Ramadan 2021: meet Dubai's fasting food taster

Spinneys buyer Leilah Booley takes bundles of products home to try at night, while colleagues help her by day

Leilah Booley has spoken about her role as food taster for Spinneys while also fasting during Ramadan. Antonie Robertson / The National
Leilah Booley has spoken about her role as food taster for Spinneys while also fasting during Ramadan. Antonie Robertson / The National

A supermarket buyer reveals the unique challenge she faces during Ramadan, as she juggles daily fasting with her job as a food taster.

Leilah Booley, 36, works for Spinneys as head of product development – and a significant part of her role involves tasting every new product that carries the company's label.

The British-South African admitted it can be a tricky time of year for her.

“It’s very challenging and is a real test of patience and faith,” she said.

What gets me through is I have a lot of colleagues to help me with the tasting - they definitely don’t mind helping with that

Leilah Booley, Spinneys

“What gets me through is I have a lot of colleagues to help me with the tasting – they definitely don’t mind stepping up and helping with that.

“I take home a lot of products as well so I don’t miss out when I do break my fast at night.”

Ms Booley said her routine is key in enabling her to continue fasting while still carrying out her duties at work.

“I wake up each night at 3.30am and prepare something for my suhoor and it’s normally yoghurt with fruit and berries, something really light with some green tea and water to make sure I am hydrated,” she said.

“That’s really important because you are so tired during the day that you are not hydrated enough. I get up about 7am and come to work and the whole day is planned around different tastings.

“I don’t find myself tempted as long as I make sure to plan in advance.”

The National's delicious Ramadan recipes full series here

That preparation involves cooking the food and asking for help from her colleagues.

This particular request is music to the ears of her non-fasting colleagues, she said.

“They give me tips and comments about what the food tastes like, which they don’t mind at all because it means they don’t have to worry about lunch.

“I often find myself then planning what I am going to eat later based on what they are eating and take it home with me.”

She also said this was the busiest Ramadan for the company that she could remember, because of the restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Anwar Muhammad said his faith keeps him strong while he fasts during the Holy Month. Antonie Robertson / The National. Reporter: Patrick Ryan for National
Anwar Muhammad says his faith keeps him strong while he fasts during the holy month. Antonie Robertson / The National

“Covid-19 has really changed the game in the sense there are fewer people going out for iftars this year,” she said.

“More people than ever are cooking from scratch at home for their families.

“That puts more onus for us to be able to help people create the iftar experience at home.”

Ramadan, Ms Booley said, had also brought her closer to her non-Muslim colleagues.

“A lot of them aren’t Muslim but have decided to fast too,” she said.

“They wanted to know more about our customs and I am honoured they have decided to fast also.”

Ms Booley is not alone in having to fast while continuing her day job in the food industry.

Her colleague Anwar Muhammed,31, is in charge of overseeing food that arrives at the Spinneys branch in Meydan.

“This is the ninth consecutive Ramadan I have worked in Spinneys here,” said Pakistani.

“Looking at the food doesn’t bother me because the more faith you have the stronger you are.”

Mohammed Ashraf, 34, works for Freedom Pizza in Dubai as a delivery rider.

Like many of his colleagues, he finds himself working throughout the day delivering pizza while fasting.

“Even though so many people are fasting we are actually really busy during the day,” he said.

“That’s because more people are ordering in the day because they don’t want to be seen eating out in respect to those who are fasting.”

Updated: May 6, 2021 04:32 PM

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