By the time you read this, there’s a good chance you may already be fed up (quite literally) with iftar food. But before you throw down this copy of Time Out, sick at the very thought of gorging yourself come sundown, keep in mind that iftar is a time for friends, family, neighbours and strangers to come together (not just about eating). Though five-star hotels are second homes to many foodies in Dubai, the iftar feast traditionally takes place at home, which is why we thought we’d consult the culinary expertise of Chef Mehmet Koyuncu of Ottomans restaurant for some DIY iftar tips.
As you might well guess from the name of his restaurant, Chef Mehmet is an advocate of Ottoman-style cuisine: ‘Ottoman food involves a lot of slow-cooking of meats, nuts and fruit,’ explains Mehmet. ‘Turkish cuisine, meanwhile, is more of a combination of Arabic, Greek and Mediterranean cuisine – practical foods.’
However, the chef believes that Ottoman cuisine is back in vogue in Turkey – especially now it’s Ramadan: ‘Ramadan, as in many other Muslim countries, is very special in Turkey. The iftar features a lot of slow-cooked foods since many old housewives and mothers can prepare the food [in the morning] and by the time it is iftar, the food is ready. In my house [in Turkey], we often prepare 13 or14 different types of foods – you can eat anything you want!’
Like all practising Muslims, Chef Mehmet’s daily fasting ends with the breaking of fast. However, he has very strong views about the best way in which to approach an iftar: ‘Never start off with lots of heavy foods. This will only hurt you, since you spend the whole day fasting. Lentil soup is the staple of many households, but there’s also yoghurt soup, tomato soup. However, in Turkey the main one is lentil soup, so start with this, wait for 10 minutes, then move onto something a little bit heavier.’ Ah, much like a brunch; duly noted. ‘Desserts are also very important – you have to have desserts to keep the blood sugar up,’ he says. As if we needed an excuse.
It’s clear that Mehmet relishes the breaking of fast, which must make Ramadan all the more difficult for him – how does he cope with spending all day preparing food while he’s fasting? ‘Yes, it’s quite difficult,’ he says, ‘but it’s only one month – you get to eat food every other day of the year, so you just have to get on with it.’
Chef Mehmet’s iftar philosophy is very much reflected in the dishes he prepared for Time Out (opposite). Since Dubaiains don’t really have a great deal of time on their hands, Mehmet has drawn up three quick and easy recipes; his fondness for light, dairy-based dishes is evident in the haydari starter (a refreshing prelude to the mains and a gentle way to reintroduce the stomach to food after a day of fasting) and the firin sutlac (or, to put it another way, rice pudding).
All the dishes, starter, main and dessert are delightfully simple to make and delectably tasty to eat – key ingredients, says Mehmec, to a good Ottoman iftar.