UAE expats taste Ramadan traditional sweets, sense of home

Source:AFP Published: 2019/5/30 17:48:39

An Afghan young man carries traditional sweets with a hand cart. Photo: IC

An Afghan woman is making traditional sweets. Photo: IC

An Afghan man is making traditional sweets. Photo: IC

Nida Mohammed drove for more than an hour from Fujairah to Sharjah in the UAE just to buy special Iraqi sweets and juices for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

"Over there (in Fujairah) you can't find Iraqi stuff," Mohammed said, as she picked up her order of sharbet zbeeb, or raisin juice, a special Iraqi drink taken to break the day-long fast.

The oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE) is home to more than nine million expatriates who hail from well over 100 countries and form 90 percent of the population.

During Ramadan, immigrants in the Gulf state reconnect with traditions from their homeland, especially the rituals of breaking the fast and consuming lots of traditional desserts and juices.

Shops like this help "me remember the country we came from," said Mohammed, who made the journey with family members and stocked up on large quantities of Iraqi sweets.

Muslims around the world refrain from eating and drinking, as well as from sex, between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan.

Far away from their homes, many of which are in conflict zones, immigrants still got a taste of their culture from their traditional foods and desserts.

"Every country has its own culture when it comes to their desserts," especially for Ramadan, said Samer al-Kasir, the Syrian general manager of Al-Sultan sweets in Dubai.

"These sweets here are based on Syrian traditions," he said, pointing to a mosaic of sweets packaged neatly in a box.

Men, women and children were seen gazing at the array of items on display in glass door fridges - each took their time before placing their orders.

Decades-old tradition 

The owner of the Al-Rabat sweets store where Mohammed was shopping said he opened the business in 2006 to serve the Iraqi community in the UAE.

Wesam Abdulwahab said: "Iraqis did not have a special place catering to them, so I opened this place... some of the baking is different from other (Arab) traditions".

"Most of our customers are Iraqis. They consider this place one that brings them together. We get our goods from Iraq, stuff that may be difficult to get here," Wesam said. 

For Saad Hussein, the items offered at Al-Rabat, coupled with the spirit of Ramadan, bring back memories from his childhood, particularly a popular Iraqi game called Mheibes.

During the game, men divide into two groups, traditionally from different neighborhoods, and have to guess which member of the opposing team is hiding a ring in their hand.

"During the games, Ramadan foods and sweets are distributed," Hussein added.

Seemingly out of place, yellow boxes of Jordanian Tutu biscuits were stacked near the register and on the shelves of Al-Rabat.

Wesam said that Tutu, although not Iraqi, represent something significant for his countrymen.

During the Gulf War in the early 1990s, he explained that the people had little access to sweets from abroad - except for Tutu.

"Tutu is an exceptional treat that brings back memories of enjoyment for Iraqis," he said.


In the Al-Satwa district of Dubai, Ahmed Naveed from Pakistan stood in front of his family's shop taking orders for different kinds of samosa, which is popular in many Asian countries.

Residents from all walks of life, including Emiratis, stood in line on the busy street to get their fried and baked pastries for Iftar.

Qudsia Osman, who hails from India, was driving past with her mother when they decided to stop at the shop after being drawn in by the sight and scent of the food.

"It's very tempting. When we passed by and saw it, we got carried away with this food," Osman says, adding she is pleased that the UAE included an array of communities to cater to the different cultures.

"I was born and brought up in Dubai... it is my home," she says.

Mohammed Shiraz, a Pakistani who has been living in the UAE for nearly 20 years, also considers the UAE his home.

"The UAE caters to the population," he said, explaining that he enjoys the holy month in the Gulf state for all that Ramadan has to offer and promote.

But for many, although the UAE has become their new home where they have started new traditions, the taste of their home country resonates with them.

"In the old days, it wasn't like now. Food preparation was done at home, including desserts," Wesam said.

"My mom, of course, used to do it," he says. "Her food is still better than anything I've ever had."

Newspaper headline: Fasting with a sweet tooth


blog comments powered by Disqus