Monday, August 08, 2011

Ramadan 2011 – Meals

I've explained how the meal to break your fast is called an Iftar, and many restaurants and hotels offer Iftar menus or buffets, but there are other meals that go on throughout the night. During Ramadan all the hotels have big buffets at various times and it is common for companies and organizations to host clients or employees at these buffets, so despite the fact that Muslims are fasting during the day they usually more than make up for it at night.

The most common name for the meal that you have after Iftar is “Sohour” (pronounced so-hoor), which generally indicates any meal after Iftar. The hotels usually offer Sohour meals starting at 9 PM and going into the late hours but in Qatar that's actually not the name of the meal. Technically the Sohour is the meal right before the first light of dawn, before you start fasting. Qataris and other Gulf Arabs have a special name for the meal that takes place between an Iftar and Sohour, called “Ghabga”, though it is typically supposed to start around 11 PM. The name might be falling out of favor, I've attended many evening meals at hotels labeled as a Sohour but only once was it called a Ghabga. At least one Qatari friend of mine still refers to it as Ghabga though.

So here's how I think it works in the Islamic world:

Not in Gulf -- Iftar, then anything after is a Sohour
In the Gulf -- Iftar, then Ghabga, and a Sohour is the last meal before the first light of dawn

In the last three days I've been to two Sohour meals (actually Ghabga’s) at hotels and I have another one later this week. The hotels tend to go all out for Ramadan to make their displays as fancy as possible. Here are a few pictures from one of them that I attended at the Sharq Hotel (the pictures look very pink because that was the color of the lighting used at the event):

Nice spread, eh? Entertainment usually includes live musicians playing Arabic music and some hotels might have Whirling Dervishes. Shishas are also provided for guests. One entertainment you will not see is bellydancing. When I first arrived here five years ago hotels would also include bellydancing as part of the entertainment, usually flying in bellydancers from Egypt or Lebanon. The Qatari Government later decided that this was perhaps a little too provocative and not really keeping with the spirit of what is supposed to be the most religious month so they banned bellydancers. I have not seen one in Qatar since.

Next one is on Thursday night, I'll make sure I take some pictures.


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