Ramadan, the holiest month on the Islamic calendar, is upon us again. As a non-Muslim expat, I actually really love this time of year. I love the cultural and religious ritual of it all; the atmosphere in the city after sunset; breaking bread with Muslims and non-Muslims alike at iftar (the sunset feast that breaks one’s daily fast).
Despite two years living in the emirate and my enthusiasm for learning as much about the month and its customs as I can, there seems to be one seemingly big tradition that has – until now – escaped my attention. It began with a convo I was having with an Emirati colleague last week. She was explaining the ins and outs of a Ramadan tradition at home, specifically the mandatory presence of Vimto at the iftar table. I wasn’t sure I heard correctly – was she talking about the same Vimto, the old-school cordial exported from the UK and beloved by grandparents the world over?
Turns out she was.
Introduced to the UAE in 1928, Vimto was quickly adopted as the drink to break one’s daily fast, due to its energising properties. It’s a tradition that remains to this day – an iftar table with no Vimto is like a Christmas roast minus the turkey.
To give you some idea of how popular it is, consider this: nearly half of Vimto’s annual sales (we’re talking 15 million bottles) are made during the single month of Ramadan. Consumer watchdogs ensure the price of Vimto and other popular Ramadan items are fixed during the month, so that people aren’t disadvantaged by demand. Most Vimto shelves in the supermarkets are slapped with a sign limiting customers to no more than four bottles per purchase.