The Olympics may be on our television screens but this Ramadan, the real sport is being played nightly inside the halls of hotels and restaurants across the region.
Once confirming your attendance at a buffet, you are officially in training. Like an athlete before the marathon, sleep early the night before so you can manage to wake up for suhoor, where it is greatly advised that you have a light meal and wash it down with water, in preparation. Taking a nap during the day before sunset is also advisable. If you can manage it, a good pre-buffet workout might help in shedding the tummy of calories, which you will pile on later that evening.
Your stomach is going to undergo some serious trauma, so it's best to take the edge off by wearing comfortable clothes. This means loose fitting bottoms, minimal buttons and absolutely no belts. The same casual attention should be given to footwear; sandals and running shoes are advisable. Leave boots or high heels in the car.
Respect your opponent
Not every buffet is created equal. Once you arrive, take a leisurely stroll and give the dishes a casual yet careful once-over. Don't forget to cast a glance over the salad, soup and dessert stations, as they can sometimes be placed in out-of-the way crevices. As well as understanding the layout, the aim of the walk-through is to spot the dishes best consumed immediately as well as those rare or exotic in the region. Once the necessary data is amassed, chew it over back in your chair with a bowl of soup.
Round 1: go light
It's now time to sample what's on offer. This means small portions (one teaspoon or tablespoon) of all sorts of dishes ranging from salads to meats. Beware of stacking too much food on the plate and running the risk of feeling overwhelmed. To counter this early case of the jitters, it's best to place these small dollops in a circular pattern around the edges of the plate. Also, if necessary, complete the sampling round using two or three separate plates.
Round 2: mix and match
A buffet can be one diner's prison and another's playpen. Get all John Coltrane and improvise with your choices. A sashimi sandwich? Why not. Harees as a kebab dip? No problem. Have fun and you may discover new combinations.
Round 3: in for the kill
OK, playtime is over. Time to go for the big guns. I am talking about the beef, the chicken, the lobster and anything that looks pricey. Avoid unnecessary stomach fillers such as biryani, dips or pizza slices and just stick to the wildlife. This round should incorporate at least three visits to food stations for further restocking. Anything less is considered wimping out and your dirhams squandered.
Round 4: dessert
The sweet taste of survival! The desserts are the victory lap and the literal cherry on top. It is at this stage where one can indulge in cream-filled cakes and be seduced by the richness of the Um Ali without a shred of guilt. However, now is also a good time to begin your recovery work by reacquainting yourself with fruits.
Be wary when choosing your dining partner. An ideal buffet colleague must share the same objective, and will rally you to get up when that fifth roast beef strip puts you on the ropes. Avoid fast eaters who do not understand the meaning of lingering leisurely over a beautiful buffet. And above all, avoid health freaks and the judgemental: no one likes a tut-tutter at a buffet.