Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 September 2019

Emirati family break bread and cultural barriers with iftar invite

The Al Mansoori family gave dinner guests from Romania and the Czech Republic a rich taste of Emirati culture

A welcoming Ras Al Khaimah family turned an iftar invitation into a chance to not just break their fast, but to break down cultural barriers.

More than a dozen members of the Al Mansoori family - spanning three generations - embraced the Ramadan spirit by broadening their horizons and opening up their home to a pair of expatriate dinner guests.

The multi-cultural melting pot was cooked up after the family decided to take part in the Emirati Values Iftar Initiative, set up by the Federal Youth Authority to help educate residents about the UAE traditions and bridge the gap between Emiratis and foreign nationals living in the country.

Family members gathered on Sunday to set out the iftar table and cook traditional Emirati meals for guests who travelled from Dubai, but whose own journey to the UAE has come via Romania and the Czech Republic.

Iftar host Hajar Al Mansoori, 28, didn't think twice she was spotted an Instagram post promoting the community-spirited scheme.

“Without thinking I immediately went to the initiative website and signed up as a host,” said Ms Al Mansoori.

“I filled the application and added the preferable date, language and the guest's gender. When I received a reply back from the authority I felt intimidated and excited at the same time.

“I have never invited strangers to our house before but I had a good feeling about it and my family welcomed the idea.

“What’s better than sharing a meal with others during the month of giving, and not any meal, it’s one that is part of our identity.”

Jana Vintrova chats with Dr Khaled Al Mansoori during an iftar held in Ras Al Khaimh which served up plenty of food and friendship. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Jana Vintrova chats with Dr Khaled Al Mansoori during an iftar held in Ras Al Khaimh which served up plenty of food and friendship. Chris Whiteoak / The National

It was an evening that turned Denisa Fainis, originally from Romania, and Czech native Jana Vintrova, who signed up to be dinner guests, and their hosts from strangers into friends.

Ms Al Mansoori lives with her parents in Al Nudood area, she has five brothers and four sisters, three of the sisters came with their daughters to take part in the special occasion.

“They were all excited and nervous as they wanted everything to be perfect,” she said.

Ms Al Mansoori’s mother Fatima Al Mulla prepared the food with some help from her daughters.

Ms Al Mulla started her day by mixing, stirring and setting the fire under many cooking pots containing authentic Emirati dishes such as the well-known harees, which is a slow cooked porridge-like dish made from boiled cracked or coarsely ground wheat berries mixed with meat or chicken.

“Harees needs more cooking time than the other Emirati traditional dishes. That’s why I start preparing it first,” said Ms Al Mulla, 65.

“It’s a very special dish that we serve during occasions and one of the famous dishes in Ramadan.”

Besides the harees, Ms Al Mulla prepared lamb stew, chicken biryani prepared with special Emirati spices mix, luqaimat, a deep-fried dough soaked in date syrup, and sago, which is a sweet and spice-infused pudding.

The guests were welcomed by the female family members upon arrival and were escorted to the main majlis where they enjoyed the Emirati hospitality and were engaged in a friendly conversation, introduced themselves to the family and expressed their appreciation for the invitation.

“It is a great opportunity to get to know the Emirati culture and traditions up close during the month of Ramadan,” said Ms Vintrova, 35, who moved to the country in 2017.

“It is the first time for me to enter an Emirati house, try their delicious local food and experience the Emirati hospitality. I’m grateful for the initiative which allowed me to have this lovely time and get spoiled by the local’s generosity.”

Ms Fainis, 31, who moved to to Dubai in 2007, said the iftar offered a great insight into the Emirati way of life.

“As foreigners, we don’t have a lot of access to the Emirati culture. So it’s a great way to enter into this culture to see how they live and how their houses are decorated, taste their local food and feel their spirit.”

Denisa Fainis (right) and Jana Vintrova embraced Emirati traditions during the iftar in Ras Al Khaimah. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Denisa Fainis (right) and Jana Vintrova embraced Emirati traditions during the iftar in Ras Al Khaimah. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“Today we made new friends and we invite them to our countries,” said Ms Fainis.

After Maghrib prayers, the guests were invited to the Iftar dining table, decorated with silverware and candles, where they were introduced to the local food and received a plate of dates for starters, along with water, soup and freshly made yoghurt and mint drinks.

The atmosphere was full of excitement around the Iftar table with friendly chats where both the guests and the hosts shared their culture, traditions and values.

The guests were told about the importance of Ramadan and its traditions, and were offered sweets, traditional Arabian coffee and had the chance to sample the Emirati fragrance of bakhoor after the Iftar.

“We are all happy and glad that we had the opportunity to host people from different nationalities, introduce them to our lives and make new friends,” said Ms Al Mansoori.

“I encourage all the young Emirates to do the same and live this wonderful experience without hesitating, and would love to see more initiatives like this all around the year not only in Ramadan.”

The initiative has been promoted by Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation and the wife of Sheikh Zayed, the country's Founding Father.

Updated: May 28, 2019 03:40 PM