With Ramadan due to begin in a few days, carefully constructed iftar plans are no doubt already well underway in homes across the region. At this time of year, surely one of the many benefits of living in a community as diverse as the UAE is the variety of options available.
While contemporary food and modern menus have their place, during the holy month it is traditional dishes that reign supreme. Tables groan with foul medames garnished with a slick of oil and sprinkling of spices, bowls of hummus are made all the more interesting by the addition of toasted pine nuts and cumin, and manakish scattered with za'atar or glistening with cheese puts a new spin on the dish - not forgetting the delights of hot, roasted lamb ouzi or sweet umm ali studded with pistachios and laced with rose water.
From elaborate buffets in lavishly decorated Ramadan tents to more simple, but no less satisfying, community-driven events, we have rounded up a few of our favourite places to enjoy iftar this Ramadan.
Baker and Spice
For those keen to enjoy seasonal, local produce, Baker and Spice is the obvious choice: the chickens come from Al Ain, the fish and shellfish are sourced from Oman and, where possible, it makes use of the fresh produce grown on farms in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah.
During Ramadan, the café in Dubai's Souk Al Bahar will open from 8pm-11pm, offering a specially designed menu boasting a medley of colourful, flavourful dishes. Make no mistake, this is no ordinary mezze. Choose from red onions stuffed with hummus, pistachios and spices served with green chilli yoghurt; roast cauliflower with raw tahini and date syrup and chilli-sesame carrots with lime juice, to name but a few dishes. Wholesome main courses include kingfish fillet with kalamata olives, homemade gnocchi with local spinach and roast chicken with sumac and za'atar.
In an effort to ease the burden of cooking for a crowd, Baker and Spice is also offering a takeaway service: at the weekend you can order a whole roast local lamb, stuffed with oriental rice and nuts and served with organic tomato sauce and fresh yoghurt to enjoy at home for Dh2,000. (Feeds 10. Orders must be placed 48 hours in advance). Baker and Spice, Souk Al Bahar (04 427 9856). Mezze dishes cost Dh90, including homemade bread, soup and dessert. Main courses are priced individually.
If you find yourself out on Yas Island during Ramadan, there are iftar choices aplenty, not least at Options in the sleek, ultra-modern Yas Hotel. The restaurant is putting on an extensive nightly buffet, offering a wide selection of both international and Arabic fare, everything from chicken tagine to potatoes Lyonnaise, grilled spiced shrimps to lamb fatta. There will also be a freshly carved meat station, where visitors can eat their fill of roasted Angus ribeye beef, rotisserie duck with orange, paprika and sage and Asian-style steamed whole fish.
For suhour later on, guests are encouraged to wander over to Atayeb, the hotel's Arab restaurant, for traditional dishes from Syria, Tunisia and Lebanon. Diners can then settle back on the terrace and gaze out over the marina while enjoying shisha and card games. The Yas Hotel, Yas Island (02 656 0600), Options Dh175 per person; Atayeb prices vary.
For anyone who wants to experience an iftar with a culturally informative slant, an evening spent at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) comes highly recommended. Hidden away from the screeching traffic of busy Bur Dubai and nestled among the meandering lanes, looming wind towers and Arab courtyards of the Bastakiya, iftar at the SMCCU is an interactive experience.
After breaking fast together, guests and their Emirati hosts settle down to a meal featuring traditional dishes such as harees, margooga and luqaimat. The aim of the SMCCU is to promote understanding between residents and Emiratis, so guests are encouraged to ask any questions that they may have about Ramadan or UAE culture. After the meal, visitors are taken on a tour of the Bastakiya mosque, before ending the evening with coffee and dessert in the SMCCU house. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, Dubai (04 353 6666). From August 5 to August 29. Dh135 per person, children under 12 are free of charge. Booking is essential.
The Emirates Palace hotel is a special-occasion destination, so it follows that iftar in the hotel's Ramadan Pavilion will be a suitably lavish affair. Guests should take care not to become too distracted by the opulence of their surroundings, though - the setting features draped curtains, intricate carvings and lanterns casting shadows of light - because the food deserves attention, too. Table after table is likely to be covered in an array of offerings, hot and cold mezze and international fare among them. If last year was anything to go by, it is those dishes prepared under the guidance of the chef Ali Salem Edbowa from the Emirati restaurant Mezlai that will really impress. Ramadan Pavilion, The Palace Terrace, Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi (02-690 7999) Dh230 per person and suhour from Dh100 per person.
Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel
The Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel will celebrate Ramadan for the first time this year by inviting guests to enjoy iftar at Al Bahou. Given the elegant Moroccan-inspired decor, high ceilings and numerous lanterns dangling from the roof, it promises to be an interesting experience.
The buffet menu showcases a wide range of Arab dishes, from hot and cold mezze to a selection of cheeses, mixed grills, a live cooking station offering shawarma and saj manakish and, of course, lamb ouzi. Later on in the evening, guests are encouraged to make their way into the adjacent majlis tent to relax and enjoy the music and selection of games on offer. Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel, Ibn Battuta (04 444 5613). Dh140 per person. Iftar group rates are offered for 100 people or above, starting from Dh120 per person.
Atlantis, The Palm Jumeirah
With its large sofa booths scattered with brightly coloured cushions, billowing curtains and dramatic free-standing lights, an iftar spent at Asateer, the lavishly decorated - not to mention rather large - Ramadan tent at Atlantis is designed to appeal to both old and young.
The tent is set up on the beach, meaning that guests can take in the views of the Gulf or retreat indoors to explore the eight majlis areas. Settle down and play a game of cards or backgammon, listen to the live oud and tableh players or, for some modern entertainment - which children are sure to enjoy - seek out the PlayStations and televisions.
As you would expect, the traditional buffet offers plenty of choice and more unusual additions such as the tahini fountain and the bouzat haleeb station, where you can watch the ice cream being prepared by hand, which adds interest and a sense of fun. Asateer, Atlantis, The Palm (04 426 0800). Dh165 per person. Children below the age of three are free, children between three and 12 Dh80.
An iftar at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque offers a unique opportunity for individuals to experience the collective relief of breaking fast alongside thousands of others. This is generally regarded as the UAE's largest iftar gathering and is frequented by visitors from all walks of life: throughout the holy month up to 15,000 people are provided with a free iftar meal here. Non-Muslims are also welcome to take part in this highly memorable experience. Car park of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Between the Bridges at sunset (800 555). Guests are advised to arrive early, while non-Muslims are reminded to dress conservatively.