Record: About 4,000 people are served iftar daily Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Xpress

Dubai: It’s about 11am on a scorching Ramadan morning and a group of eight chefs along with a few dozen helpers are racing against time to garnish 10 giant pots full of simmering mutton porridge — or kanji as they call it at a kitchen in Sonapur.

The humble broth coddled with rice, lentil, fennel, coriander and other herbs will feed nearly 3,000 men — mostly blue collar workers — at an iftar in Ali Rashid Lootah mosque near Naif Gold Souq in Deira.

And this happens everyday during Ramadan in what is arguably the UAE’s biggest iftar, according to Liyakath Ali, general secretary of the Indian Muslim Association-UAE, registered as the IMAN Cultural Centre which has been organising this special iftar service for 35 years. 

Record meal

Ali who has been at the helm of this community service since the start told XPRESS: “We are serving what I could safely say is the biggest iftar in the UAE.”

Inside the kitchen near the RTA bus depot in Sonapur, the chefs and another 50-odd helpers get together to cook, pack, load and offload the food — all in a day’s work, starting at 5am.

“That’s been pretty much my schedule for the last 10 years during Ramadan. I hardly sleep, but then it is all for a great cause,” said Anwar Badshah, 39, who is a cook in the same labour camp kitchen.

During Ramadan, Badshah happily does a double-shift, preparing kanji that uses almost 150kg of basmati rice and 60kg of Indian mutton daily.

“We don’t do it for money, but we are suitably rewarded. The greatest satisfaction of course is to see thousands ending the fast with what you cook,” adds Badshah, looking visibly tired on his chair, having woken up at 4am after just a few hours sleep.

His Ramadan shift is about to end at around 3pm, but work continues for other volunteers who have joined a little later. At about 3.30pm they rustle up plastic bags with amazing alacrity, packing the food in boxes.

Each food pack contains samosas, dates, water, fruit, laban and juices besides the porridge.

Meanwhile, dates in 500 cartons, each weighing 10kg, are already stacked at the mosque also known as the Kuwaiti masjid.

The porridge, however, remains the main attraction for over 100,000 faithfuls who throng this mosque during the month for iftar. 

Kanji delight

“It’s a traditional porridge from Tamil Nadu in India where most of us hail from and is central to our iftar every Ramadan since we began this service,” said an ever-smiling Ali.

“We are the only ones serving kanji. It helps, especially the fennel to cool your body down after a hot day of fasting. Most others serve biryani,” he added.

“We started in 1979 with about 500 meals initially for three years [during Ramadan], but the number has gradually picked up and is in the region of 4,000 every day for decades now, including another 1,000 packets for two nearby masjids,” said the 59 year old finance executive turned businessman.

Mohammad Thaha, joint secretary and iftar team leader, said: “There are 65-odd people who do everything from start to finish in a structured manner every day.”

By 4pm, Thaha is at the Ali Rashid Lootah mosque overseeing offloading of the food packets by forklift.

In an hour’s time, scores of volunteers join hands in preparing for the thousands expected to line up for iftar in about two hours.

“People from different countries and different walks of life working here in Dubai participate and make this iftar truly global. They make sure everyone who comes even at the last minute gets a place to sit and partake in iftar,” adds Thaha.

And he was right. This reporter reached the mosque just a minute before iftar. And he wasn’t disappointed.