Ghabga: Qatar revels in Gulf Ramadan tradition

Hungry between iftar and suhoor? Why ghabga is the go-to for these Doha families

Doha during Ramadan, where many enjoy the tradition of ghabga, between suhoor and iftar. Photo: Noushad Thekkayil / NurPhoto
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Ramadan feasts, such as iftar to break your fast, and suhoor, a meal to keep you sustained for the next day's fast, are well known.

But what if someone gets hungry and needs some nosh between these two?

That is where the Gulf tradition of ghabga comes in — a family meal had between iftar and suhoor, any time from 11pm to 2am.

“We’ve heard that in the early days, on some Ramadan nights people in Qatar would have a meal after the end of the taraweeh prayers. This was called ghabga," explains Amani, a Doha resident.

The word loosely translates to a ‘gathering around a table’. The practice continues to hold a special place in her house, where she lives with her immediate family. Her extended family usually join them at the weekend for a lavish meal.

The tradition is quite old and is believed to have been revived some time in the early 20th century. It helps prevent fasters from overeating during iftar and keeps their blood sugars stable through the night and even the next day.

Earlier, ghabga was mostly a family affair but now the practice can be seen at many places in Qatar.

Large offices and institutions as well as restaurants and hotels organise ghabga parties for the community to come together and celebrate Ramadan. And after a long day of fasting, food is at the centre of the festivities.

For ghabga, families often revert to traditional Qatari dishes.

Among the main preparations is thareed (crumbled bread, meat and broth) and harees (mashed or ground boiled wheat with meat).

"Earlier in my home, ghabga also consisted of the traditional dish baranyoush, where bread was cooked with sugar, molasses or date honey, along with grilled, fried or cooked fish,” says Amani.

Nourah, 32, a mother of three who works in the healthcare sector, also enjoys hosting ghabga meals at her Doha home.

There, during Ramadan, the air is often brimming with the delicious aromas of rice and meat cooking, with dishes such as majboos and mashkhool being prepared, as well as traditional sweets such as luqaimat, deep-fried sweet dumplings made of flour, yeast, cardamom and saffron.

“My favourite ghabga dish is harees,” she says.

Ghabga was reportedly popular in coastal regions of the country, with fish being part of most of the dishes.

The recipes, it is believed, focused on lighter preparations to ensure that people did not feel too thirsty while fasting the next day.

The meals aside, it is the coming together of the family, says Nourah, that is the highlight of the ghabga in her house.

“They are part of my best Ramadan memories. My children love to meet and play with their cousins and they also sing traditional songs based on childhood themes."

At a time when most traditions are getting commercialised and conversations happen primarily on social media, the ghabga is a reminder of the good old ways of celebrating festivals, says Amani.

“Coming together as a family, without any of the outside distractions, is what makes ghabga special. I miss the nights when after the meal I would stay up late with my family and have long conversations. My late father and uncle would also join us," she says.

"And here we are, trying keep the tradition going.”

Updated: April 04, 2023, 6:16 AM