Tag Archives: Iftar

Stuck in the Middle with You

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This is the time of year when I need an extra bit of patience and a game plan to get me through each day here.

I’ve gotten into the routine of wearing an abaya, not being able to drive and at the mercy of  some scary taxi drivers.  I’m used to not being understood, constantly repeating myself and speaking in three languages just to find a spray bottle in the supermarket.

´Spry? Ah, you wanting Sprite?´

 ´No, I don’t  want a drink,  I want a plastic, you know, um, Choof! Choof!Choof!´  (as I pull an invisible trigger and make a fool of myself in aisle 3 ).

After three months I also got into rhythm with prayer time and kind of knew how things worked around here until Ramadan came along.

My choppy sea existence turned into a tsunami.

Everything around here opens and closes at will.

If you’re like Jarir Bookstore (the local haven for expats needing a good read and more art supplies) you have a website with Ramadan timings posted.

Thank you.

If you’re a small business, the corner shop, pharmacy, mall, I may not know when you open because there are no White Pages and if I do have  your number, you can’t see my sign language when I try to explain what I want.

It’s easier for me to just sit at home and wait until 7pm when Riyadh comes back to life but by then Wallace is home, he’s hungry and just wants to settle down for the evening. In my other life I’d just hop in my car and go where I want when I wanted to but here I’m not going out on my own after dark.

This is also the time of year when expat clubs close down over summer and any friends you have made are on vacation. I’d go on vacation too but Wallace doesn’t get any leave before September (Greece, here we come!)

You get to feeling lonely and out of place while everyone around you is having a good time. 

So I’m hibernating.

Meanwhile the locals are having a ball!

It’s like Christmas for 30 days around here for them.

There’s food to prepare for Iftar, houses buzz with family and friends and after dinner many gather for an evening stroll through a park or down the shopping mall. The shops stay open till 1am and cars toot and children play below while Wallace tries to sleep.

Many restaurants, local businesses and all the malls put up beautiful decorations and hang fannous (brightly coloured lanterns).

Everywhere you see the sign Ramadan Kareem ( I’m guessing  it translates to ”Happy Ramadan”),  the prayer calls last longer and the locals become more devout. 

Wallace has to hide to eat or drink while at the office and his fasting work associates get extra snappy and moody from low blood sugar, no doubt. They’ve most probably been up half the night, have indigestion and need a good sleep. It’s hard for him to satisfy all their work requirements as it is, he can do without the extra aggro.

I’m stuck in the middle of Ramadan and I’ve got Steeler Wheel’s song going around my head..

”Stuck in the middle with you and I don’t know what it is I can do……..” 

Maybe I’ll just download the song and dance around my hotel room till this blows over.

Ramadan Kareem.

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Ramadan Iftar

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Iftar literally means breaking the fast and this is what Muslims do after the sunsets here. Part of the religious observance is to share this meal with others and with this in mind, Wallace and I attended a lavish Iftar put on by one of his associates.

We had eaten here before and knew what to expect, a hearty meal with good company. This time we were in a company of 15 and mostly business associates. As it wasn’t a Saudi household we all sat and ate together.

 The fast is traditionally broken by eating a date but there were no dates here just bowls brimming with fresh sweet almonds. Actually we arrived promptly at 8.30pm and soon realised we were the only ones hungry. All the locals had already had a bite to eat around 6.30 pm and Wallace and I had last eaten around 2pm. The almonds staved off  hunger till 10pm when dinner was served.

Caterers had already set up low-lying couches out on the patio, candles flickered on the long table set in front of them and a cooling mist spray ensured our comfort in the 37C  evening heat.

Upon arrival, I handed over my abaya (nicknamed Saudi fur coats!) and we   were offered a glass of  jeleb: date palm syrup mixed with water and a few pine nuts thrown in for a chew. This was delicious and unlike any other taste I have come across, so much so, I made it my preferred drink for the evening.

Of course there was no alcohol being served and the jeleb was far superior to any can of soda being offered.

Across from the dining area there were three work stations set up and there seemed to be as many staff as there were guests. Two chefs wearing their tall  hats used a pasta machine to roll out pieces of dough that were then placed on top of a hot griddle. One chef rolled while the other stuffed the cooked pastry with either cheese, spinach or zaatar herb. Served as hot entrees they quickly filled the gap, the cheese being my favourite. They use a traditional cheese which is stringy like mozzarella but has the flavour of halloumi (the name escapes me). I could have sat there all night content with a half dozen of these and my jeleb.

The second station was in the dark but you could make out a young man turning over a spit that held a whole young lamb. This was disappointing to eat as it was  overcooked and there were no herbs or spices to thrill the palate. In my hands it I would have been marinated without mercy using ‘latholemono’ – my father’s killer marinade made with olive oil, lemon juice and oregano.

A waiter stood behind the drink station and was dutiful in replenishing the guests drinks while other staff set up the rest of the banquet in the dining room. When all was ready we lined up and had our fill of hommous, baba ganoush (that’s the Turkish name of the eggplant dip as I can’t remember what the Arabs call it), Greek salad, artichoke salad, fatoush (green salad embellished  with fried pitta pieces), the lamb set on a giant tray of rice, chicken casserole (not called casserole but you get my drift!) and fried hammour (the local fish).

I disappointed myself because I barely could eat a plate full of dinner but I made up for it with dessert. There were tiny pots of rose-water flavoured custard, pieces of ‘baklava’ style treats, crème brûlée (that’s what they call it as well),and fluted pastry horns filled with custard (cream here is a real treat and hard to find). The chefs in the big hats also provided us with hot pastries filled with Nutella and halwa to make sure none of us remained hungry.

The best though was saved till last and rightly so.  Our host brought around a box of  macaroons flown in from a French pastry shop in the Champs-Elysees. These are morsels too divine to describe but I can tell you they came in pistachio, chocolate and strawberry.  Happily  these little gems can also be found here in Riyadh at my favourite café, Le Notre but that isn’t as exotic as having them flown in from Paris.

It reminds me of a cake shop in Qatar that has all its cakes flown in fresh fromVienna! I never tried them, I was still getting over paying $10 for a bunch of celery flown in from Holland. 

Another special treat was our own individual sheesha-the Arabic hookah which came with either strawberry, grape or apple flavoured tobacco. I lounged back in my low-lying couch, jeleb in one hand, sheesha in the other,  surrounding myself in plumes of smoke, Mata Hari style.

Our hostess wore a lovely salwa kameez and other women wore flowing Arabic national dress, leaving me to feel under dressed in my western style blouse and skirt. Come to think of it, the Mata Hari look was a far stretch considering my outfit.

 Still, we all learned a lot about each other that night, and  shared Iftar together- just the way it is meant to be.

The Ramadan Effect

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Day 2 of Ramadan and we have been invited to our first Iftar tonight and an opportunity to show self discipline in the midst of what should be a cavalcade of food

The last time we visited these hosts we had a truly Arabian experience with a lot of  good local cuisine and equally good company. The air was filled with laughter and Arabic music.

Their villa is exquisitely fitted out with large fluffy sofas set out in a courtyard filled with tea candles and a humidifier that wafts cooling mist around your feet.

I’m off to get ready, meanwhile have a read of  the following article about Ramadan in Egypt. It’s interesting to note that although it is a time of fasting, there is ample time after sunset to make up any lack.

In Egypt, Turning Back The Clock For Ramadan : NPR.

Ramadan Kareem