It’s my eighth Ramadan in Dubai this year and with time have seen the atmosphere gradually change- from a more conservative, reclusive veil that was slowly descending over the city to a more relaxed and permissive vibe.
Yes there are more tourists visiting Dubai in Ramadan each year because they too felt that it’s a great time for booking discounted fares in hotels- although those will automatically jump back up, and higher, in Eid Al Fitr time.
It’s peaceful out here, less crowded, sales and offers everywhere- from clothes to cars, furniture and appliances, there is a lot of soul-rewarding charity work to be done, Ramadan fridges near mosques and labor camps to fill for those in need, fundraisers to attend and generally observing the local culture with an emphasis on religious rituals. The fasting, the family gatherings, the Zakat, the call to prayer that somehow sounds different in Ramadan, it gathers a deeper echo that resonates spiritually even with us, residents and visitors of a different religion.
And yes we can also join in the celebratory breaking of the fast along our Muslim hosts and friends- experiencing Iftar through the hospitality of a local home (the ideal scenario!) or at one of the sumptuous Ramadan tents that rise in gilded extravagance around Dubai, mostly a shining competition among the luxury hotels of the city that spares no expenses. As a blogger and a foodie on mission…I can definitely attest I’ve tried most of the iftars out there! It’s that time of the year when I overindulge in Arabic sweets- and it’s no sheer coincidence a Ramadan dessert spread is the first picture of this post! Cheese kunafa, Umm Ali bread pudding, baklava, aish el saraya infused with orange blossom water and cardamom…can’t stop- won’t stop- it’s a honey-dipped addiction.
These are my unbiased findings:
Best Food: for a real taste of Lebanese ummas kitchen, Tawlet Souk Al Tayeb by Inked, Al Serkal Avenue.
Ok, loved the feeling of the communal table – sitting elbow to elbow with strangers in the spirit of Ramadan sharing (if only some of the strangers wouldn’t be gossipy bloggers and influencers openly roasting everyone’s outfits- while themselves bedecked for major show off…and taking ages with their Instastories while queuing up at the buffet!). But the food just tastes so special…literally homemade by loving motherly hands. And the ladies are just adorable, sweet shy smiles, filling our lined-up plates with their delicious dishes.
Yeah, that’s me shamelessly piling up my plate with zaatar and pumpkin bread, fattoush salad and lentil stew, and still leaving space for dessert!
Runner up: The Palmery, Al Naseem Hotel: great choice of appetizers, mains, live stations, desserts…and all exceptionally tasty. Tagine, couscous, lamb ouzi, UmmAli…it’s all there with prime ingredients. Kind and helpful staff. Note: soft drinks and tea not included in the Iftar price, which is kind of weird. Had to fight off my bill a cup of mint tea (boiled water with fresh leaves, priced 40 dhs- 11 $ people!) otherwise all fine & dandy, great seating areas and a lovely terrace.
Second Runner Up: The Courtyard, Al Manzil Downtown Hotel: this gem has totally replaced Ewaan at The Palace Downtown in my book (food is still good there, but the hospitality and service plummeted, the place is overwhelmed and overcrowded with corporate Iftars & Suhoors. RIP good vibes).
The Courtyard has a more intimate and cosy feel, a tasty buffet spread, prompt service and soft lighting to help you relax and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. After your meal you can retreat on one of the sofas and enjoy mint tea and shisha with this soothing fairy-lights view.
Most Meaningful Experience: Emirati Iftar at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, Bastakiya, Old Dubai
First of all it’s nice to do the drive all the way to Bur Dubai when you’re living on the other side of town: a change of scenery and mood, like you’re crossing into another country– gone are the skyscrapers, the shiny glass and steel facades…and in with warm, earthy colors, sandstone and terracotta, dwellings of an older time. Finding the Sheikh Mohammed Centre will take you to the heart of the heritage-rich Al Fahidi neighborhood, with its maze of alleyways, mud-and-coral houses cooled by wind towers, art galleries, and the oldest building in Dubai, the 18th century Fort and defense post, converted nowadays into the Dubai Museum.
The SMCC offers everyone the chance to grasp a better understanding of local traditions: we could virtually ask our Emirati host anything, from the meaning of kandoura colors and camel racing to deeper subjects such as Islam, the practice of fasting, marriage and women’s role in the Muslim society…and so on. We were invited to observe the sunset prayers, and free once again to inquire according to our curiosity. After pleasant talks we were invited to help ourselves from the traditional food spread, while drinking aromatic Arabic kahwa, followed by an explanatory visit to the nearby mosque.
Food is revealed and described- be it the community feel, it tastes delicious! Every guest- tourists and residents alike- enjoys filling up its plate several times- there is no formality, it all feels like a friendly get-together.
Ramadan Tents- The Good, The Fancy and the Plain sooo Extra
Looking for a fancy affair, to impress guests and let them have a sweet taste of Oriental flavors? You can’t go wrong with an Iftar or a Suhoor celebrated in one of the glitzy ballrooms set up across the most famous hotels in Dubai.
Personal favorite: One & Only Royal Mirage, Ramadan Tent at The Palace– it instantly delivers you into the magical atmosphere of a Moroccan riyadh, with a Thousand and One Nights storyline.
Well, back to Dubai 2019 once you’re reminded of the 50 dhs per person cover charge – but don’t let that ruin your magic carpet ride. Order some tasty mezze and puff away on your shisha fragrant smoke comfortably lounging atop pillows on a traditional carpet. Well, not on a Thursday eve or on a Friday…when it’s kinda hard to relax among people wrestling for tables and you have to get really creative for the waiters’ attention.
The Majlis, Madinat Jumeirah : always a special occasion, it’s glamorous and vast…but be prepared to wait for a long time if you left your car at the Valet parking- better yet, come by taxi. Still, a sight to behold. Everyone is dolled up- ladies dress to impress, in their best kaftans and abayas – rule of thumb, never have exposed shoulders or knees when visiting a Ramadan tent, it will get noticed and you will be given a shawl to cover up.
Asateer Tent, Atlantis The Palm: this one needs no introduction, as it’s the supreme ritz and glitz of Ramadan tents in Dubai. I don’t find the food that great though, and being a huge tent that can accomodate double-decker bus-worthy groups…come prepared to squeeze a bit while queuing up for your meal. But yeah, take your guests there and watch them try to act unimpressed, take a few more steps, look around…and yeah, surrender to being officially blown away.
Sorry, but not worth the hype (and really, payed-of websites recommending these?!) :
Dana Tent, Citywalk: for suhoor, minimum spend required is 150 dhs per person WITHOUT SHISHA. REALLY ?! What if I just got up after a rich and wholesome iftar meal and just want to relax with a Moroccan tea and smoke a grape-mint narghilè while listening to soothing music and playing tawla with my friends?! Forced expenses, especially in the holy month of Ramadan, feel just wrong to me.
Layali Tent, Shangri La Dubai: a pretty sad improvisation of a tent right across the parking. Looks cramped and hastily put-together, with luxury hotel prices. You’re better off at Reem Al Bawadi in Sheikh Zayed Road.
Majlis at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel: average food, low vibes…and parading coconut- and – cocktail juice carts at extra cost (made no sense and give no points for the effort!). Bright lights amd inquiring eyes. Over-staffed and under-vibed, if I can baptize it this way.
Ramadan Etiquette 101
I often joked around my friends that Dubai is the only place in the world where you can see The Most Covered Woman and The World’s Skimpiest Woman walking side by side! Where? At the shopping mall for example, in a hotel lobby or even on a beach boardwalk in Jumeirah. A lady in floor-grazing abaya, proper hijab and even the face-covering niqab, crossing paths with a freshly-tanned beach bunny, wearing a see-through tank top or beach kaftan over her swimsuit, half-buttock daisy dukes shorts, slinky silhouette propelled forward onto platform heels.
There is a thing called modest fashion and the most conscious ladies, we’re talking non-Muslim here, embraced it through the month of Ramadan. Sure, no one’s gonna walk straight to you and call you out as under-dressed harlot (or at least I personally haven’t witnessed it around me!) – but you might feel the weight of others’ looks upon your exposed parts…and it’s not the best of feelings no matter how thick-skinned you may be.
So yeah, every year I bring forth my Ramadan wardrobe and enjoy the change in style, the comfortable concealment. Tourists? Welcome as ever to make the most out of their Dubai holiday, enjoy the beach, the special atmosphere: and honoring the local culture with positive awareness and common sense. Ramadan Kareem everyone!