ABU DHABI // Raza Taleb was pushing a supermarket trolley weighed down by a mountain of groceries. Peeking through were sacks of rice, several bags of pasta, cans of tomato paste and at least 10 boxes of dessert mixes.
Like thousands of other shoppers, Mrs Taleb, a teacher from Egypt, was stocking up yesterday on food for Ramadan, expected to start in a week's time. "We like to order less and we don't go out much. We cook our meals at home, every day, and so we use a lot more groceries," explained Mrs Taleb, who said she took advantage of promotions at the Lulu Hypermarket at Al Wahda Mall. "That's why you will see so many families out shopping before Ramadan, preparing to fill up their refrigerators and cupboards.
"There are so many dishes I never have time to make during the year but I like to make them in Ramadan. I make a lot of desserts and sweets as well, like basboosa and kunafa. All this requires a lot of shopping." The shoppers laying siege to supermarket food aisles over the weekend would agree with her. Most of those wheeling trolleys out of Lulu had at least one thing in common nestled among their grocery bags - a heavy-looking box emblazoned with a blue "Ramadan Kareem" greeting on a white background.
At Dh180 (US$49), the box of prepacked groceries, dubbed the "Ramadan Kit", was proving very popular. "It's a great deal," said Saif Mohammed, a bank worker, who said he had spent most of his weekend preparing for the holy month. "There are more than 20 items in there, all things we will use in Ramadan for cooking." To be exact, there were 22 non-perishable food items in the box. Mr Mohammed admitted to buying three boxes so far.
"I got one for our home, it's just me and my wife and my seven-year-old son," he said. "The other two I will take to my mother's home, where me and my three brothers all go with our families to have Iftar most of the month." Thousands of other families were filling supermarkets across the capital in readiness for the month. The big chains such as Lulu and the Abu Dhabi Co-operative Society had aisles piled high with Ramadan products, ranging from special deals on cooking oil, ghee and milk.
Many also have reduced prices on soups, lentils, canned products and pasta. The bargains come after the Ministry of Labour ordered supermarkets not to raise prices during Ramadan despite the increased demand. V Nandakumar, spokesman for Lulu, said the special offers were all on items that proved to be most popular during Ramadan. "There is an increase in the purchase of items like dried fruits, nuts, soups, instant drinks like Tang and also instant desserts, like jello and crème caramel, and dumpling mix," he said.
"We make special deals on these items because shoppers flock to them. There are specific meals and desserts that are always more popular during Ramadan." Lina Barakat, a mother of three from Syria who was browsing through the canned products, said her family ate a lot of foul medammas - fava beans - during Ramadan. "Depending on where each family is from will play a part in what dishes are favourites to have on the table during Ramadan," she said. "We like to have foul [salad] as a starter and we make it several times a week."
Nuts and dried fruits, such as dates, apricots and figs, were also a popular purchase, said Yehia Azmi, branch manager of the Co-op in Abu Dhabi Mall. "We have a lot of offers on different brands of dates and nuts. People buy more dates in Ramadan than any other time during the year," he said. The Bateel shop in Abu Dhabi Mall, which sells 17 varieties of plain and stuffed dates, is almost as popular as supermarkets during Ramadan.
"Our sales in the period just before Ramadan and during the holy month go up by approximately 30 to 40 per cent. "Our prices are fixed; around Dh60 to Dh90 per kilo for the plain dates and Dh105 to Dh120 for the dates stuffed with nuts of lemon peel or orange peel, but people are still ready to buy," said Ayman Soliman, Bateel's area manager. The shopping frenzy also gripped Dubai, where supermarkets were crammed with families.
The Carrefour in Mall of the Emirates slashed prices many products and offered special gift boxes filled with food as part of its Ramadan promotion. "We've started stocking up already," said Marwa al Hakim, a mother of two from Egypt, who was filling her trolley with sugar, rice flour, meat and nuts. "There are promotions everywhere, so we're taking advantage of that." Others, including Najla Abou Daud, are willing to brave stores that are expected to be full in the days leading up to Ramadan.
"I will be buying my Ramadan food probably some time next week," said Mrs Saud, who was doing her weekly shopping with her children. "Then I can get fresh products too." email@example.com * With additional reporting by Nour Samaha