Ramadan in Dubai: This community transforms into massive food festival every night during holy month

Videos show residents breaking into impromptu group songs, as restaurants are forced to turn away hundreds of customers due to limitations of space


Nasreen Abdulla

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KT Photos: Muhammad Sajjad
KT Photos: Muhammad Sajjad

Published: Wed 27 Mar 2024, 1:53 PM

Last updated: Thu 28 Mar 2024, 1:24 PM

During Ramadan, as night falls, Karama’s Sheikh Hamdan Colony wears an air of festivity. Bright lights decorate the area as strains of Mappila songs ring through the air. Rows of street food counters line the narrow gulleys of one of Dubai’s oldest housing colonies as hundreds of residents come to enjoy one of the highlights of the month — the Ramadan street food festival.

Visitors have thoroughly enjoyed the Mappila songs being played by restaurants in the area. The Muslim folklore songs are usually written in a specific Arabi-Malayalam script and sing praises of Islamic personalities or notable incidents in the history of Islam. Videos posted on social media show the crowds bursting into impromptu group singing sessions during the festival.

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Launched last year, the street festival has become a huge hit, especially among residents hailing from the southern Indian state of Kerala for whom the gathering is a connect to their hometowns. Nishi Abdul Offar had come to visit Karama all the way from Dubailand with her mother, brother, husband and two children.

Nishi Abdul Offar with her family
Nishi Abdul Offar with her family

“I hail from this town called Ponnani in Kerala,” she said. “For us, such street food festivals are common during Ramadan. So, coming here reminds me of home. The music and the vibe of this area is just something else.”

Colleagues Sali, Shaji, Praveen, Rajeesh and Rohith at the festival
Colleagues Sali, Shaji, Praveen, Rajeesh and Rohith at the festival

Turning away customers

The festival has been a great source of business for restaurant owners in the area. Mohammed Anees Khalid, who runs Malabar Tiffin House, said they had to turn away at least 200 customers every day during the weekend. “We have been serving over 1,000 people every day during the weekdays,” he said. “Over the weekend that number went up to over 2,000 people. We had to turn away at least 200 people every day during the weekend because of the limitations of space.”

The restaurant is one of the many that has been offering pickled items and shaved ice sundaes to elicit nostalgia. These items are often found across roadside eateries, especially in northern Kerala. In addition to these, fresh and hot luqaimat was also being sold across the street in front of Kahani café.

Another restaurant in the area, Teeffee, reported that they had seen an uptick in business by over 25 per cent. “We have been doing really good business both inside the restaurant as well as in our street food counter,” said manager Maneesh. “Our suhoor combos and buffet are extremely popular. We are also selling 101 varieties of snacks for iftar and suhoor. On an average we have seen an increase in sales of at least 25 percent. We are really happy with the outcome of the festival.”

More than 45 restaurants, serving Indian, Afghani and Sudanese cuisines, among many others, are participating in the festival and are offering special menus as part of it. These menus serve up a variety of items, including unique dishes, suhoor and iftar specials as well as different varieties of snacks.

Adding to the vibe

In one corner of the colony, a stage has been set up for live performances. In front of it, several benches have been laid out for families to sit and eat. Next to it, a row of stalls sells everything from ice lollies and soda drinks to fried chicken and omelette. Colleagues Sali, Shaji, Praveen, Rajeesh and Rohith had come from various parts of Dubai, including Abu Hail, Al Nahda and Deira, to meet at Karama.

“We had come for the festival last year as well,” said Sali. “This year, the crowds and food variety are more. The live performance stage is also a great place to sit and eat without having to go into one particular restaurant.”

The festival runs until April 7 and is expected to attract more visitors from all over the country.


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