With Ramadan on the horizon, families residing in the UAE are eagerly gearing up for the holy month. As part of their preparations, these families are not only stocking up on essential Ramadan necessities, but also seeking out nostalgic items from their homelands.

After fasting from dawn to dusk, meals are a big part the day. While some like to switch it up with different types of snacks and cuisines, most prefer to have traditional meals and comfort food after a long day of fasting. Khaleej Times spoke to a few families and asked them what they liked to stock up on during the month.

For British expat Grant Randall and his Moroccan wife Sophia Said, the month is a return back to their roots. “I work soon after Iftar as I train students in martial arts,” says Grant. “So Iftar is always on the go for me. What I like to eat soon after breaking my fast is a Moroccan dish called Harira. Sophia brews it like a soup with vegetables, chicken and lentils. It is perfect for me because it gives me the energy to get through my physical training without giving me a 'stuffed' feeling.”

For dinner, the couple like to keep it traditional. “We either go for some Moroccan dishes like grilled chicken or something British like Shepherd’s pie, which I love during Ramadan,” he says. “I think the one thing we stock up the most during Ramadan is Moroccan spices for all the dishes we make, as well as lots of fruits and vegetables.”

Traditional comfort food

For German-Pakistani couple Salman and Maheen Ali, their Ramadan prep is mostly traditional as well. “The only German thing I stock up during Ramadan is the cacao, which is basically chocolate milk powder,” says Maheen. “But otherwise, it is mostly Pakistani dishes that are popular in our household. Rooh Afza (a concentrated squash made of herbs, roots, vegetables, and fruits) is an absolute essential. I also buy dahi baray (lentil fritters in yoghurt) which can be soaked. I also prepare and flash freeze a lot of snacks because it gives me more time to do acts of worship during the month.”

Rooh Afza, which was formulated in the Indian subcontinent in the early 1900s, is one of the most popular squashes in the region. The pink concentrate is added to several dishes and has over the years become an indispensable part of Ramadan for many from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, among other countries.

Maheen says she has already prepared and stocked up her fridge with some popular snacks. “I spent the last weekend making samosas and rolls,” she said. “My children are 13 and 10 and they love the chicken and cheese samosas so I make those. I think what everyone loves the most about Ramadan is the amount of time we spend together. Although they find it hard to wake up for Suhoor, they still love the energy of everyone waking up and eating together.”

Nostalgic items for Iftar

Dr. Sumia Abdel Hamid, a Sudanese expat and university professor, emphasises the significance of Ramadan as a month of religious devotion and abstaining from distractions.

“Because Ramadan such a great month, it’s a month of religion and worshipping God, we don’t get distracted by preparations - that’s why we prepare for it before it starts,” Dr. Sumia tells Khaleej Times.

She explains that she and her family begins their preparations a week before Ramadan starts, ensuring they have an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. In particular, they stock up on mangoes, guavas, and oranges, which they divide into mini bags and freeze to make fresh juices throughout the month.

Additionally, they prepare traditional Sudanese dishes like Balila, foul (Fava beans), and falafel in advance, dividing them into daily portions and freezing them for convenience.

"Preparing and stocking up in advance has been a game-changer for us. All you have to do is take out the mini bags of pre-cut fruits or the portioned dishes, and within 15 to 20 minutes, you can have a delicious meal ready for iftar. It saves time and allows us to focus on our spiritual practices during Ramadan," says Dr. Sumia.

However, one item they miss dearly from their hometown is Abri, a unique Sudanese drink made from sprouted corn. Dr. Sumia's family ensures they bring this special drink from Sudan to complete their Ramadan iftar table.

Zainab M, hailing from Palestine, shares her family's pre-Ramadan shopping routine, which involves stocking up on staples such as rice, salsa, and other groceries. Essential items like oil, rice, tomato paste, and dairy products are also a must. However, their preparations for Ramadan take the spotlight, as they make and freeze a large quantity of sambosas and kebabs - totalling around 200 to 300 pieces.

Zainab also mentions a nostalgic Ramadan item that is not readily available in the UAE: ‘Barrad’. This refreshing powdered drink, similar to Vimto but with a unique flavour, is a cherished part of their Ramadan tradition in Palestine.

“In the last years we have always rely on our relatives coming from Gaza to bring it, but this year we’re unable to obtain it... Ramadan [is] kind of incomplete without it,” says Zainab.

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