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Iftar in Dubai

June 28, 2014

Ramadan Kareem. The start of the Holy Month was announced this evening here in Dubai, by the shot of a cannon in Safa Park as the sun went down. It’s a month of contemplation, prayer, abstinence, charity, spirituality, family gatherings and a lot of eating.

For non-Muslims, there is very little hardship – just the closure of most coffee shops and restaurants during the daytime and not being able to eat in public. The benefits for all is a city that’s more relaxed and peaceful and the chance to break the fast with people in a huge variety of places with a wide range of special dishes.

In case you didn’t know, Iftar refers to the first evening meal when Muslims break their fast before the Maghrib prayer, just after sunset. Traditionally three dates are eaten first. Suhoor is the last meal eaten before dawn and the fajr prayer. These two meals are eaten during Ramadan when Muslims fast between the daylight hours and replace the usual three meals a day.

Like last year, I’ll be away in the UK for most of Ramadan but had a sneak preview of a few Iftar events this month. If you’d like to know what’s on offer in Dubai or fancy sampling some here are a few ideas – including some unusual ones:

Under the stars

Ramadan falls during one of the hottest months of the year in 2014 (it follows the Hijri calendar) and the weather is likely to be very humid and hot even at night. Locals still love the tradition of relaxing under canvas like their ancestors although they now live in cool buildings in this modern city  and The Palace offers a way to do both. In a beautiful setting, under light strewn palm trees, with a clear view of the Burj Khalifa and the top of the Dubai fountains to the right, tents fringe the gleaming aqua pool. Each tent has air-conditioning, which is quite effective (one side of the tent is gauze so it’s not icy cold) and waiters bring a variety of dishes from the a la carte Suhoor menu. It feels secretive and luxurious with a real touch of Arabian nights. Ewaan restaurant also offers an extensive Iftar buffet which can also be enjoyed in a larger communal tent attached to the hotel. The tents need to be booked and are 1600 AED per 8 people minimum spend – the menu is a la carte.

More info at The Palace Downtown Dubai

Lavish

Throughout the month, Dubai hotels are laden with buffets, groaning under the weight of traditional dishes for Iftar and Suhoor. If you are going to experience one, I recommend starting with the Burj Al Arab. Drive over the bridge to this manmade island taking in the most breathtaking views of Dubai’s shoreline with the Persian Gulf either side. Valet park while enormous crucibles shoot dramatic flames up into the air and, if you are lucky, the building itself performs a multi-coloured light show. Once inside the senses are assaulted by colour, fish tanks, fountains and gold. You could dine at the Al Iwan restaurant (which I sampled last Ramadan) or you could experience the grandeur of the Burj ballroom complete with gigantic ice sculptures, Arabic musicians, Turkish-style ice-cream server and, of course, an extensive buffet. I’ll be honest, it’s all a bit theatrical, with a man serving tamarind juice from gigantic receptacle he carries on his back with causes him to bend double to pour a glass, with a jingle jangle. The food is a good range of the usual staples. My tip is to bag an area on the upper level which has curtained divans and backgammon sets. Hide yourself away until the early hours taking a peep at the goings on downstairs or the incredible view. Scrabble is also provided. Enough said.

More information about the Burj Al Arab Ramadan choices here.

A good alternative on this scale is Asateer at Atlantis. This is a beach front tent with live cooking stations and buffet, games such as backgammon and chess, Arabic oud players and a monochord artist. My friend Dima has a great post about it here.

Best Arabic food

Ok I haven’t eaten at every single Arabic restaurant in Dubai, but I’ve dined at Nawwara in the JW Marriot Marquis twice and both times the food has been utterly divine. You can spot someone who has lived in the Middle East for a long time by the respect they show hummus; they will sigh quietly and roll their eyes to heaven when someone says how easy it is to whip up a batch with a can of chickpeas and some olive oil. Everything here is prepared with such attention to detail it’s sublime including the super smooth, creamy, nutty, utterly scrumptious hummus.

I love the decor which is white, modern and airy (beautiful at lunchtime where the light streams in and enabled me to take these pics). There is a water feature through the middle which lends a cooling backdrop and remind ones of the falaj system of watering crops.

When we tried the Iftar menu as a preview we asked several times “Is this really the mount of food people will get?” We were replete after the beautiful mezze and after a brave attempt on the main courses we took doggy bags home.  At 195 AED per person, from sunset until 9pm, this Iftar includes mezze, savoury pastries, fish and meat course, delicious Arabic desserts and fresh fruit, all served to the table (not a buffet).

More information about Nawwara here.

The heartbeat of the city

Regular readers will know that I’m a now a serial food tourist in my own city and have been on five Frying Pan Food Tours. There is always more to discover and Arva (tour leader extraordinaire) and the crew have devised something special for Ramadan. Incorporating many of their favourite places, they explore how Muslims of many different nationalities break their fast and spend the Holy Month. Worth doing if only to watch the sun go down over the shimmering creek but there’s so much more. More info here.

In the House of the Mosque

Ramadan in Dubai - mycustardpie.com-23

Imagine slipping the first date into your mouth and taking your first sip of water inside the beautiful Jumeirah Mosque. The Majlis Cafe has recently opened its doors within a building in the mosque courtyard. You can gaze at the carved minarets through an arched window as dusk falls and listen to the prayer while sampling a very elegant Iftar. The cafe is part of the camel milk group so you can sample this as is, within cheese in some of the dishes or in a variety of different types of Al Nassma chocolate.

Over Ramadan the cafe will be open in the evening and has a special Iftar menu. Afternoon tea-style, there is a savoury version including sweet potato, foul, muhamarra and chickpeas, and a sweet option including balaleet (a traditional Emirati dish containing rice and egg). Both choices include a glass of camel milk and a selection of juices and are 50 AED per person.

More information about The Majlis Cafe here.

The  Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding also holds events through Ramadan which are well worth booking.

*The heading for this paragraph was inspired by a book set during the time of the Revolution in Iran – highly recommended read.

Home cooking

I always crave comfort food after a day where food has been forgotten in the rush. Baker and Spice have put their legendary breakfast dish on the dinner menu during Ramadan. I am of course talking about their phenomenal shakshouka which comes hot and bubbling from the oven served in a cast iron dish with eggs cooked to your liking. For me the eggs have to be runny so I can dip pieces of their excellent sour dough bread into the golden yolk mixed with the spicy, tomato and pepper stew underneath. Perhaps I can squeeze a shakshouka supper in before I go…

Take away and home delivery is available throughout Ramadan from Al Manzil and shakshouka matbukha on the evening menu at 95 AED (feeds two) at all branches.

More information about Baker and Spice here.

I’m intrigued by Tom and Serg‘s Ramadan plan. They will open during the evenings (they normally close at 4pm) for roast dinners. Rule the Roast starts at 7pm each night with a choice of roast meat or fish with all the trimmings. There are three sizes of roast at 80 AED, 95 AED and a family pack for 290 AED.  It looks as though the only vegetarian choice is stuffed aubergine with tomato and mozzarella (as veggie teen hates aubergine we won’t be going for the family pack!) Elder teen will be happy with the Yorkshire puddings though. For an extra 35 AED you can have pudding with things like traditional apple crumble and bread and butter pudding on the menu – but will there be custard? See the menu here

Artificial flavours and a lot of MSG spring to mind with most good value Asian restaurants, but hidden gem Wok It (near Bur Juman on the Trade Centre Road, opposite Centrepoint) make everything from scratch from fresh ingredients including their sauces. They make an addictively good street food dish called martabak telor which is worth the journey alone. Wok It will be open from sunset until 1 am every day during Ramadan. (Excuse the pics taken on iphone).  More information about Wok It here.

Healthy

You would have thought that fasting during the day for a month would lead to weight loss. For a lot of people it’s quite the contrary and over indulgence through the evening combined with less exercise can be a real problem.

Bestro, a small restaurant in Lafayette Gourmet specialising in a completely raw, vegan menu is offering the Freedom Iftar over the Holy Month. They will have an extended range of dishes, served buffet style to allow people to sample the full menu. They have called it The Freedom Iftar as it is free from all the usual challenging things like sugar, gluten, dairy and meat. It’s 100% vegan, locally sourced where possible (due to the weather at the moment) and organic (nearly 100% of the menu is organic). The Iftar buffer is 120 AED  per person for all you can eat including water and iced tea. Hayley has also created a drink called the sunrise suhoor smoothie for takeaway only. It is designed to hydrate, nourish and give slow release energy, containing coconut water, chia, cacao, sun warrior protein powder and activated barley.  The menu dishes and drinks will also be available for take away during Iftar opening hours.

I’ve tried a lot on the Bestro menu and can vouch that it’s extremely tasty and satisfying – my favourite is the raw pizza (and the almond milk drink made with raw cacao).

More info about Bestro here.

Another new opening is Omnia Gourmet by Silvena Rowe. Set within a souk that overlooks a fishing harbour in Jumeirah 1, this is worth seeking out for a variety of restaurants there. The painted mural walls and cane chairs of Omnia Gourmet give it an cosy, casual feel and it’s from here that ‘Slim Ramadan’ menu can be taken away.  This is a healthy eating plan of salads, raw and ‘free-from’ dishes packed with texture and flavour to keep you on the straight and narrow. In fact Chef Silvena says she lost weight last year by following this diet.

More info about Omnia here and a write up by my friend Ishita here.

The Landmark Group has launched the Beat Diabetes Ramadan Cook Book, which is available to download for free here.

A flight of fantasy

Qbara is the hottest new place in town offering modern Arabic cuisine. On the evening that I tried out the food at an Iftar ‘preview’ for media, the place was busy with at least fifty per cent of the clientele in national dress. The transformation of this circular building from Planet Hollywood (fake fur lined walls, garish decor and loud music) to its new reincarnation is quite incredible. The space is open, the walls lined with squares of carpet (it works much better than it sounds), with an elegant bar and window into an open kitchen. On the bar side there’s a carved wooden wall which at times throughout the evening starts to move – a bit like Harry Potter movies. The panels slide in and out, the shadows of flocks of birds swoop over the surface and a chandelier swings to and fro. It’s amazingly clever and all projected (this is hard to believe).

The modern take on Iftar sticks to tradition while throwing in a few unexpected notes into the mix. A carved silver platter dotted elegantly with an array of vegetables, salad leaves and herbs was a dainty version of the usual Lebanese vegetable arrangement but a truffle butter formed the surprising and really moreish dip. The hummus, mutabal and pickles were decent, the broad beans and feta really good and the harira soup (lentil and roast pumpkin are other choices) had me scooping up every last mouthful even though I knew there was much more to come. Small plates to share are next including falafel salad, a brilliant tomato,watermelon and shanklish (a sort of cottage cheese) dish and soft shell crab ‘saj’. My favourite of the mains to share was slow cooked lamb ‘ouzi’ style – all were good although the chicken tagine didn’t deliver the preserved lemon flavour its title claimed.

A slate plate of bite sized desserts ends the meal including some exquisite Turkish delight. At 180 aed per person (including a range of juices and drinks) this is a great way to enjoy Iftar in a place with its finger so firmly on the pulse of this modern city.

More about Qbara here.

Getting away

Alila Jabal Akhdar

Alila Jabal Akhdar

And finally if you fancy getting away from it all, there are a couple of new hotels in Oman which are high up on my wish list. They’re offering some attractive deals over Ramadan too. Firstly the Alila Jabal Akhdar, a resort nestled high up (2,000 meters above sea level) above a dramatic gorge in the Al Hajar mountain range. The other is the Salalah Rotana Resort situated between frankincense lined mountains and freshwater springs along the Indian Ocean.

In the spirit of Ramadan

If you haven’t visited Mawaheb in the Fahidi Area (behind the Majlis Gallery) I urge you to do so. It’s an inspiring and very worthwhile initiative. Madinat Jumeirah offered twenty students and faculty at `Mawaheb from Beautiful People’ the opportunity to create a painting inspired by the Arabian architecture of the Resort and the famous animated Emirati cartoon, Freej. They met the characters following a private screening of the Freej movie that took place at the Madinat Theatre.
The painting they created will be on display and available for viewing throughout the month of July at Al Majlis, Madinat Jumeirah. Mawaheb is an art studio located in the historic Al Fahidi neighbourhood that offers young adults with special needs an opportunity to channel their creativity through painting, sculpture and mixed media. Well worth a look.

Further reading: Visit The Hedonista for an insight into Ramadan in the UAE  and don’t miss Dima Sharif’s daily post every single day during the Holy Month.

There’s a really useful guide for available lunch options at independent eateries (hotels all offer food through the day) by Geordie Armani and Foodiva. Well worth bookmarking for when you need a bite to eat during the day during Ramadan in Dubai.

Disclosure: I was guest at the Iftar previews for Nawwara, Qbara, The Palace, The Majlis Cafe and the Burj Al Arab (as they start at the beginning of Ramadan) – all opinions are my own.

Where to go for Iftar in Dubai during Ramadan 2014 - mycustardpie.com

How will you be spending Ramadan? How does it impact on your life where you live?

38 Comments
  1. June 29, 2014 1:46 am

    It all sounds wonderful – even if I’m not there to enjoy it, it’s great to read about it.

    • July 1, 2014 7:35 am

      Yes – easy to get blase when it’s all on your doorstep but there’s an amazing choice here.

  2. June 29, 2014 5:52 am

    Wow! This was just a joy to read. And the food looks fabulous! Thanks for sharing.

  3. June 29, 2014 6:13 am

    This is fabulous… I have to update my Ramadan post a bit with your quotes.

  4. June 29, 2014 9:52 am

    Thank you for some wonderful recommendations Sally. I’ve not done Iftar for a few years as I’ve also been away during Ramadan but as I’ll be here this year, I definitely plan to do one. I’m spoiled for choice!

    • July 1, 2014 7:37 am

      Lots of salads in many of the menu to fit in with your new eating plan too.

  5. June 29, 2014 10:02 am

    What a comprehensive post. When Ramadan falls over summer here our days are also extremely long. We have Muslim friends and customers other than that, we are not affected at all :)

    • July 1, 2014 7:38 am

      Yes I wonder about that – Iftar was at 7.16 pm last night so although the sun rises quite early the daylight hours aren’t incessant.

  6. June 29, 2014 10:23 am

    Thank you as always for spreading the word dear Sally! Love your round-up of places, and while I tend to usually keep things pretty low-key for Iftar, I’m considering your Qbara recommendation…STILL haven’t had the chance to visit and it’s getting pretty shameful now, so maybe I’ll correct that during Ramadan! Is it a buffet there or a la carte? Couldn’t figure it out from their website or social media posts!

    • June 29, 2014 10:34 am

      You are welcome. Qbara is 180 aed pp for the Iftar menu (which includes the juices) and it’s table service not buffet. It’s a visual feast and well worth going I would say. PS Saw Sid there!!

  7. June 29, 2014 10:59 am

    I am in heaven!!! I love all of your photos, the lanterns especially ❤️ And I love Iftar meals in the UAE, so much beautiful food in one place ☺️☺️ Ramadan Kareem Sally x

    • July 1, 2014 7:39 am

      Ramadan Kareem to you Elaine – some families will sit in one of those tents and nibble their way through the night. Sounds good to me :)

  8. June 29, 2014 11:32 am

    Ridiculously pleased to see Rule the Roast changed its menu – went from hammour as the fish option to cod. Both Tom (Reger) and I tweeted them about this, and to see this change is heartening. Wasn’t planning to try it out earlier, but now seeing the change I think I will!
    Last time I tried to go to Bestro (around 7ish?) there was no one there and when someone finally popped by there wasn’t much left from the menu :( Maybe I can use this as an opportunity to get to try it out…have heard a lot about it.

    • July 1, 2014 7:40 am

      Yes I saw that too. The chicken on the menu is organic – not sure if free range. Tried it last night – highly recommended.

  9. June 29, 2014 4:33 pm

    A lovely post. Your pictures make me want to travel to the Middle East. The food there is fantastic and so are the landscapes…

    Ramadan kareem.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  10. June 29, 2014 6:02 pm

    Beautiful photos and the food looks divine!

  11. June 30, 2014 12:05 am

    Beautiful pictures, they really make you wanna go there :-) Thank you for sharing this.

    • July 1, 2014 7:40 am

      Thanks Lynda and Plate du Jour :)

  12. andreamynard permalink
    June 30, 2014 1:22 am

    Wonderful comprehensive tour of an amazing range of feasting choices Sally. I love the sound of the tented Arabian nights version and the idea of playing backgammon & scrabble while peeping out at it all appeals too. You’ve made me want to cook shakshouka at home too.

    • July 1, 2014 7:41 am

      The Baker and Spice shakshouka takes hours to make – I’ve been in their kitchen. But totally worth it – edging towards my desert island dish…

  13. June 30, 2014 4:07 am

    Lady you have enough material for like at least 10 different posts here! I’m also always in reverence of a truly good hummous – SO difficult to find, outside of the Middle East & North Africa, that is. Afternoon tea at the Majlis café also has me intrigued.

    • July 1, 2014 7:42 am

      Ha – you are so right…. I can’t do brief posts :) Truly good hummous is a joy when it’s done well.

  14. June 30, 2014 11:59 am

    Wow Sally what wonderfully descriptive and extensive roundup. Have been in UAE and Turkey a few times during Ramadan and the food, tents and atmosphere are wondrous and celebratory. I have always experienced the true spirit of Ramadan generosity no matter that we were foreigners and/or tourists. You have captured that here and the delicious food too.

  15. June 30, 2014 9:57 pm

    Very beautiful post, Sally. I always learn so much when I come to you and today is no exception. You do a lot to enlighten those of us who know little about the Middle East.

    • July 1, 2014 7:45 am

      Lynn Barber said that Dubai is “Middle East lite” and while that’s true in a way, Ramadan shows the city at it’s best in all its cultural diversity.

      • July 1, 2014 10:57 am

        While Ms Barber is the mistress of the pithy comment for sure, I would more trust your adjudged assessment :-) A stunning post, Sally.

  16. July 1, 2014 4:21 pm

    Wow, what a fantastic, detailed, descriptive post with such mouthwatering food pictures & the Iftar tent decor, loved reading the post. Never had the chance to enjoy the Iftar menus, as holidays are spent visiting home, but would try and visit one of these before I leave this summer! Always so much new to learn from your posts. Thanks, its a happier state of mind reading each posts. Happy holidays to you.

  17. July 1, 2014 5:51 pm

    Hah, my parents made the mistake of visiting Dubai during Ramadan and it proved to be a pain to find somewhere to eat during the day, much to their dismay. They ended up eating in the back room of a restaurant, hiding behind a sheet!

    It’s interesting though. I always thought people will be losing weight having to fast every day, but it makes sense they are stuffing their faces every evening – I would have!

  18. July 1, 2014 9:34 pm

    My my! Such a detailed and rich post! I so want to visit Dubai now and have iftar there.

    • July 1, 2014 11:07 pm

      Thanks Khanum – it’s a great city to do that.

  19. Lauren Hairston permalink
    July 1, 2014 11:33 pm

    Growing up, my dad always got a little bummed during Ramadan because his lunch buddy was fasting! Your photos look amazing. That food looks like it would be worth fasting for!

    • July 2, 2014 12:03 am

      I’m going to try fasting next year. I’ve been away for Ramadan for the past few years. It’s good to know what real hunger feels like.

  20. July 10, 2014 9:00 am

    wow sally, beautiful post & photographs. loved reading it… thanks for sharing!

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