Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UAE expats get taste of home during Ramadan through traditional sweets

UAE expats get taste of home during Ramadan through traditional sweets

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The al-Rabat Sweets and Bakery, founded by Iraqi immigrants in the UAE, is pictured during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in Sharjah on Tuesday. KARIM SAHIB/afp

UAE expats get taste of home during Ramadan through traditional sweets

NIDA Mohammed drove for more than an hour from Fujairah to Sharjah in the UAE just to buy special Iraqi sweets and juices for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

“Over there [in Fujairah] you can’t find Iraqi stuff,” Mohammed says, as she picks up her order of sharbet zbeeb, or raisin juice, a special Iraqi drink taken to break the day-long fast.

The oil-rich United Arab Emirates is home to more than nine million expatriates who hail from well over 100 countries and form 90 per cent of the population.

During Ramadan, immigrants in the Gulf state reconnect with traditions from their homeland, especially the rituals of breaking fast and taking lots of traditional desserts and juices.

Shops like this help “me remember the country we came from”, says Mohammed, who made the journey with family members and stocked large quantities of Iraqi sweets.

Muslims around the world refrain from eating and drinking, as well as from sex, between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan.

Far away from their homes, many of which are in conflict zones, immigrants still get a taste of their culture from their traditional foods and desserts.

“Every country has its own culture when it comes to their desserts,” especially for Ramadan, says Samer al-Kasir, the Syrian general manager of Al-Sultan sweets in Dubai.

“These sweets here are based on Syrian traditions,” he says, pointing to a mosaic of sweets packaged neatly in a box.

Men, women and children are seen gazing at the array of items on display in glass door fridges – each taking their time before placing their orders.

Decades-old tradition

The owner of the Al-Rabat sweets store where Mohammed was shopping says he opened the business in 2006 to serve the Iraqi community in the UAE.

“Iraqis did not have a special place catering for them, so I opened this place . . . because some of the baking is different to other [Arab]traditions,” says Wesam Abdulwahab.

“Most of our customers are Iraqis. They consider this place one that brings them together. We get our goods from Iraq, stuff that may be difficult to get here.”

For Saad Hussein, the items offered in Al-Rabat coupled with the spirit of Ramadan bring back memories of his childhood, particularly a popular Iraqi game called Mheibes.

In the game, men divided into two groups – traditionally from different neighbourhoods – have to guess which member of the opposing team is hiding a ring, or mahbas in Arabic, in their hand.

“Of course, during the games, Ramadan foods and sweets are distributed,” adds Hussein.

Seemingly out of place, yellow boxes of Jordanian Tutu biscuits are stacked near the register and on the shelves of Al-Rabat.

Abdelwahab says that Tutu, although not Iraqi, represent something significant for his countrymen.

During the Iraqi war in the early 1990s, he explains, the people had little access to sweets from abroad – except for Tutu.

“Tutu was an exceptional treat that brings back memories of enjoyment for Iraqis,” he says.


In Al-Satwa district of Dubai, Ahmed Naveed from Pakistan is standing in front of his family’s shop taking orders for different kinds of samosa – popular in many Asian countries.

Residents from all walks of life, including Emiratis, stood in line on the busy street to get their fried and baked pastries for iftar.

Qudsia Osman, who hails from India, was driving past with her mother when they decided to stop at the shop after being drawn in by the sight and scent of the food.

“It’s very tempting. When we passed by and saw it, we got carried away with this food,” Osman says, adding she is pleased the UAE included an array of communities to cater to the different cultures.

“I was born and brought up in Dubai . . . it is my home,” she says.

Mohammed Shiraz, a Pakistani who has been living in the UAE for nearly 20 years, also considers the emirate his home.

“The UAE caters to the population,” he says, explaining he enjoys the holy month in the Gulf state for all the Ramadan offers and promotions.

But for many, although the UAE has become their new home where they have started new traditions, the taste of home resonates with them.

“In the old days, it wasn’t like now. Food preparations were done at home, including desserts,” Abdelwahab says.

“My mom, of course, used to do it,” he says. “Her food is still better than anything I’ve ever had.”


  • Archaeologists find ancient remnant

    A team from the Apsara National Authority (ANA) has discovered a gatekeeper statue’s foot fragment at the Tonle Snguot Temple, within a metre of the toe of a statue found in 2017. ANA spokesman Long Kosal told The Post on Wednesday that the fragment was

  • Hun Sen to the rescue

    Cambodia has won praise for allowing passengers of the MS Westerdam cruise ship to dock at Preah Sihanouk port, thanks to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s humanitarian act. In a message via Twitter on Wednesday, the director-general of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu

  • EU partially withdraws EBA

    The EU Commission on Wednesday announced the partial withdrawal of the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme, citing a serious and systematic violation by Cambodia of principles in the four core human and labour rights. The suspension affects one-fifth or €1 billion ($1.08 billion) of Cambodia’s annual

  • PM orders immediate action against ‘sexy’ live streamers

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday ordered immediate action against women who live stream their sales pitches on Facebook wearing revealing clothing. The prime minister said the practice erodes traditional Cambodian values and disgraces women. Hun Sen gave the order to officials attending the Cambodian

  • Trump tweets praise for Kingdom docking ship

    Cambodia continues to earn praise for its humanitarian act of allowing the MS Westerdam cruise ship with more than 2,200 passengers and crew on board to dock at the Preah Sihanouk port. The praise this time comes from none other than US President Donald Trump. “Thank

  • Japan calls for policy changes

    Representatives of Japanese companies and investors on Wednesday submitted a list of policy recommendations to the government concerning 21 challenges to the Kingdom’s business climate. Japanese Ambassador to Cambodia Masahiro Mikami and leaders of the Japanese Business Association in Cambodia (JBAC), Japan International Cooperation Agency