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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.