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A time of fasting and feasting in Phnom Penh

If you haven’t discovered Ramadan as a culinary high season yet, this year you have the chance at the InterContinental Hotel in Phnom Penh.

Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, is not necessarily known as a feasting month.

In that time, religious Muslims are not supposed to eat or drink while the sun is out as a form of spiritual purification. The Quran also suggest to cut down on sex and talking.

Of course, the last two proposals may not be too hard to fulfil assuming that you may be woozy from going without food and drink.

But despite the sacrifice, Ramadan is also a time of joy, hospitality and celebration. During that month, families and friends gather to celebrate Iftar, the breaking of their fast. When the sun sets, food and beverages become available again – and in what quantities!

“Tables are piled up with different dishes until the table top cannot be seen anymore,” says Michael Nassiri, the InterContinental’s Director of Food and Beverages. “Many Muslims end up eating much more during Ramadan than the rest of the year and putting on weight, too.”

With that in mind, Nassiri came up with the idea of a promotional offer for Phnom Penh’s small Arabic Muslim community: from July 19 through August, the InterContinental will be offering a Ramadan special that will more than ease the cravings of faithful Muslims starved during the day.

The hotel’s buffet opens right after sunset, offering a range of hot and cold starters, called mezze, followed by main courses. Dishes can also be ordered separately without having to book the buffet.

All the meat served comes from an approved halal butcher, following the Islamic dietary guidelines.

”Sometimes it is like a Formula One race. People sit in starting position in front of their tables and the second the sun has set there is no stopping them,” says Nassiri.

Apart from allaying munchies built up during the day, Iftar is about seeing each other and spending time together. Perhaps this is why every dish is meant to be shared between the members of the table.

Usually a whole range of different dishes is served. Both during the time of Ramadan and off-season, the InterContinental Hotel offers various dishes typical of Middle Eastern, especially Lebanese, cuisine.

A delicious dish to break fast with is tabouleh, a Lebanese salad containing finely chopped tomato, parsley and onion in a sauce of fresh lemon juice an olive oil. Easy on the stomach and very refreshing, this salad should be first choice after not having eaten all day.

After the stomach has had its chance to wake up, you can treat it with a mezze that is as rich as it is delicious: Hummus, a dish of brilliantly spiced creamed chickpeas, tastes great with pita bread.

Even more spectacular is the hummus bin lahme, hummus with roast lamb honed with a dash of lime juice. Delicious!

It is challenging not to fill up on a single dish so as to make it through the main courses, not to mention dessert.

And it would be a shame to miss out on the sambousek, a fried pastry filled with lamb or cheese, falafel, and other specialities like fried lamb and chicken.

A classical desert would be Om Ali, “Ali’s Granny,” a pudding of sugar milk and white bread.

A feast like this makes waiting for the sunset worth the sacrifice.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julius Thiemann at



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