Ramadan is upon us and with the Holy Month come myriad iftar offerings at homes, mosques, Ramadan tents and restaurants. Traditionally, the fast is broken with dates and a glass of water, which is followed by special Ramadan dishes which vary from community to community. Egyptians may enjoy a feast of ful medames, or mashed brown fava beans with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and spices. Iranians might break their fast with ash reshteh, a kind of noodle soup served with a combination of herbs such as coriander, dill or parsley. The Lebanese among us will most likely fall back on traditional favourites such as hummus and bowls of fattoush.
For Emirati iftars, harees is often a staple. A traditional dish, it's a comforting kind of meat porridge, the basis of which is boiled wheat grains and slow-cooked lamb or chicken. Look out for other favourites, such as lamb ouzi - a spit-roast lamb served with spiced rice. Or the deliciously sweet Umm Ali - a pudding cooked with pastry, cream, nuts and raisins. These, along with plenty of other options, will no doubt be available at iftar buffets across the UAE, where we're spoiled for choice at the country's many hotels and restaurants. So from the grandest of Ramadan tents at Emirates Palace hotel to an art-themed iftar at the Ghaf Gallery, here's our guide to some of the best places for iftar this Ramadan.
The Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi has come up with a great offer this Ramadan. For every person who dines at The Garden restaurant, they'll donate a brick to Abu Dhabi's special needs facility, the Special Care Centre. It's all part of the centre's Donate a Brick campaign for its much-needed new school, so enjoy your iftar, content in the knowledge that you're offering a helping hand. The Garden, The Crown Plaza Hotel Abu Dhabi. (02 616 6838). Dh125 per person, Dh 75 per child, (children under six dine free).
Why not head for the Observation Deck of the Burj Khalifa where you'll be offered complimentary dates and water at iftar? And even though they're not offering a complete buffet, each entrance ticket bought for the At The Top experience this Ramadan handily comes with a Dh50 voucher for the Na3 Na3 restaurant in The Address at Dubai Mall, where they will be serving a full iftar spread. At the Top, Burj Khalifa. (800 28 843 867; www.burjkhalifa.ae) Dh100 per person, Dh75 for children up to 12 years. Fast-track entry tickets are Dh400 per person.
The Al Nafoorah Ramadan Majlis is located at the entrance to the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Boulevard, and boasts an authentic iftar of everything you could wish for - hot and cold mezzes, lentil soup and lamb straight from the live carving station. Tuck into the traditional buffet, smoke some shisha and unwind to the strains of a live oud player. Al Nafoorah Ramadan Majlis, Jumeirah Emirates Towers. (04 319 8088) Dh180 per person, Dh90 for children between the ages of 12 and four. (Children under four dine free).
Mir Amin. A favourite among those in the know, this Jumeirah restaurant serves five-star Lebanese food. Located in La Plage residence on the Beach Road, its iftar buffet includes up to 20 hot and cold mezze dishes as well as five main course options. Lebanese pastries and traditional iftar drinks, think qamareddine (a sweet apricot juice), will be served. Mir Amin restaurant, La Plage Residence, Jumeirah Beach Road. (04 344 9921). Dh69 per person.
For the fourth year in a row, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is offering free iftar meals. Often referred to as the UAE's biggest iftar, it serves up to 15,000 people per day, from workers to businessmen, offering a chance for Abu Dhabi residents to break their fast side by side in the true spirit of Ramadan. Non-Muslims are also welcome. Carpark of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Between the Bridges, Abu Dhabi. (800 555).
The Mall of the Emirates is not perhaps the most exotic location, but it's quite something to break your fast next to an indoor ski-slope. At Sezzam, the buffet on offer changes daily and includes perennial mixed-grill favourites such as okra stew and chicken tagine. Starters range from sambousek to sushi, while live cooking stations serve up everything from lamb ouzi to wok-fried beef with black pepper. Alternatively, the nearby KGrill is offering traditional Ramadan delicacies such as baked hammour in harra sauce, as well as shisha on the poolside terrace. Kempinski Hotel, Mall of The Emirates (04 341 0000). Sezzam, Dh150 per person; KGrill Dh220 including shisha, Dh195 excluding shisha. Groups of 10 and over enjoy a 10 per cent discount.
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding aims to lower the cultural barriers between families and help expats understand the UAE's customs. This Ramadan, they're doing just that with iftar. Visitors are invited to break their fast in the traditional way before getting a rare opportunity to observe the prayer. Then follows a meal of Emirati food straight from the kitchen of the director's mother. Guests are encouraged to ask questions about the Holy Month, and can take a walk to the Bastakiya mosque before returning for coffee and pudding. Places are limited to 60 people per evening, and booking is essential. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, Dubai (04 353 6666). Dh125 per person, children under 12 dine free. Every night except Friday and Tuesday. Visit www.cultures.ae for more information.
The National's very own Emirati etiquette adviser, Ali Alsaloom of Ask Ali fame, has organised four iftars this Ramadan at different locations. First up, he's in Abu Dhabi's Heritage Village, then an Al Ain farm, to Bastakiya in Dubai and then back to Abu Dhabi's Ghaf Gallery for an art-themed evening. At each event, Ali will be on hand to answer any questions you have and talk you through the traditions. Various locations. Booking is essential and you are asked to come dressed in moderate clothing. See www.embracearabia.com/ramadan.asp for specific location details and more information. Dh250 per person.
The One Café is well known for its modern mix of flavours, and the Ramadan buffet this year promises not to disappoint. In addition to a soup station, assorted breads and an array of both traditional and original dipping options (beetroot hummus, anyone?), the buffet also offers salads and vegetarian options, such as radish and broad bean salad with green tahini or marinated aubergine with saffron yoghurt. The hot buffet will feature heartier dishes such as spiced lamb stew with walnuts and pomegranates or artichoke, spinach and goat's cheese tart. Space for pudding? Dig into caramel-pistachio torte or perhaps even strawberry-Oreo cheesecake. The One Café, Khalidiyah (02 681 6500). Dh79 per person with soft drinks; Dh39 for under 12s.
Being the Emirates Palace hotel, this iftar means luxury. In its Ramadan tent, an extensive buffet of international and local fare will be laid out, including food straight from the kitchens of Mezlai, the Emirates Palace's new Emirati restaurant. Cooked by the Emirati chef Ali, the spread is sure to include staples such as harees, fareed, lugaimat and vegetable margooga. Once you've filled up on the food, sit back, have a puff of shisha and listen to live musicians. Emirates Palacel, Abu Dhabi (02 690 7999). Dhs215 per person.