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Culture Guide

Celebrating the month of Ramadan

30 March 2022

Welcome in the joy of the month of Ramadan, a time for family, fasting and feasts.

Observed by Muslims across the world, the month of Ramadan is the most sacred time of year. It’s believed during this time, God provided the first verses of the Quran on Laylat al-Qadr, known as ‘The Night of Power’.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast each day from sunrise to sunset. Abstaining from eating or drinking is a physical manifestation of spiritual discipline, and many use the month for self-reflection, extra prayer, studying the Quran and acts of charity. Having fun with loved ones is also a big part of the celebrations – with present exchanges, large meals and the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast, Eid al-Fitr.

Beginning with the appearance of the crescent moon and ending on the next, this period of self-restraint is in keeping with the five pillars or duties of Islam. When the sun sets for the day, the food and feasts are something quite special.

Starting the day with suhoor

During Ramadan, families will wake up early for suhoor. This meal is eaten before sunrise and sets the tone for the rest of the day. Foods served during suhoor are carefully thought out and planned to provide energy through the day until the fast can be broken. It’s common to find eggs, dairy, meats and oats on the table alongside traditional dishes.

In Tunisia you’ll find egg brik, a pastry pocket filled with a whole egg, tuna, harissa, parsley and chopped onion. On tables in Pakistan, suhoor can feature spiced potatoes known as aloo ki bhujia. If you’re in Egypt, you may partake in ful Ramadan, this is a variation on their national dish of bean stew made from fava beans, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil.

Many dishes are easy to make or prepared the night before so they can be enjoyed together before the sun comes up.

The tradition of tharid

After fasting for daylight hours, Muslims can eat and drink with a meal known as iftar. This can differ between countries, but there is one dish that will be found all over and served each day of Ramadan – this is known as tharid. Said to be the Prophet Mohammed’s favourite, this dish features layers of regag (a thin cracker-like bread), lamb broth, bread, meat and vegetables that have been cooked in the broth.

There are variations of this dish found across the world, although the main layers remain the same. The Levantine countries call theirs fatteh, and instead of regag they use fried or toasted pita bread that stays nice and crisp for added texture.

Garlic infused yogurt is dolloped on top, then finished with a sprinkle of pine nuts.

Other dishes found on the iftar table

Before tucking into the gorgeous spread, iftar traditionally starts with eating dates. It’s said these are how Mohammed broke his fast, paired with camel milk and water. It’s important that iftar features foods from all the food groups and in particular, hydrating vegetables.

Levantine countries tuck into maqluba, a traditional iftar dish. Meat, rice and fried vegetables are layered and cooked in a pot then flipped over to serve which gives it its name – maqluba translates to ‘upside-down’. It can include vegetables such as cauliflower, egg plant and potatoes and comes with pine nuts on top.

In Egypt you’re likely to find mahshi on the iftar menu. Rice is stuffed into egg plant, peppers, zucchini and tomatoes and flavored with spices such as bay leaves or mint. You might also find browned ground meat in the parcels too depending on where you are in the world. 

The Festival of the Breaking of the Fast

Eid-al-Fitr heralds the end of Ramadan, where no-one longer fasts on this day. Families and friends come together to show their gratitude to God and reflect on the previous month. People dress in their best clothes and decorate their houses. They exchange cookies and dates in celebration, and children are given money bags called eidia.

This special festival deserves an incredible range of dishes. Bengalis will often cook akhni fulab where masala-cooked meat is paired with rice – but no Eid feast is without pilau or a biryani.

There’s a focus on sweet foods including things like ma’amoul which are shortbread pastries filled with walnuts, pistachios or dates. In Malaysia they serve brightly coloured mini cakes called kuih, made with eggs, wheat, butter and sugar.

Something to sip on

With no consumption of liquids during the day, it’s important that people stay hydrated and during iftar there are plenty of options. Coconut water is a popular choice as it contains vitamins and minerals. But people mix their own drinks too. Jallab is popular across the Middle East and is made with a blend of grape molasses, rose water and dates, poured over plenty of ice.

Amar al-din is also a well-loved beverage and helps to regulate digestion during the month of fasting. Believed to have originated in Syria, the main ingredient is apricot paste or dried apricots and can also include orange blossom water, rose water, orange juice or water. 

We hope those observing Ramadan have a month full of reflection, gratitude and of course, delicious feasts and food.

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