The three golden rules when eating an iftar buffet

Here is our advice on how to make the most of the hotel banquet.

This picture of food from the iftar at Al Nafoorah is an example of how many options there are in many of the UAE's buffet spreads.
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It happens every time.

Not a mere 30 minutes have gone by after the hotel iftar service began and my colleague is throwing in the napkin. He loosens his tie, pushes back his chair to discreetly spread his legs and between belches mutters admonitions to himself: “My stomach hurts and I didn’t even eat anything.”

That’s a fallacy off-course. Judging by the plate of rice, meats, dips and breads, he had a decent feed. What he was stating, in-fact, was an acknowledgement of failure: once again, he was defeated by the hotel buffet.

This is a common sight in Abu Dhabi hotels these days and it comes down to either a case of misplaced bravado or ignorance on how to tackle the feast.

And since we are approaching the second half of Ramadan, and the business-iftar season remains in full swing, it is best to provide advice on how to make the most of the hotel banquet. For this solemn responsibility I have spoken to “experts” whose work and business life experience qualified them in the art of, what I like to name, “buffet-ology," and as a result came up with the three rules of buffet-eating.

 Rule one: respect the buffet

Let me begin with my own advice gleaned after sleepless nights of indigestion: respect the buffet.

Like any worthwhile opponent, you need to do your home-work. This means arriving to the hotel a few minutes before show-time and do a reconnaissance of the meal. Note the distance between the sea of dips and pastries to the good stuff: meats, chickens and off-course the ouzi. Only give a passing glance to the salads and don’t let their vibrant colours and glistening dressings bamboozle you into making unnecessary pit-stops.

Rule two: maximise your options

With some hotels having more than a hundred dishes on offer and a common dinner plate is only up to 12 inches in diameter, there is only so many dishes you can have. This is where Mehdi’s approach comes into play.

A business broker, the Moroccan-Frenchman is no stranger to sealing deals in many of the capital’s iftar tents. He says iftar navigation is the art of striking the balance between quality and quantity. This means sampling everything on the mammoth menu, but only in small amounts.

“I am a business guy so I like to maximise my options,” he says.

“I skip the soups and salads and then try to have a table-spoon of every dish possible. Now even if I do that I walk away very full. But I am also satisfied that I go to try a lot of different styles of food all in one place. The only drawback is that the plate will not look pretty but I can live with that.”

Rule three: have the end in mind

And what about if you have a sweet tooth? Then my colleague and “Um Ali fanatic" Louai has the best advice: start with the end in mind.

“When I go to an iftar, I walk immediately to the dessert. But I don’t go there to eat it. I go to have a look at what is available and to have a small taste of the Um Ali,” he says.

“If the Um Ali is good then I pace myself when it comes to the other foods so I can save space for the desert. Now if the Um Ali is bad, then I tell myself to go for it when it comes to the meats and the rice because there is nothing else to look forward to later.”


Read more from Saeed:

Finding kindness across the UAE during Ramadan

How speaking in Arabic will add colour to my vocabulary this Ramadan

The challenges of Ramadan should be welcomed

Abu Dhabi has become a home very far away from home for many expats