Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Eat a big supper at a luxury hotel? If(tar) you insist

Ramadan, I've been reading in the local newspapers, is a great time during which people spend more time with their families and sit down to evening meals together at the end of a hard day's fasting rather than ordering a takeaway and collapsing in front of the 3m flatscreen.

That may be the case for Muslims, anyway, particularly those who have the good fortune to be living with or near their families.

For us non-Muslim ex-pats, it's a bit different. I'm not going to moan about it, partly because Ramadan is really no hardship for me, and partly because a British woman recently got taken to court for insulting Ramadan on Facebook. But the differences are marked: Obviously we tend not to fast but you have to be a bit careful about making sure you don't eat in public in case someone sees you and is offended. Things tend to be closed and raucous Western-style partying is not as well tolerated, so quite a few people in search of entertainment, us included, give the old Ramadan suppers a go at the local hotels. They're basically the same as brunches, but with a bit more focus on Arabic cuisine and no booze.

We tried the one down our local.  It was rather sweet with delicious food. We were sitting near a man who had clearly been observing the fast as he barely paused for breath between mouthfuls. 

I then got a bit keen on the idea of the Ramadan tents I keep reading about and having purchased a Time Out Dubai we spotted Al Majlis at Mina Al Salaam Hotel, Madinat, which promised an authentic Arabic Iftar experience and a luxurious Ramadan tent.

"That sounds fun," I thought, picturing myself, Sand Warlock and a recently arrived fellow ex-pat who we knew in Blighty, sitting cross-legged on cushions sampling authentic Gulf region delights in between puffs on a Shisha. So we put on our trousers and skirts with the elasticated waists and off we jolly well went.

It turns out that the Mina Al Salaam's idea of a tent is a little different from your average marquee or indeed Millett's camping shop Eurohike job as it looked a little bit, well, in fact, exactly like this:

There were blokes in fezes rambling round lighting and keeping shishas going and sumptuously-attired waitresses looking elegant and not minding in the least when I barged into one of them spilling her glasses of juice because I had fallen into a diabetic coma just from passing by the pudding table.

It was a very enjoyable experience as the food was delicious.  I took care to sample as many Arabic-style things as I could which seemed to largely consist of huge quantities of grilled or roasted meat, including whole lambs roasted surrounded by rice, which I believe is known as Lamb Ouzi, and various couscous or chickpea-related dishes.  Generally speaking, I have found the Emiratis I have met so far to be somewhat acerbic and deadpan (which does make me wonder if I have some Emirati heritage somewhere along the line) so seeing them tuck into large buffet dinners with something that resembles enthusiasm was diverting.

The experience also differs from brunch in that it's in the evening and they play a recording of the call to prayer before everyone chows down.  There were plenty of Gulf Arabs there which suggests that it is at least close to something resembling authentic, however, I'm still in search of a real Emirati Iftar.

Next stop, the snappily named Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding which I am told serves Emirati dishes at Iftar in a wind tower.

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