Dine Like a Raj During Ramadan (in the UAE)

It is the holiest month of the year (the 9th month of the Islamic calendar)- a time when devout Muslims are expected to rigidly reexamine the tenets of their faith and demonstrate their steadfastness to the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings by fasting from sunrise to sunset. For non-Muslims who visit Dubai, perchance, during this month, it can be an opportune time to experience the rich tapestry of Arabian life.  I would recommend that you do consult local guidebooks and confer with friends on expected behavior during Ramadan, but this shouldn’t preclude you from abandoning yourself to lavish traditional meals in grand settings.

Most hotel establishments and restaurants have exclusive Ramadan deals on offer, aiming to tempt and tantalize even the most ardent dieters with a smattering spread of Arabian delicacies. These venues purposefully attend to tourists’ palettes, specializing in a range of “Suhoor” menus. Suhoor, recognized as the morning meal during Ramadan, is typically consumed by Muslims before sunrise. Suhoor tends to be the heartiest meal of the day, intended to provide sustenance until sunset, at which time the fast is broken.

Restaurants’ interpretation of Suhoor varies; veering from conventional to unconventional- transforming what is considered to be a humble morning meal among Muslims into an extravagant “second dinner”.  Suhoor, along with iftar (the meal that signifies the end of the fast) are representative of some of the finer aspects of Arabic tradition. Most establishments proffer suhoor after 9 pm and will keep their kitchen doors open until 1 or 2 am, making suhoor an assured highlight of the holy month.

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Ramadan can actually be one of the most demanding times of the year for chefs as both Muslims and Non-Muslims alike, flock to restaurants for reinterpreted local cuisine.

For a memorable suhoor with the Dubai fountains as a backdrop, visit the Arabian restaurant, Ewaan, which is housed within the Palace Hotel. The Palace Hotel in downtown Dubai, is an opulent 5 star hotel that promises its clients an unforgettable sojourn. Surrounded by the Burj Khalifa Lake with visually arresting views, guests can experience the feeling of a true oasis set in the desert and salivate over meals cooked with true Arabian flair.

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Suhoor menus are generally inclusive of non-alcoholic drinks. There are “set”, as well as, “a la carte” menus to choose from. For approximately $50-75, you can sit down to an Arabian meze. The term meze (or mezze) which means “selection of small dishes” has Greek, Turkish and Persian roots and is comparable to eating carefully curated tapas at a Mediterranean restaurant. It is a great way of enjoying a bit of everything. The Meze tradition, like the breaking of fast, is unabashedly about friends and family sharing food and drinks in an unhurried environment and giving thanks.

Staple meze dishes at an Arabic restaurant include both hot and cold appetizers. Although there is no set pattern to the dishes, generally, meze in the UAE commences with a round of cold small plates such as hummus, moutabel (spicy eggplant dip, similar in texture to hummus), olives, and stuffed vine leaves (grape leaves stuffed with rice and bits of ground beef)- all served with plentiful portions of warm, airy pita bread.

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No sooner have you nibbled on the first round of savory appetizers, does the second round of appetizers make its way to the table. The hot starters like fried kebbeh (The UAE take on the “meatball”, made with bulgur wheat), cheese sambousek (baked or fried cheese pastries), and spinach fatayer (mini spinach pies) are perennial favorites.

Ewaan restaurant has perfected the leisurely summer tradition of grilling- firing up family size portions of baby chicken and lamb, laced with fresh herbs and spices in addition to lemon tinged hammour kebabs- all served with generous portions of Arabic rice.

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Yet, the crowning jewel of any Suhoor meal is the dessert. Traditional Middle Eastern desserts, infused with local flavor, such as baklava and halavat bel jebeh (sweet cheese rolls) make for an uncomplicated finish to any meal.

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If you fancy wrapping up your evening in a cultural pastime, you can indulge in the Arabic tradition of smoking shisha.  There are 10 or so fragrant flavors to sample within the confines of your own majilis (private tent)- ranging from mild and honeyed to bold and distinctive.

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For an enhanced shisha smoking experience, sample the double apple mint, a best seller amongst experienced shisha smokers. The ineffable sweetness in the air, produced by the smoke of a shisha pipe would cajole any non-smoker to partake in this magical elixir. Yet, please be forewarned that smoking shisha is more detrimental than smoking cigarettes- often containing 36 times more carcinogenic tar than cigarette smoke.

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So, if you are a “gastronomical foodie” like me, then there is no need to wait until Ramadan 2016 (projected to begin on June 6, 2016) to sample exceptional renditions of Arabic fare. There are a plethora of restaurants housed within the Palace hotel, in addition to Ewaan, that offer innovative menus, showcasing vibrant traditional dishes to suit every palette preference. Round up a group of your dearest friends and come dine like a Raj in Dubai!!!!

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