JW Marriott's Ramadan tent Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

All this month, the social action will be in elaborate tents around the country, where nationals and expats, young and old, gather to smoke shisha, grab a game of backgammon and generally kick back with friends after a long hot day's fast.

Distinct to the region, the Ramadan tent is a relatively new feature on the calendar. The concept is straightforward: the tents provide a setting for those fasting to properly indulge in entertainment and bread-breaking. As Ramadan sinks deeper into summer, the time between iftar and suhoor shortens — a trend that seems synonymous with the fact that tents nowadays pack more of a punch than ever.

Inside these festive drapes lies a hodgepodge of activities accessible through minimum spend (the expense of which depends on the opulence of the tent — the higher end is usually around Dh200). Seating options oscillate between conventional furniture or low-level majlis-style cushioned areas. There are pickings aplenty when it comes to food and drink. Moroccan tea, a staple, acts as a refreshing, cleansing energy boost for the multi-hour ‘tenting' marathon. Aside from that, there are the mezze usuals and café-menu familiars. Most tents have their own take on the tradition so the menu usually varies accordingly. Shisha is rarely absent in the mix.

Building on a theme
For entertainment, the headline attraction depends on the theme — Arabic musicians and other performers can always be found. Fittings around seating areas include playing cards and board games such as chess and backgammon. Most tents have television screens. Arabic serials are a popular way to pass time during Ramadan in this part of the world. PlayStations and Xboxes have gained in popularity — though get there early to beat the 12-year-olds to the consoles.

Such traits are homogenous across Ramadan tents in the UAE, but each year, one tent sets the pace, revealing itself a week or two into Ramadan as more people become privy to its offerings. The only way to find out which one takes this season's cake is to try out as many as possible — preferably well after iftar, as tent activity usually picks up later in the evening.

Humaid Bastaki, a 28-year-old banker living in Dubai and frequenter of the Ramadan tent had this to say. "Only occasionally will I break my fast at a tent — I usually go after Taraweeh prayers. I think a lot of people have iftar at home with their families and go to tents afterwards to chill out. It is an opportunity to see people you might normally not get to meet through the year — extended family, friends etc. I go there for the coffee, shisha, to play cards and for the conversation."

We put together a few tents worth checking out:

The self-described ‘tent with a twist' at Dubai Festival City promises some pleasant surprises this season. Staying in line with tradition, the theme will be geared towards an authentic Arabian experience. The promise of panoramic views of Shaikh Zayed Road and Dubai's skyline aside, there will also be direct access from Festival Centre via an air-conditioned footbridge to the hotel.
Dh165 per person for iftar from sunset to 8.30pm; a la carte suhoor menu.
Email: restaurant.reservation@ichdfc.ae

The tent at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel offers a seaside experience. Enjoy views of the Arabian Gulf in an opulent, almost regal setting that can accommodate up to 500 people in comfort. The space is split into areas for VIPs and a main dining majlis. A two-piece Arabic ensemble entertains visitors.
Dh170 per person for iftar. Minimum spend of Dh100 per person for suhoor, from 9.30pm to 3am.
Email: JBHboxoffice@jumeirah.com

This beautifully designed marquee at Palm Jumeirah offers an intimate setting, blending Arabian hospitality in a luxurious environment. Views of the Palm lend appeal. Hot and cold mezze accompany live oud entertainment, making for a cerebral experience. Suhoor costs Dh250 per person for food and selected beverages from 8pm to 3am.
Contact: +971 4 453 0444

With tents usually taking on the personality of the host hotel, one can expect a lavish setting at the tent at the ocean-themed Atlantis The Palm. While the cuisine is traditional, the décor will be contemporary. Each majlis comes with free Wi-Fi, a PlayStation and television. Views of the Arabian Gulf from the Palm are second to none and can be enjoyed from the massive 700-person tent.
Iftar buffet for Dh165 per person; a la carte suhoor after 9pm.
Email: asateer@atlantisthepalm.com

Abu Dhabi may not hold the same variety as Dubai, but there definitely are some gems. The Al Khaima Tent at the Shangri-La offers the basic staples of middle eastern flavours and activities. Specialities from Hoi An and Shang Palace are added perks.
Minimum spend of Dh75 (excluding shisha) for suhoor, from 8pm to 2am.
Contact: +971 2 509 8555
Email: restaurantreservations.slad@shangri-la.com

Considered the country's most opulent hotel, expect big things from Emirates Palace's tent this season. The Ramadan Pavilion at the Palace Terrace sees a fresh injection of locality with food from Mezlai, the world's first five-star Emirati restaurant.
Dh230 per person for the iftar buffet; Dh100 per person for suhoor.
Contact: +971 2 690 7999
Email: restaurants@emiratespalace.ae n

If you want to take on the task of arranging your own private tent, there are a range of companies that can help replicate the experience in your home or a place of your choosing.

The tent: Bilal Tents Industries, based in Sharjah, have tents for rent and for sale. They supply tents to hotels, schools and homes. Decorations, flooring and lighting are also provided. Prices range from Dh400 for small parties (four to six people) to Dh40,000 for larger gatherings, from 100 to 150 people. Contact: +971 6 531 4083

Food: Lemon and Herbs, based in Bur Dubai, is involved in providing food-for-charity catering programmes during Ramadan and also services iftar gatherings. The menu is eclectic, with a range of cuisines including Arabic, Pakistani or continental to choose from. On the economical end it will cost around Dh30 to Dh35 per person, with a selection of around five dishes. The pricier end will be around Dh80, serving ten to 12 dishes.Contact: +971 50 206 1877

Games: Hamleys at Dubai Mall is one of the most comprehensive toys and games retailers to be found in the city. Backgammon, chess and cards are all available. Considering Hamleys' selection, it allows you to be innovative as well and personalise your tent — post-iftar game of Slip n' Slide anyone? Contact: +971 4 339 8889

Shisha: Roma Shisha based in Deira, Dubai, is a specialist in smoking apparatuses. Choose from hookah types including Egyptian and Chinese, as well as something called Crystal Bohemia. All accessories are available as well. Contact: +971 4 229 5296