Ramadan (in Arabic: رمضان, Ramadān), known as the Holy Month, is an incredibly important period of time for Muslims. Over this time, Muslim’s go without food and drink during daylight hours, forsake desires and often help to improve life for others that are less fortunate, showing a great deal of respect and compassion.
Today was the first day of Ramadan and over the Holy Month, Muslims in the United Arab Emirates will fast for over 15 hours, in temperatures of over 45 degrees celsius. Those not observing Ramadan will show respect to those that are by eating and drinking only in private spaces which means the limited cafes and restaurants that will be open during daylight hours will be shrouded with black curtains and eating/drinking/smoking where someone else might see you is absolutely not allowed.
The morning meal, eaten before dawn is known as Suhoor, whilst the evening meal, eaten after the sun sets is called Iftar. These meals are social occasions, where families and friends come together, united by their faith.
Imagine our excitement when we were invited along to not only our first Iftar but an Iftar preview (fancy, right?)
We were hosted by Majlis Alfareej, a new restaurant that’s opened in the up and coming foodie hotspot, Danat, where they serve Emirati fusion dishes in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.
Iftar (in restaurants) tend to be either set menus or buffets of traditional Emirati food. The food tends to be a combination of beautifully cooked and spiced meat, served with traditional breads and rice. Majlis Alfareej take these traditional meals and put their own special twist on them.
We started with a range of delicious soups – Nathan devoured his broccoli soup (enjoying the little surprise bursts of cheese) and I enjoyed a traditional chicken harees (a wheat and chicken broth) before being offered a range of traditional salads (which came jam-packed with all sorts of goodies, including strawberries and pomegranate seeds).
My favourite dish followed; khameer bread pockets, stuffed with flavourful meats (chicken, beef or lamb) and sauces, served with either Oman chips or fries – we will certainly be back after Ramadan to enjoy these for lunch! Yum.
Dinner came out in gorgeous traditional serving dishes, all with yoghurt and lemon and each one tasty and beautifully cooked. The meat was tender and the rice flavourful without being overwhelming.
Like any good meal, we finished with dessert and were pleasantly surprised by the pistachio cake – it was velvety soft and a lovely light end to our dinner. I’ve never really understood the inclusion of pistachio as a sweet dish in the Middle East but this cake absolutely had me onboard with the idea!
Of course, anyone that’s spent a reasonable amount of time in Abu Dhabi will be familiar with lgeimat; delicious fritters which are a staple over here (and one of my favourite local desserty treats).
Throughout our Iftar we enjoyed a range of drinks, the best of which (in my opinion) was the ‘peachy loody’, an amazing concoction of frozen mango and peach with pomegranate syrup. Honestly, one of the very best things I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. That’s not an exaggeration in that slightest – it was that good!
We’d certainly recommend Majlis Alfareej to others, both as an Iftar/Suhoor option, but also as a great way to experience traditional Emirati food, which surprisingly enough is relatively difficult to come across in Abu Dhabi.
We had a fantastic evening chatting with others that have also made the UAE their home and enjoying delicious Emirati food; what a first introduction to Iftar! We’re booked in to attend another few throughout the month of Ramadan and are looking forward to the food, the socialising and to learning more about the Muslim religion.
Apologies if I’ve made a mistake within this post; I am by no means an expert (in any way, shape or form) when it comes to Islam but I do feel fortunate to live in Abu Dhabi and to be experiencing my first Ramadan alongside my students, colleagues and friends. Living in a country where religion is so closely linked to everyday life has been a real treat – these new experiences are what expat living is all about!