My memories of Ramadan from my childhood don’t really stand out as great ones. Kids are self-centred mini human beings, and I was no exception. It felt like an inconvenience. I couldn’t eat popcorn at the cinema, couldn’t have a refreshing juice at the pool and post-school ice-cream was out of the question. For a good 3 to 4 years during my time at boarding school, I remember Ramadan falling over the winter half-term. At the time, and I feel like an awful human being for saying this, it felt like the worst thing EVER. Let’s all be thankful that kids grow up and learn to care about more than just their immediate needs, myself included.
I am so pleased that I decided to return to Dubai after university, because it is honestly a completely different experience. Ramadan is now a time of year I look forward to. For non-Muslims, it is like the January detox month of the Middle Eastern world. The Holy month is the time when us non-fasters make resolutions, give up alcohol, starts new diets, join the gym, clear out our wardrobes and take up new hobbies. There are even mall-wide sales and what’s great about the Ramadan sales is that if you go during the day, the malls are deserted. Not being able to eat in public, reduced working hours, and no alcohol being served until after 8 actually makes resolutions (especially diet-related) during the Holy Month easier to keep than in January. In fact it’s probably worth giving up on the the January-detox altogether if you live in the Middle East. It never works.
For Muslims, the Holy Month of Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship. It is a family-oriented month, and families will gather every night for Iftar (the meal eaten after sunset to break each day of fasting).
In Dubai and throughout the Middle East, Iftar deals are offered in hotels, restaurants and at special Iftar tents. These organised Iftar feasts are essentially two-hour buffet extravaganzas. The food on offer varies from place to place, but it will almost always have an Arabic selection. Before this week, I had never attended an Iftar. Not out of unwillingness. It had just never happened. So on Monday, myself and a group of friends decided to go to an Iftar together. We chose the one at The Address in Dubai Marina. To fully appreciate the experience, we also decided to try fasting for the day. Believe me – it’s much harder than it sounds. My first mistake: not getting up before sunrise to hydrate and have breakfast. Bad start. During a general working day I don’t usually eat much, so the lack of food wasn’t where I struggled. It was no tea or water that really got to me. A typical Brit, I like to have a bottomless cup of tea at my desk to not only feed my caffeine addiction, but to also keep warm in my positively arctic office.
Moving on. I finished work at 4pm, went home, and to prevent an immediate animalistic fridge-raid, felt my best option would be to have a nap. Good decision. We all met at the Iftar and sat waiting patiently at our table until sunset. I was ravenous. My Iftar experience made me realise that I have absolutely zero buffet technique. Having been to my fair share of brunches in Dubai, I thought I had this stuff sorted, but upon deeper thought realised that my technique is “drink enough to get your money’s worth”. I can conclude that this doesn’t constitute “buffet technique”. Within half an hour of Iftar beginning, I had consumed 3 full plates of food, and was subsequently drawn towards the waffle station by an array of sparkly waffle toppings. I may well have been a Goldfish in a past life . I can honestly say that I have never felt that full in my entire life. I had to slyly remove my belt (a denim jean is not a buffet-friendly outfit choice) at the table, and proceeded to undo my top button once getting into my car. I felt truly horrid.
I have come to the conclusion that, while the food was wonderful, I am not and never will be a buffet person. I don’t eat large meals, so it makes no sense to put myself in that situation. I never want to feel like that ever again. And after my one day fasting experiment all I can say is serious kudos to all of you who commit to that for an entire month. It is not easy, and takes a huge amount of discipline. Luckily my Iftar fail has not put a dampener on the month, and I shall continue to enjoy this time of detox and intense shopping sprees. Ramadan Kareem y’all.