Expat Filipinos and Singaporeans scout for home-grown spices

DUBAI — The search for home-grown spices and scented leaves to savour favourite delicacies for Iftar and suhoor goes on a month ahead of the holy month of Ramadan for Filipino and Singaporean expatriates in the UAE.

By Lily B. Libo-on

Published: Wed 11 Aug 2010, 11:59 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 11:08 AM

Filipino Muslims rely on informal social networks looking for friends coming back from their annual vacations to Dubai. Through them, they make urgent requests for home grown spices and herbal leaves back home.

Hanifah Ampatua, president of the Maranao Muslims Community in the UAE, told Khaleej Times that the Maranao delicacy ‘pyarun’ from either chicken, beef or fish is cooked with their own spice ‘palapa’ and grated coconuts.

“Palapa is a mixture of ‘sakurab’ similar to onion leaves but smaller in size, ginger, chilli and salt. No other Muslims among the 13 Filipino communities use ‘sakurab’ except the Maranao tribe. Neither do other Muslim nationalities because this special spice is only grown in our Lanao province.”

A special curry soup like ‘gyataan a sawaw’ made of broiled chicken mixed with coconut milk, ‘palapa’” and curry powder with ‘pusan’, a salty tiny boneless fish similar to dried fish and paired with fried fish or chicken are very much among the iftar and suhoor favourites that cannot not be missed.

Being away from the Philippines during Ramadan makes cooking for iftar and suhoor very challenging to every Filipino Muslims abroad, Rayhanah Natangcop, another Maranao, said. “We are trying to bring much of our home cooking here in Dubai. We try to make our traditional delicacies and meal with the limited resources we have in the emirates. Back home, we often prepare fruit salad and special porridge ‘guinataan’ to be distributed in the mosque near our house before the Jammah performs the maghrib prayer.”

Singaporean expatriate, Suharti Binte Mohamad told Khaleej Times that she and other Singaporeans visit home months before the Ramadan to make sure all the ingredients and spices for preparing iftar and suhoor are available during the fasting month.

“Our main dish is fried ‘mee’ (noodle) but we have learnt to substitute this with spaghetti. Her friend, Noorhudah Binte Ismael said Singaporeans use lots of ‘tempe’ (fermented soya beans), in their dishes and foods like ‘sambal’ (chilly based paste), ‘goring’ (fried) and other Malay dishes.

“We can get fermented soya bean sauce in Dubai but the taste is different. I have to get it from Singapore through some friends working as stewardesses.” lily@khaleejtimes.com

More news from