual tradition of Ramadan among most and not in fact the most famous forms of breaking fast. Actually, the tradition and spirit of Ramadan (the essence) is very much alive, and that is my focus this year. I am discussing all that and more throughout the 30 days of the Holy month, so do check out the posts, and I assure you by the end of the month, anyone who’s read the posts will have explored Ramadan fully this year, and got a better understanding of the Ramadan traditions. I have been inspired by her and am planning special Ramadan postings myself… do watch out for daily posts in my blog as well as hers, starting 8th of July till the end of Ramadan.
My own religious philosophy stems from growing up in a multicultural city of Kolkata with friends having different faith and religion. The city is known to be decadent. But is is also known to be enlightened. For me, it is important that the very essence of Ramadan shouldn’t be lost in all the opulence and the lavishness showered in the way Iftar is observed in the city of Dubai. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam (the other four being Iman, prayer, Haj and Zakat). The blessed month of Ramadan is the month of prayers, the month of charity, the month of piety, the month of Quran and, above all, the month of introspection and self-reform. It is especially during this month that Muslims strive to do all the good they can, by all the means they can, in all the ways they can, in all the places they can, to all the people they can. So, the breaking of the fast shouldn’t crumble the very essence of why it is observed in the first case. So as you enjoy your Iftar meals with your family and friends, please ensure that there is no food wastage. A small snapshot comes in mind from my last year’s Ramadan experience (below) – As Iftar set in, everybody set out to break their Roza. An amazing experience ensued. People formed groups – on the roads, in corners, behind stalls and prayed on the street and started picking on dates and nuts and other savouries from the same plate. These were strangers breaking their fast together – strangers bonded by the same belief, faith and principle!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: The Iftar preview was only by invite. However, the opinions stated here are my own and are independent. I do hope you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals. Please do not use any material from this post. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.
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