Dubai: All through Ramadan, large kitchens in the UAE have been cooking giant pots of biryani, a popular rice-and-meat dish, and distributing them to thousands of people at mosques and tents for iftar, the sunset meal to end the day’s fast.
The food is paid for by residents and charity organisations and provided to worshippers for free. Besides the biryani, also included typically in the iftar box are dates, water, juice, laban (yogurt drink) and some fruit.
This community service arranged through “public kitchens” is a long-standing Ramadan tradition in the UAE and many other Muslim countries, empowered by anonymous donors who want to gain spiritual rewards by providing iftar to fellow residents.
Operators of the public kitchens told Gulf News that during 2020 and 2021, which bore the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, government rules meant that mass iftar at mosques and “Ramadan tents” was put on hold, in line with the precautionary measures.
‘People are so happy’
This Ramadan, private donors have stepped in again to sponsor iftar boxes, to be sent to mosques and tents — all supported by official approval. “People are so happy to place iftar orders for worshippers at their neighbourhood mosques again. You can see the community spirit in the volunteers who place the iftar boxes in neat lines and clean up after iftar,” said Tanwir Ejaz Hussain, owner of Al Mamzar and Al Khair Group of Kitchens, which has a branch each in Dubai and Ajman. Since the beginning of Ramadan on April 2, the group has been making biryani for 5,000 people every day.
Besides handling bulk orders placed by well-off sponsors, the public kitchens also see ordinary people buying a few iftar boxes and then gifting them to others. Each box costs around Dh10-15, depending on what is included alongside the main meal. “Ramadan is about sharing what you have with others, no matter if it is a lot or a little,” Hussain said.
At Hussain’s group, the work day begins around 11am during Ramadan. Huge pots are readied with rice and chicken or mutton to make biryani. The steam from the rice and fragrance of the curry fill the hall, as does the heat from the giant stoves. It takes about a tonne of rice and 1.2 tonnes of meat to prepare biryani for 5,000 people. Around 3pm, the food is ready and packaged into boxes, which are then loaded onto vans and sent to mosques and other venues hosting iftar.
Spirit of Ramadan
Shoaib Baloch, owner of Al Hanouf Al Jadeed public kitchen in Dubai, also welcomed the reopening of Ramadan tents this year. “When you see the community come together at iftar — from those who make the food, to those to distribute it, and of course those who sponsor it and share it — it really brings out the spirit of Ramadan,” Baloch said.
Baloch is coordinating with businessperson who have the approval to organise mass iftar for thousands of people every day during Ramadan, he added, without revealing their identities as they wish to remain anonymous.
“Donors like to keep a low profile, they don’t want attention or thanks for their good deeds. They only seek rewards from their Creator,” Baloch added.
For Mohamad Ramzan, owner of Wadi Al Safa public kitchen in Dubai, this has been their first Ramadan arranging mass iftars as they only opened in 2020, during the pandemic. “We are so honoured to be able to serve people and be a central part of this beautiful Ramadan tradition,” Ramzan added.