Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ramadan Ramblings: Iftar at the Fairmont

With less than a week left of Ramadan, we finally made it to our first Iftar. The Iftar is the meal taken at sunset to break the fast of the day. Yesterday, in Abu Dhabi, Iftar started at 6:54pm. We decided to try the Iftar at the Cedar Lounge in the Fairmont hotel. In a nutshell, Iftar is simply a buffet with different foods that you may only see during Ramadan. There is also typically local music - either live or piped in.

We sat down to a small plate of dried dates, apricots and figs and were immediately served water. Traditionally, Muslims break their fast with sips of water and dates in honor of Mohammed, who is said to have broken his fasts in that manner. Then, we were offered "Ramadan juices" of which there were 3: apricot juice, tamarind juice and a third I didn't catch the name of. The apricot was very thick and fresh although a little warm for our tastes. The tamarind juice was my favorite - it was slightly sweet with a hint of Rose essence - very interesting. The third one I don't know the name of was good too - another slightly sweet juice with another flower essence taste to it. Very different from anything I've had before.

The first course was soup and we had a choice of vegetable, yellow lentil or black lentil. We both tried the black lentil and it was delicious. Soup or a light salad is the traditional next course for Muslims breaking their fast. The idea is to start light so you don't freak out your stomach after fasting all day long. I've read that families at home typically have their dates, water or milk and juice, then some soup or light salad and then take a little break before digging into the main course.

Next up was the buffet line, which consisted of cold mezza (Humous, tabouleh, marinated veggies, smoked salmon, babaganoush and more), hot mezza (lamb, beef, chicken, fish, curries, rice, pasta and more) and desserts (chocolate cake, brownies and some Arabic desserts I don't know the names of). It was all Arabic/Lebanese food and there was quite a variety. Much of it we hadn't seen before so tried a bit of everything to take advantage of the situation. And, with any buffet, some of it we liked a lot and some of it not so much.

There were a number of Emiratis in attendance as well and one thing we've noticed is that Emiratis (maybe all Arabs??) tend to either eat with their families or eat in gender groups - meaning a group of men will eat separately from a group of ladies. You don't see many mixed gender groups of younger Emiratis (in fact I can't ever remember seeing this). I think the custom is to separate the genders until marriage as many schools are segregated as well. That's just a rough observation, though, as I have very little opportunity to interact or talk with Emiratis.

So we stuffed ourselves and then headed home. We had the opportunity to continue our evening in the shisha lounge, but neither of us is a huge fan so we headed out. It's very popular to attend an iftar and then hang out smoking shisha and talking until late. The buffet shuts down by 8:30pm, but you can smoke shisha probably up until Suhoor (the meal before sunrise) and then eat again if you wish.

Lots of restaurants also serve Suhoor, but since that starts around 4:30am, we won't be experiencing one of those! :)

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