Through the years, we’ve attended a lot of Iftar celebrations and we’ve observed how the city and its people transform during Ramadan. There are a lot of changes that happen especially when it comes to working hours of employees, opening hours of malls and length of prayer times at night. Basically, Ramadan is a religious and cultural experience in itself. As an expat, non-Muslim and long-time resident of Riyadh, we’ve come to notice the nuances that come with the season, particulary during Iftar time. Here are our Top 5 Iftar Scenarios.
To the uninitiated, IFTAR is the time of day wherein Muslims break their fast during Ramadan. It happens as soon as the sun sets and the call for Maghrib prayer begins.
Sambusas and dates are everywhere!
Date is the traditional fruit that’s ever present in Saudi Arabia but even more so during Ramadan. Historically, it’s been said that Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) would break his fast by eating a few dates which has led to its practice among Muslims up to this day. During Iftar, every dining table has a plate of dates and even if you’re out in the streets during sunset, you can expect to see some volunteers in selected districts distributing small boxes to drivers on the road with dates, a small sandwich and a bottle of water.
Sambusas, on the other hand, are fried, triangle-shaped, stuffed pastry that is also a hot item for Iftar. They come in varied stuffings of either ground lamb, chicken or cheese and serve as a great appetizer before any major meal. The lines are long and rowdy for those good sambusa places/bakeries that serve them. My favorite comes from the Damascus Hut Pastry in Umalhammam. It’s flavorful and oily enough to be indulgent. As you can see, the go-to food for Iftar always start with something small and easy to eat.
Restaurants and Hotels = Iftar promos.
Since restaurants are all closed during day time, they use the Iftar as the season’s unique selling point by offering package deals or buffet options for both Iftar and Suhoor (the meal at around midnight). You’ll find our collection of the Iftar promos of restaurants on our Facebook page. Hotels also go all out and compete for the best Iftar buffet in town, adorning their banquet halls with Ramadan-themed decor and with all their staff in full smiles and performing optimum service. If anything, it’s more of like a food festival come Iftar time.
Companies give their employees a treat.
One of the things I personally notice while attending Iftars in hotels is that there are often long tables of people labeled with a company/brand name. Apparently, it’s customary for many companies to sponsor an Iftar evening for their employees during Ramadan as a sign of generosity. At the same time, co-workers finally get a chance to get together and bond outside of the four corners of their offices and enjoy a meal together. Some would even include a raffle draw for them by the end of the Iftar time, often with a big prize like a TV or a vacation trip. You can hear them roaring with applause and cheers on one corner as the winners are selected.
If you are also new to the Iftar scene, you will notice that people start getting food even before the actual call to prayer starts. Fifteen mimutes before Maghrib, a beeline starts to stretch from the buffet line as those fasting prepare their tables full so as to be able to eat right on the dot. People are getting busy to get first dibs and as they return to their seats, it’s not an uncommon sight to see their tables with plates of food and yet they are just sitting around it, possibly chit chatting or waiting in silence until it’s finally allowed to eat. Sometimes, I would see them simply staring at their plate while waiting and then once prayer calls out, yallah akil! (Let’s eat!)
Fellowship is abound.
Whether it’s a group of friends, co-workers and families, without a doubt, Iftar brings people together. You will never see someone eating alone during Iftar, be it in a restaurant, at home or even at the mosque in the corner. Muslims gather side by side and share the blessing of food and it is quite a sight to behold. As the sound of the salah fills the background, I find myself seeing smiles and brotherliness amongst the people around me and I feel fortunate to witness such a blessed moment unfold.
Again, Ramadan Kareem!