Dear Restaurants & UAE PR,

I woke up this morning to an email which spoke about ‘rolling out the red carpet’ for a ‘lavish Iftar Buffet’ that included “juices, dates, nuts, salads, pickles, cold and hot mezzeh, soups, breads, variety of main courses comprising Arabic mixed grills and irresistible seafood, meat and vegetable dishes as well as multiple live cooking stations. Desserts include a delectable selection of Arabic sweets, pastries, and fruit.”

Is there anything it doesn’t include?

Maybe a teaspoon’s worth of understanding about what Ramadan is all about.

I am sickened by emails about grand wasteful Iftars catering to the elite. Let’s call them everyday-Friday-brunches, shall we? Or stuff-your-face-a-thons?

But please don’t confuse them with Iftars for Ramadan, a month which is about “purification; that it intensifies faith; that the experience of hunger allows one to develop compassion for those who unwillingly have to go hungry; and that it empties the believer of his or her ego, in preparation for receiving the Divine Word, for a cup that is already full cannot receive water.” (edX, Islam Through Its Scriptures)

With the fountain of juices flowing at red carpet buffets, I doubt water is the drink of choice anyway.

Keeping your business financially afloat during Ramadan is important, we all have companies to run and salaries to pay. If you really aspire to capture the essence of Ramadan while staying profitable in Ramadan, push yourself to think outside the banal buffet construct:

  1. Plan thoughtful à la carte menus that showcase traditional specialties of the month, not every possible dish crammed on a buffet table. Reduce wastage, reduce cost, serve fresher food.
  2. For every guest attending, add an additional AED 50 to his meal price to pay for the meals of fasting workers at a mosque in Old Dubai. Those mosque Iftars incidentally involve 1 to 3 dates, water, laban, an orange, a few apple wedges, 2 samosas and a plate of biryani. Yep, that’s it. It’s one quarter plate equivalent of the 6 plates you’re going to have guests heaping up at the stuff-a-thon buffet tables.
  3. Leftover food at the communal mosque Iftar that I typically visit is collected where possible so it may be reused. Food leftover on buffet dining tables should be weighed and charged to the guest. The funds could be donated to the underprivileged or at the nearest mosque.
  4. Small touches – print out small table cards with Ramadan facts. E.g. people like to break their fast with an odd number of dates because that was the tradition of the Prophet. Or that the word Ramadan derives its root from the word for ‘scorching.’ Iftar should be about food served with a generous helping of cultural and religious awareness.
  5. Hunt down charity and waste management initiatives by other exemplar businesses or individuals. Moti Roti’s Filling the Blues program, Emirates Palace’s food waste management , DWTC’s post-iftar waste management effort with help from the Royati Family Society or the excellent Sharing Fridge community initiative. Get inspired, take action.
  6. Continue adding to this list yourself. Get creative. And by that, I don’t mean adding another dish to your lavish line-up.

Food Bloggers who’ve posted about Iftar buffet previews, I’m disappointed and embarrassed to be part of the community this month. It’s your responsibility to understand the true meaning of the season rather than pandering to an inbox of free invites. Many of you have not only condoned – but worse, created awareness – for exactly the kind of experience that runs counter to the purpose of the Holy Month.

Buffet Diners, your money supports this mockery of what Ramadan is meant to be. There’s no excuse for ignorance – shift your time from scanning through a list of potential Iftar buffets to scanning through a list of charities that your buffet budget can support instead. This may not buy you ‘irresistible seafood’ nor a ‘delectable selection of Arabic Sweets,’ but you will feel more fulfilled and blessed than what any buffet can hope to make you feel.

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

15 thoughts on “Dear Restaurants & UAE PR,

  1. GeordieArmani says:

    Well said, I to busy with #fillingtheblues at night to be bothered with Iftar. I will admit that I went to a pre ramadan iftar, the rest I have declined. Never been my kind of thing.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Geordie Armani – the work you and the other volunteers do at #fillingtheblues with Moti Roti is commendable and an example of how to get involved in a way that truly reflects the values of Ramadan. I look forward to being there this week.

  2. Rupal @Foodienfabulous says:

    I’m so so so glad you finally wrote this like only you could Arwa! I’m not Muslim, but never in any of our Hindu festivals even would we ever think this kind of extravagance is acceptable. Festivals teach us to be grateful for what we have and to share that with those less fortunate. It saddens me that more bloggers haven’t taken a stand and are doing “iftar previews/reviews” not realizing these are nothing but glorified brunches and completely against the spirit of Ramadan. I may be a small peg in the greater scheme of things, but I sure have stayed away from these for all these years I have lived and blogged in the UAE.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Rupal, thanks for reading the post. All religions say practically the same things – be humble, be considerate of the less privileged, don’t be wasteful – it’s people who lose sight somewhere along the way. Thanks for taking a stand – no small peg is too small to make an impact.

  3. Sally - My Custard Pie says:

    This needed to be said and by someone who understands the meaning of Ramadan. As always I have learned from this post. Your clarity of vision and brave voice is a guiding light.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Sally, always value your feedback. I’m glad that this post resonated and could help reinforce what Ramadan is truly meant to be. Look forward to experiencing Iftar in Old Dubai with you soon!

  4. Nick says:

    THANK YOU for this blog post – I’ve got my own in drafts that I was mulling about posting, but so glad that you got this up.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Nick, really looking forward to reading your post. You always say things like they need to be, frank and honest.

      (PS – on a lighter note, I LOVE that you have Didi as you profile picture!)

  5. Sherry says:

    Awesome post – I received so many invites for suhoor which clashed directly with Tarawih prayers – if I have to get home, cook iftar, do prayers and still go out to a tent at 9.30pm, when do i actually pray, sleep and still wake up for suhoor properly as is the sunnah. Iftar I can accept in moderation (Thanks to places like Dish who do on the table dishes in moderation) but someone needs to educate people that staying up all night to eat suhoor and doing shisha in a tent has nothing to do with Ramadan. Suhoor is just before dawn but the UAE PR are too scared to educate their clients what this season really means and what rituals we follow. Traditionally we break fast with friends and family and post iftar we do prayers and get enough sleep to get up just before dawn to eat, pray and do justice to our jobs the next day. Its sad to see well established brands in the UAE having no clue about Ramadan and equally clueless PR companies going along with it. Meanwhile, highly recommend places like dish that serve enough food on the table to ensure there is no waste.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Sherry, thank you for reading this post and sharing your own experiences. I’ve thought about exactly the same thing – how on earth do you cram an Iftar tent in given all the other (more valid) priorities of the month?! Thankfully I don’t have to figure out the answer to that one. I also recently found out – after growing up in the city – that suhoor parties started at 11pm! I never knew people had suhoor parties (clearly I live under a rock) – I just assumed everyone wakes up in their home and does something simple with the family, it’s hard enough to keep your eyelids open at that time.

      Will need to check out Dish, thanks for the recommendation.

  6. Adla says:

    I too find it disturbing that the very essence of Ramadhan is made a mockery of through such wastage. may the change begin through voices like yours. Thank you for doing your part.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Adla, thanks for reading the post. I hope change is on the horizon. It’s heartening to read about government or hotel initiatives to reduce waste as well as community volunteer efforts that reinforce the spirit of Ramadan. May many more return to the original way of practicing Ramadan in the seasons to come.

  7. FooDiva says:

    Well said Arva. Exactly why I don’t run iftar previews or attend any media invites. Al Serkal’s initiative with Elements #thisisnotabuffet (as is Ghaf’s) shows how creative one can be whilst still keeping wastage to a minimum. It’s been a long time in the making but I am working on a campaign to minimise food wastage across hotels/ restaurants in the UAE throughout the year not just Ramadan, in the hope that by creating more awareness and sharing best practice (given some hotels are making inroads) we can make a step change towards zero food wastage – or at least reduce it significantly.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      FooDiva, thanks for taking a stand by not running Iftar previews. It’s great that influential bloggers like you and Sally have stayed away from this – I hope it sets an example to the rest. The campaign on reducing food wastage sounds like a much-needed initiative – excited to learn more once this is launched.

  8. Rohit says:

    I’ve resorted to sending your rant to some PRs because it’s less offensive than some of the stuff I say. I’m a bit more unhinged, I guess…
    I can’t agree with you more Arva, but I can’t help but look at this ‘band of broth-ers’ expressing solidarity and be sad and proud at the same time. Sad that no matter how much we try, the commercial engine that is Dubai will never stop. We are but small fry who enjoy the non-commercial simple things in a sea of big fish looking to commercialise those very things with a rabid vehemence. It’s an ever-receding pocket of goodness. Phrases like fresh, organic and healthy have been so bastardised that no one knows what they mean anymore…
    But I am proud that we exist, because if we disappear into the woodwork, then that would be an even bigger loss.
    Thanks for the open letter! Salud


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