A Guide to Eid al-Fitr
A tour of the culinary and customary traditions of Islam’s post-Ramadan celebration.
As Islam’s month-long, dawn-to-sunset fasting festival Ramadan draws to a close, Muslims all around the world turn their thoughts to the first of the year’s religious holidays, Eid al-Fitr. As the “Feast of Breaking the Fast”, Eid combines communal prayer, gifts, charitable donations and family gatherings with plentiful food enjoyed in daylight hours for the first time in 29 or 30 days.
The role of Ramadan
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, but its date is not set in stone. It’s actually dependent on when the waxing crescent moon is officially sighted by an authorised religious committee. The festival can even be delayed by a day if the sky is too bright to see the moon or if it is obscured by clouds. This means that Eid can fall on different days depending on where you are in the world, although some people prefer to mark the date the moon appears over Islam’s holiest city, Mecca.
During the fasting of Ramadan, Muslims have a daily pre-dawn meal called the suhoor also known as sehri and break the day’s fast, or sawm, at sunset with the iftar. Suhoor features simple foods, rich in protein and fibre to sustain energy throughout the day. The Iftar meal is richer, more colourful, with dishes from every food group and plenty of hydrating drinks. Whilst fasting, Muslims devote their time to prayer and compulsory acts of charity, or zakat, while abstaining from food and drink, intimacy, sinful speech and behaviour. The act of fasting is said to instil compassion for the famished and teaches Muslims self-discipline and control.
So it’s no surprise Eid has such a focus on food as a reward for the devotion and self control people have shown through Ramadan. In fact, the festival is often dubbed “Sweet Eid” or the “Sugar Feast” for the abundance of treats and the Quran actually forbids any further fasting on this day.
The origins of Eid al-Fitr
Eid al-Fitr is believed to have been originated by Islam’s founder, the prophet Muhammad, in around 622CE. According to tradition, he was inspired to create the two festivals of Eid (see Eid al-Adha) after seeing the people of Medina celebrate two specific days on his journey from Mecca. He declared these days gifts from the supreme god, Allah, and they’ve been marked with feasts and festivities ever since.
What happens at Eid al-Fitr?
The festival begins with a communal prayer, called salat, at daybreak, often in an open field or a large hall. People gather, freshly washed and wearing new clothing, ready to embrace Shawwal, the first day of the tenth month of the year. Prayers are led by the imam, asking Allah for peace and blessings around the world. Even strangers greet each other with familiar embraces and wishes of “Eid Mubarak”, or have a blessed Eid. Although Eid al-Fitr is officially a one-day festival, given the fact it’s marked globally by two million Muslims, festivities can last for up to three days, filled with official receptions and family visits, the exchange of gifts and visits to the graves of loved ones.
What is eaten during Eid al-Fitr?
The celebration of breaking a fast is unsurprisingly centred around food. A communal meal is the main event, with a menu that can vary according to where you are in the world, but tends to be very sweet and indulgent. In Turkey, baklava and Turkish delight (lokum) are often on the menu, while Saudi Arabian and Iranian spreads offer date-stuffed pastries and rose-flavoured Kleichas biscuits, and shortbread cookies called Maamoul are served in Syria and Lebanon.
Yemeni feasts feature the traditional sabayah honey cake, topped with Nigella seeds, while sheer kurma, a sweet, milky pudding with vermicelli noodles, is a staple in India. In Bosnia, they serve up Tufahija, a poached apple stuffed with walnuts, smothered in sugar and topped with syrup and cream. hile Indonesia’s Lapis legit is a take on the extravagant Dutch layer cake, filled with rich spices like cardamom and cloves.
Something for the savoury palate
Many savoury dishes also have a place on the Eid table. Russian manti are dumplings stuffed with seasoned meat, while in China, they serve up fried patties called You Xiang. Slow-cooked stew tagine is a popular choice in Morocco and Algeria, with plums and apricots adding sweetness to the steamed meat and vegetables. The Doro wat is Ethiopia’s take on a communal stew or curry, while the Afghan Bolani stuffs bread with vegetables, potatoes, lentils or pumpkin, served with yoghurt.
Zarda rice is a dish enjoyed at Eid around the world. It’s made with long grain Basmati, coloured bright yellow, and takes on a sweet and aromatically spicy flavour, with dry fruits and nuts. It’s particularly popular in Pakistan, North India and Bangladesh and often the star of a wedding or festival banquet.
Food also features in the gifting and charitable traditions of Eid. Muslims will give money to charity ahead of Ramadan so the less fortunate can buy presents and clothes and stock up their wardrobes ahead of Eid, and sweet treats are given out to children and the disadvantaged. During Eid, Muslims demonstrate their gratitude for everything they have, handing out their own food and volunteering in soup kitchens to ensure everyone is adequately nourished – enlightened by their reflections through Ramadan.
Wishing a prosperous Eid Mubarak to you and your loved ones.