Ramadan 2017 UAE
In June we had the Fasting month of Ramadan in Dubai - that is the time of the year when Muslim people will not eat, drink and smoke from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan depends on the lunatic year and is therefore shifting dates each year. It is a more quiet time here in Dubai with less traffic, less hectic, shorter working hours and therefore more time for yourself and friends. For first timers that come to Dubai I would not really recommend this time for a visit as all the restaurants outside of hotels will be closed during the day and also at night the clubs and live music venues will stay closed (during day time however you can get food inside the hotels/food courts of the Malls and also alcohol after sunset). However for people who know the city already and are open for a different cultural experience it is a nice time to come as you can participate in the daily Iftar meals, when the Muslims are breaking their fast. Many hotels have set up special tents and decorated places for Iftars buffets and the later Suhoors where you can mingle with Locals and Expats and enjoy great food and Sheesha. Show your respect when visiting these places and wear more conservative cloth and you will be rewarded with a great experience.
In terms of Iftars and Suhoors the choice around town is huge and your really have to make your decisions where you will go. Basically all the common restaurants have some special deals for Iftar, but the nicest ambience you will find at the different hotel properties, but these are of course also the most expansive ones with around 200,- AED pp. Iftars start at sunset and lasts for around 90 minutes - be aware that they won't let you sit for longer as they will remove the buffet and prepare the tables for Suhoor (meal before sunrise), which is in most of the hotels a-la-carte and goes over the whole rest of the night.
One of my long time favorite Iftars is at the Madinat Jumeirah Mina Salam Hotel, that is setting up its ballroom every year in an Arabic tent. This year they have chosen a more modern and elegant outlook, but the atmosphere is still stunning and the variety and quality of food is great. The set-up is called Al Majlis and you can book that through the normal hotel reservation number +971(0)43 668 888. There are a great variety of Al Majlis ramadan tents in Dubai, pick yours.
Other really great Iftars you can find at the Atlantis Asateer tent (+971(0)4 426 0800) or at the Palace Downtown Ewaan restaurant (+971(0)4 428 7888). I also had a really delicious Iftar with a twist at the Turkish Ruya restaurant (+971(0)4 3999 123) at the Le Meridien Grosvenor House - here Iftar is served on the table like a Tapas sharing concept and is a great possibility to try out various dishes of their excellent menu. Every year you can also find some new places teaming up on the Iftar Extravaganza like for example the Dubai Opera (www.dubaiopera.com) that did a pretty impressive set-up in the main concert hall. Food was ok, but not the best and for 250 AED pp maybe not as much as in the other Iftars at the big hotels, but the atmosphere and harp player were stunning. Disappointing here was that they charged extra for softdrinks and tea which is normally included plus a whopping 100 AED for the valet parking!
My long time favorite for Suhoor and Sheesha did also not disappoint in this year - The Royal Mirage Palace Hotel (www.oneandonlyresorts.com) has covered their Arabian courtyard with a nice sky ceiling, so you can enjoy your Sheesha and some yummi small plates in a cozy and chilled atmosphere - this place has been always for me my perfect image of 1001 nights.
Apart from the luxurious hotel Iftars it is however also nice to experience the real spirit of Ramadan - which is the concept of giving and sharing with friends and strangers. A very nice way to observe that is a walk through Deira before Iftar time, when things are slowing down and people are getting ready to break the fast. Mosques in this and other areas are giving out free meals for workers and it is an indescribable feeling of peace when you see them sitting on the floor together in total silence and enjoying their food with the later call for prayers from the mosque. A good place to observe all this is at the mass communal Iftar around the Lootah mosque in Deira, which has started with a small Iftar initiative in 1976 and has now become a place to feed more than 5000 hungry souls daily. The workers are provided with water, Labneh (a yoghurt drink), dates, samosas (fried pastry), fruits and the main dish which is a porridge called Kanjii. It is a Hercules task to prepare this meal for so many people - which is done by volunteers in an Industrial kitchen in Al Quoz. The Kanjii has to be boiled over hours - so you can imagine how much heat the cooks have to bear in the kitchen and most of them are fasting as well. Each day around 70 kg of lamb, 135 kg rice and 35 kg of lentils are cooked into 2000 litres of Kanjii.
If you are around there at Iftar you will see that everybody is very friendly - however it is necessary to be respectful here and to keep a polite distance once they start eating. Women should wear a headscarf then - but certainly you will get the best feeling what Ramadan is all about.
Another great way to experience this atmosphere would be by joining a Food Tour from the lovely girls of Frying Pan Adventures who always team up with Gulf Photo Plus during Ramadan and offer combined Photo/Food Tours in that area. With them you get even to sit together with the workers and enjoy the Iftar meal with them - a real priceless experience (www.fryingpanadventures.com)
When I was at the Lootah Mosque to observe the Iftar I took the chance to take a walk to Deira and before also Bur Dubai - an activity that I actually do far to seldom because that is a side from Dubai that seems to be so far away in between all the glittering skyscrapers. However that is actually the side that I like the most of the city - the not so perfect face with all its oriental facets. Here you can get the real characteristic feel from where this city has emerged from.
In Deira you can explore the Souks (Markets) as the Gold Souk and all the streets around there selling cloth, souvenirs, perfumes and many other small treasures.
Afterwards have a walk down to the Creek to emerge yourself in the buzzling vibes of the city. You will see here the old trading Dhows coming from India with various goods and you just wonder how they manage that trip in aspect of their runned down shape. From here you can take a water taxi ride with the traditional Abras for as cheap as 1 AED to the other side - Bur Dubai. Arriving at the textile Souk there is also many items here waiting for buyers.
The neighborhoods of Deira and Bur Dubai are hosting the vast majority of the Indian community living in Dubai. Hidden away in a tiny street in the Textile Souk you can even find a small Hindu temple and the stalls around are selling different items for offerings. This kind of religious tolerance and freedom is one of the main beauties of Dubai.
But coming back to Ramadan now another nice activity for an evening is to go down to one of the six cannon stations that the Dubai Police has placed around town and from where they will fire a shot at sunset to officially notify the community to break the fast. One location is at Downtown Park opposite Burj Khalifa. Be warned the shot is massive - so protect your ears :-)
So all in all it might not be the best time to come to Dubai if you are a visitor - however if you are looking for a different cultural experience with an open mind for sure you will have some great time over here and don't forget that within your hotel life is pretty as always. This year Ramadan was in June so it is hot and outside the main tourist season, but as Ramadan is moving it will already start in the first weeks of May next year - so basically it is coming towards the more pleasant time here in Dubai.
And for all expats among you as you can see there is still a lot of things to do here in the city during Ramadan and 11 month clubbing I would say should be more than enough. I also enjoy Ramadan because I have so much me-time for chilling, reading, do my sport activities and get pampered in my favorite Organic Spa - The Organic Glow Beauty Lounge (www.organicglowuae.com), it has a new location now at Jumeirah Village Circle which is a bit out of town, but their amazing organic treatments are worth the drive.