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Dubai – how to experience an alternative Iftar

May 26, 2017

Iftar Frying Pan Adventure

As a non-Muslim, it can be difficult to understand the true significance of Ramadan and what it really means to those observing a day-time fast for 30 days. Sure, it’s easy to see that the city of Dubai steps down a notch from its usual frenetic pace. White tents start to go up next to mosques to host communal Iftar for those who are less well off. There’s a mad dash on the roads just before sunset then all is quiet, the stillness punctuated only by the call from hundreds of minarets.

It’s a joyful time and one where families get together, sometimes at one of the many lavish Iftar buffets held across Dubai in 5-star hotels. These offer an extensive array of traditional dishes, a chance to try celebratory foods such as slow cooked whole lamb or ouzi, an endless variety of mezze and salad, plus – of course – a dizzying display of desserts. I have visited several and enjoyed my evenings, leaving satiated with food but without any real insight into this month that’s so special for local and expat Muslims. The amount of food waste from all these buffets is also a concern.

Iftar with Frying Pan Food Adventures and Gulf Photo Plus

It took a very different experience in old Dubai to change that. Sitting on the pavement with an orange and some water before me, the urge to peel the fruit was strong and I hadn’t been fasting. In parallel rows on either side of my strip of carpet were hundreds of labourers, sitting cross-legged, shoulder to shoulder in perfect peace. There was no chatter or commotion, just patient contemplation of the imminent breaking of the fast. The air shimmered in the heat of dusk, the warmth of the sun-baked concrete slabs seeped through the thin covering; even among friends this closeness seemed intimate and extremely humbling.  As the sun started to dip and the prayer rang out we all gratefully tucked into our little pile of food including water – this is the first sip of drink these men will have had since about 4 in the morning – laban (a kind of drinking yoghurt), milk, some dhal, samosas and the orange.

After the men had finished eating, they helped to clear the leftover packaging and then left to go to pray and to start an evening’s work.

This tour is not just dedicated to experiencing Iftar, it’s an in-depth guide to this bit of Deira through food with the highly knowledgeable guides of Frying Pan Food Tours plus experts from Gulf Photo Plus on hand to give tips about taking good street photos.  The photography tuition is excellent but having a ‘proper camera’ not necessary at all. A few people on the tour just used their phone camera and one no camera at all, just drinking in the atmosphere and experience without having to record it.  After Iftar the area went back to its usual bustling self, we sampled karak chai, freshly baked bread, other street snacks and ended with a shared meal once again on the floor but this time in comfort (and with air conditioning).

Iftar Frying Pan Adventure

Iftar Frying Pan Adventure

On our first part of the evening strolling around before dusk, we were guided observers in an alien environment; once down on the pavement we became part of the place.

For more information and to book visit Frying Pan Adventures or the Unseen Trails microsite.

Browse the gallery by clicking on an image and using the arrows left and right:

Here are some other ways to experience an alternative Ramadan within the community:

Filling the Blues

Filling the BluesThis is a Ramadan charity initiative started 10 years ago by Dubai-based restaurateur Tahir Shah the founder and owner of Moti Roti. What started as a small way to give back personally, gathered momentum and now sees restaurants from around Dubai involved and giving back. Every evening during Ramadan, a different restaurant prepares food which volunteers distribute to construction workers who are working the evening shift during Ramadan.

“We have a chance to give back to the workers who have built our restaurants, offices, apartments etc. – there is no illusion that we can fix everything for these guys, but all we can show is a gesture saying: Hey, we know you’re there and we appreciate it!” says Tahir. On a recent podcast interview he also mentioned that it’s not just the food that the workers appreciate.  They value the variety of human contact as though they are welcoming new visitors every night; it makes them feel part of the community.

This year in line with Moti Roti opening its first restaurant in JLT, FillingTheBlues will be serving Iftar for workers on a site in cluster L Al Barsha each night of Ramadan.
To take part (organise queues, set up tables, hand out food etc) visit the Moti Roti website or email   Update 2019: Since Moti Roti closed I cannot find any info about Filling the Blues.

Ramadan Sharing Fridges

The Ramadan Sharing Fridge began as an initiative to help less fortunate community workers and labourers to have access to free food and drink during the month of Ramadan.
Under the umbrella of the Red Crescent and in association with Open Arms UAE, that brings together different members of the Dubai community to share a moment together, and to show appreciation and respect for each other. It’s about demonstrating that a small act of kindness can have a positive effect on other people’s’ lives both during and beyond the holy month of Ramadan.

To participate, join the Facebook group here. There’s a map to find your local fridge and advice on how and what to donate to the fridge. Each fridge is emptied and filled up to 20 times a day and are open 24/7 so you can donate anytime. Community workers are around between 8am until 6pm which is when the need is greatest.

Iftar Frying Pan Adventure

My daughter caught me in action on the Iftar tour

World Food Programme for Yemen

Just over the border in neighbouring Yemen, the continued conflict is having a devastating impact on much of the population with children bearing the brunt through lack of food.

As the Holy Month of Ramadan is a time for giving, the World Food Programme invite you to feed a child in Yemen who needs urgent food assistance. The ShareTheMeal app from the WFP lets you share a meal with just a tap on your smart phone. Download and share here

Where to experience an alternative Iftar in Dubai on

Ramadan Mubarak to all who are observing this Holy Month. If you have any special family traditions or foods you like to share I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Have you ever had a memorable Ramadan experience (whether you participate or not)? And please do let me know if there are any other ways to connect with the community for Iftar during Ramadan here in the UAE (or elsewhere).

P.S. Photo credit shared with my daughter – it was such a joy to do this tour with her and to see her interpretation through the lens in some of these pics.











  1. May 26, 2017 1:23 pm

    Wonderful and so lively! Definitely a unique experience.



    • May 27, 2017 7:51 pm

      It really is Rosa – thanks for your comment. As always you are so supportive and kind.

  2. Dave Reeder permalink
    May 26, 2017 1:28 pm

    What I always found strange, in all my years in Dubai, was the conspicuous lack of invitations from nationals to share a meal, either at home during the year or at a communal event during Ramadan. Only once, in all those years, was I invited to an Emirati’s home and then we only sat in the front, walled garden. The closest I got to experiencing Iftar was a picnic in a small park off Beach Road.

  3. May 26, 2017 1:38 pm

    Lovely photographs of a magic experience

  4. glamorous glutton permalink
    May 26, 2017 1:40 pm

    That is so interesting, I’d love to do one of the frying pan tours. Fabulous photos too. GG

  5. May 26, 2017 1:55 pm

    Love the photos, Sally! Hope to do an unseen trail this year!

  6. May 26, 2017 5:37 pm

    Oh my goodness, the memories! I LOVE seeing photos of Deira and Bur Dubai, I love seeing that some parts of Dubai haven’t changed in all these years.
    What a great experience you had 🙂

  7. May 27, 2017 10:32 am

    I’ve always wanted to do a food tour with FryingPan Adventures and I love that they do this one during Ramadan, it’s such a great way to experience the real Iftar and remember that this isn’t just a month of lavish buffets.

  8. The Real Geordie Armani permalink
    May 28, 2017 10:29 am

    Filling the Blues has been moved to Al Barsha, info can be found on Tahir’s site, but there is no space left for volunteers now I am afraid. Lovely write up, Ramadan Kareem x

  9. May 28, 2017 5:22 pm

    I remember Ramadan in Tripoli and Riyadh. Such different occasions in the two countries at the time. I can’t help thinking we missed a lot of Dubai on our last visit…Fryingpan adventures looks like a must!

  10. May 28, 2017 10:10 pm

    Loved this article Sally! Photos are amazing too! Have seen these Iftars in Meena Bazar once.

  11. May 30, 2017 2:24 pm

    A wonderfully thought-provoking post, I love that you have looked beyond the usual list of traditional Iftar foods and really given us an insight into the experience (via that Frying Pan Food Tour which sounds amazing) and also in the introduction to the various initiatives to help those less fortunute, both on the parts of the grand hotels and restaurants, and smaller more local charities. Really interesting to read. Thank you.

  12. LocalChef permalink
    June 14, 2017 4:41 am


  13. June 25, 2017 12:39 am

    Loved the photos and the blog. Good work

  14. July 12, 2017 6:18 pm

    This is what Ramadan is all about! This is a wonderful interpretation of zakaat. I really enjoyed this read! I would love to share this on my twitter feed. My blog isn’t political at all. But my twitter is.


  1. Dubai food – Iftars and Ramadan – May 2017 - The Hedonista
  2. Dubai food – Iftar and Ramadan – May 2017 - The Hedonista

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