Bottles of memories: The refreshing flavored drinks of Ramadan

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The sweet-tasting Ramadan drinks, like Qamar Al-Din, Erk Sous, and Vimto are paired with dates and enjoyed as a treat after iftar.

Muslims from all around the world have created rituals that became tied with their celebration of the holy month of Ramadan, and these rituals sometimes come in the form of bottles. 

By Sarah Al Saeid

SHARJAH – The holy month of Ramadan is a month of reflection, known for its many blessings, sense of serenity, family and loved ones gathered around one table, an array of amazing food, and a wide range of drinks that we have grown to both love and sometimes run away from, since childhood. 

Perhaps most of us collectively share the memory of an older relative tricking us into thinking we’re about to experience the sweet taste of the fizzy berry drink, otherwise known as Vimto, only to be surprised by the strong aroma and taste of Erk Sous, a traditional drink made from licorice. 

While Erk Sous is, according to many close friends, and by all accounts, a child’s most dreaded drink, Vimto on the other hand is the drink of choice for the young and old, the far and near, all around the Gulf. 

For those of us who have experienced Ramadan in the Gulf, we know that without Vimto, the iftar table is not complete. 

The sugary berry-based drink has become a staple during the holy month, so much so that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates are the highest consumers of Vimto worldwide outside of the United Kingdom, according to Esquire Middle East. 

So, what exactly is the history of Vimto, and why has it gained this much momentum? 

According to Ola Al Saeid, Vimto for her is not so much a drink as much as it is an experience.

“Preparing Vimto for my family was personally my first attempt at adding my touch onto the iftar table when I was really young,” she added. 

According to Arab News, the arrival of Vimto to the gulf took place 20 years after its creation, when Abdullah Aujan & brothers, who were Saudi commodity traders, successfully acquired the right to import and distribute the drink from its original Manchester-based creator, John Nicholas. 

In 1928, Vimto was prepared in its hometown in Manchester and exported to the Gulf. However, in 1978, things changed when Aujan Industries moved the production of Vimto to the Eastern city of Saudi Arabia, Dammam. 

According to the official website of Vimto, “25 million bottles of cordial are sold during [the month of Ramadan].” 

Abdulrahamn Zarka believes that people’s obsession with Vimto during the holy month stems from their need for an energy boost. 

“Our eating habits during Ramadan are usually not the best. Our lack of energy prompts us to crave sugar, and Vimto is this perfect balance of sweetness that quenches your thirst well,” said Zarka. 

Though Vimto’s popularity during Ramadan cannot be reckoned with, it does not stand alone on the iftar table. 

Qamar Al-Din, Tamarind, Jallab, and Erk Sous, are also some of the popular Ramadan drinks amongst many Muslims.

According to Eeman Ali however, the perfect Ramadan drink for her is the combination of a fizzy soda paired with the refreshing taste of milk. Yes, you read that right. 

This bizarre mix is not unique to Ali’s Ramadan rituals. In Pakistan’s Punjab province, the combo of milk, known in Urdu as “doodh,” and soda, usually 7-Up or Sprite, is known as “Doodh Soda,” and is synonymous with breaking one’s fast during Ramadan 

Rooh Afza, which translates to “refresher of the soul” is another famous drink in Desi culture, made out of the essences of coriander, orange, pineapple, carrot, rose petals, spinach and mint. 

Known by its logo, and distinctive yellow cap, it is often mixed with cold water or milk, or used as a complementary syrup for desserts. 

According to Start Up Talky, the iconic drink has been around for 115 years, and was intended to, “protect people from heat stroke and dehydration during the hot summers of India.” 

“I’m absolutely in love with RoohAfza,” said Zainab Qureshi. “The drink is usually freshly prepared by my grandmother at home and has so many health benefits, like boosting your immune system,” Qureshi added. 

It is the memories we create and accordingly pour into our Ramadan drinks that make them special. And with every sip of Vimto, Erk Sous, Doodh Soda, and Rooh Afza, from the Red Sea to the Arabian Gulf, to the Indian Ocean, a feeling of home engulfs us, like no other.