Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ramadan Ramblings: Eating out

As I've mentioned, it's actually illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public from sunup to sundown during the month of Ramadan. While I'm not sure how strictly it's enforced, I don't plan to test the law any time soon. I did see a man the other day at one of the malls in Dubai eating an apple in public, but didn't stick around to see if any of the security guards talked to him about it. I hope so - I'm guessing he's a tourist and just doesn't know.

Grocery stores are open from 8 or 9am until 1am so there's no worry that you won't be able to find food, but eating out is a bit tricky. Some places still conduct take out or delivery service for those not fasting, so Brian and his colleagues are able to order out for lunch each day. The hotels have 1 or 2 restaurants open for breakfast and lunch to cater to the tourists, so if you look carefully, you can still find a place to have a coffee or lunch. It's been funny to realize how much I 'eat out' during the day, though. A few times per week I either meet someone for lunch or coffee or am browsing in a mall and stop for a drink somewhere - it's one of the ways I pass the time in my unemployed state and Ramadan has illustrated just how much I've relied on that 'cup of coffee'.  The funniest thing is that I think I get irrationally thirsty when I'm out and about simply because I know I can't drink anything. I've gotten into the habit of carrying a bottle of water in my handbag and have taken it out this month for fear that I'll completely forget and take a swig in the middle of the street. :)

Going out to eat is a matter of planning ahead and eating a bit later than usual. As I've mentioned, the meal after sunset is called iftar and the restaurants in town are busy at that time each night with people breaking their fast, so to avoid the crowds, we either go somewhere we know most fasting Muslims won't (like the English pub down the road) or wait until about 8pm after the iftar crowd clears out. So far, we've only been out twice and in both instances, the restaurants were empty because of our timing. And getting there early doesn't help as most places don't open until after sunset and then stay open quite late to compensate.

A bit like Friday brunch, many restaurants are advertising iftar buffets, which we haven't tried yet, but really should before Ramadan is over at the end of August. My understanding is it's a buffet of Arabic dishes, all you can eat, and starts just after sunset. I've also been told that once the 'bell' is rung, it's a bit of a mad dash to the buffet line. :) Some restaurants are also advertising suhoor meals, which is the meal before sunrise (around 4am). I can't even imagine adjusting my sleep schedule to accommodate fasting during the day - I'd be a wreck! (Although I am still planning to try to fast one day this month to see what it's really like - Brian's convinced I won't make it past 10am.)

Alcohol is the same as usual - meaning it's still only served in the hotels anyway. Liquor store timings are a bit shorter, but it's really not that hard to get alcohol here - you just need to plan ahead a bit. There will be a country-wide dry day or two at the end of Ramadan when they celebrate Eid (more on that later this month). I think I've heard that the first day or maybe the first two days of the 3 day holiday are dry - meaning no alcohol is served anywhere. Period.

To make things even more challenging, the humidity has increased significantly in the last week. Last night, the humidity got to 96%!!! Combine that with temperatures consistently hitting 110 or higher each day and you have some really miserable weather!

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