No, you won’t find linen-covered tables crammed with food nor people sitting around dates poised on silver trays.
What you will find are mosques – mosques at every corner. Mosques where the common man is queuing up for biryani donated by benevolent companies, foundations or families. Mosques whose pavements are lined with plastic so people can sit cross-legged facing their dates, water and biryani, facing each other as they await the call to prayer in silent unison. Mosques where people invite you to share their food – even if you haven’t fasted all day, even if you aren’t Muslim.
What you will find are aromas. The aroma of mutton biryani devilishly taunting the faithful. The aroma of rosewater swishing about the giant green and blue tubs of icy Jam-e-Shirin sherbet. The aroma of batter-fried bhajjias and samosas, hawked at makeshift street-side tables right before Iftar. The aroma of fresh-baked bread religiously pumped out by fasting bakers in their cramped, oppressively hot bakeries.
What you will find are the faces of common men. Faces with the creases of hardship, doubly deepened after a day of parched abstinence. Faces with the hushed passivity of anticipation, doubly intensified in the last hour before sunset. Faces with the distant gaze of he whose family is miles away, doubly remembered during a month of focused spirituality, devotion and appreciation of life.
Faces without the experience of a lavish hotel buffet, doubly grateful for the food on the ground before them. And doubly generous about sharing their humble meal with strangers like you and me.
What you will find is communion. Communion between men who have never met each other, but share the common bond of one focused on total abstinence. Communion between the volunteers who work tirelessly to distribute food across the Iftar mats. Communion between man and God, with the pious praying fervently under the open skies – Oh Allah! I have fasted for You. in You do I believe and with Your provision do I break my fast,.
The only Iftar buffet that captures the spirit of Ramadan is the one found across many humble parts of the old city. This sweeping statement needs to replace every radio ad that boasts of tents and buffets which aspire to capture the spirit of Ramadan, but suck the essence out of it. This is the only Iftar buffet that sates that spiritual appetite of Ramadan – an appetite for prayer, fortitude, generosity and above all, humility and restraint. This is the buffet whose value will forever exceed even the most ambitious of hotel spreads.
This is the humble buffet of the common man.
I feel privileged that I had a chance to sit at the Old Dubai buffet table this Ramadan with friends at Gulf Photo Plus and with the photographers who attended our collaborative #unseenDXB photo & Iftar walks.