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Ghabqas: The social meal

During Ramadan, the people of Kuwait have at least four meals in less than 10 hours – from dusk till dawn. Iftar (or futoor) is normally the first and most important meal. Typically people have it at home with close friends and family. Some overeat due to the all-day fast and then top it off with a variety of desserts and hot drinks. Arabic sweets become bestsellers and many bakeries compete to create new desserts with a traditional twist.


Between tea and coffee time and suhoor comes the ghabqa. A ghabqa, in short, is a gathering of friends and family around more food. These are also hosted by companies and corporations and can often be lavish affairs. Leading government officials and important personalities also host ghabqas, inviting hundreds of people for the evening meal.

Although going to ghabqas is not compulsory, hosts may not be happy to learn that you’ve skipped their ghabqa in favor of another, which sometimes leads you to go to more than one ghabqa in one evening. At each ghabqa, you have to pay a compliment to the host by eating some food. It is unreasonable that the stomach has to endure all this food within a few hours!

I remember in the 1980s, my mother used to cook various dishes for my father’s ghabqa night at the diwaniya, where he and his friends gathered to eat on the floor. It was rather modest and straightforward. Over time, reliance on catering services has become the more popular option to save the time and effort of housewives and their helpers.

The private ghabqa dinner brings together relatives and friends. This has evolved into social and business ghabqas often dominated by mutual interests. In addition, there’s the workplace ghabqa, where private and governmental institutions organize a gathering for their employees within a family friendly ambiance. As for business ghabqas, invitations are sometimes sent weeks in advance. These are often held at posh restaurants or hotels. The latter tradition is relatively new to Kuwait, and we are seeing a remarkable decline this year in business ghabqas due to financial constraints.

The ghabqa extravaganza is now extending to coffee shops, where owners invite their loyal customers to enjoy their favorite beverages in traditional Kuwaiti attire, accompanied by old Kuwaiti folk songs. There are also social ghabqas for Kuwait’s various communities, including vegan ghabqas and dog- and cat-owner ghabqas, and those for non-Muslims.

Of course for each ghabqa, a woman needs a new and different dara’a. Men need only slip on the dishdasha. Women must spend hours searching shops and online stores to find just the right kaftan or dara’a. The cost and time spent on these can be overwhelming for some. Ideally, people should only need to wear their favorite pair of blue jeans and go for ghabqas!

By Athoob Al-Shuaibi

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