Muslims break their fast at dusk with lavish Iftars. Join in the feast with these top 10 must-try local delicacies
To save contracting ‘eyes bigger than your belly’ syndrome, it’s customary to gently ease into eating again before the real feasting begins. Salad is a good way of doing this, although the more usual way is to grab a bowl of harira (or lamb, lentil and chickpea soup). Yes, salad and lentils can make you feel as though you’re at a vegetarian convention, but the warming soup relaxes the stomach after a day of fasting and offers a good source of fibre. Alternatively, bilhamoud and shorat are other types of soup made from ground lentils and served with Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese salad.
Milk and dates
It doesn’t sound too exciting, does it? In fact, only eating dry Weetabix dusted with sand could seem more boring. But breaking the fast with milk and dates is perhaps the most traditional method of all, as the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) broke his fast with these humble offerings before praying. They are a regular sight on Iftar tables, and the high sugar and vitamin content has many physical benefits, too.
Parched throats and stomachs demand fresh food that will both nourish and rehydrate the body. Consequently, many of the traditional Ramadan dishes are based on appetising, easily digestible sauces. Therefore, stew is the perfect candidate to tick all of the above boxes. Packed with nutritious pulses and slow-releasing starchy vegetables, it wouldn’t be surprising to sometimes find beef or lamb in there as well – so if any of you thought these picks were getting a bit veggie-heavy, think again.
This local delicacy can be found on Emirati tables throughout the year and remains a regular iftar feature. Shredded pieces of slow-cooked lamb and a mulch of boiled wheat are vigorously pounded together with a heavy stick, or crushed in a wooden press. The heavy starchy mass usually constitutes a meal in itself, but over Ramadan it provides the base upon which other dishes are served, and can sometimes be flavoured with cinnamon and cumin.
One of the more spectacular dishes, this spit-roast lamb isn’t your usual skewered meat getting charred on a barbecue situation; the entire thing is hollowed out and then stuffed with a mixture of minced meat, nuts and rice. A definite must-try iftar dish.
Kepsa bel sanak
Salty fish and seafood are generally avoided during Ramadan as they are thought to make fasters thirsty. Not the most ideal situation to be left in, especially coupled with the intense heat. However, some buffets will feature kepsa bel sanak – a sort of fragrant rice and fish casserole flavoured with cumin and peppers.
Given the desert climate, abstaining from water during the daylight hours is serious business, and refreshing drinks form a crucial part of the iftar dinner. A plethora of multi-coloured liquid delights are on offer to quench the most parched palate. The deep gamet jallab is a mixture of grape extracts, rosewater and sugar, poured over ice and finished off with floating pine nuts. Tamerhindi, meaning ‘Indian date’, is a root-based drink made from the fruit pods of trees native to Asia, and has a distinctive sweet taste. A more substantial drink is ayran, a lassi-like yoghurt-based drink, diluted and then flavoured with mint.
Abstaining during the day not only leaves fasters hungry, but also drained of energy, therefore it’s important to provide a quick fix. Sugary foods give much-needed energy and are an essential part of breaking the fast. Kunafeh is a firm favourite Arabic dessert and consists of a soft white cheese topped with cracked semolina baked to form a hard crust. This is served with a heavy, sweet syrup.
Katyef is a traditional pastry pancake filled to the brim with cream or crushed walnuts and almonds. And, as if it were to be found in a Scottish recipe book, it is then deep-fried and served with syrup, flavoured with lemon and rosewater. Moushabek is another type of fried sweet, but has a distinct round shape to it and leaves of fine filo pastry.
What is suhoor?
Suhoor is a light meal eaten before the sun rises. For some Muslims, it is simply a continuation of the feast from the night before. For others, it’s a chance to grab a bite to eat before a long working day without food or water. The aptly named fattier is commonly eaten at this time, which consists of oven-baked bread with a variety of sweet and savoury toppings.