Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon, according to numerous biographical accounts compiled in the hadiths.
The predominant practice in Ramadan is fasting from dawn to sunset. The pre-dawn meal before the fast is called the suhoor (Sahari), while the meal at sunset that breaks the fast is the iftar. Muslims also engage in increased prayer and charity during Ramadan. Ramadan is also a month where Muslims try to practice increased self-discipline.
Last year Iran Review published an article about Persian Cuisine in Ramadan for its interested readers. This year we have decided to present Ramadan Cuisine in other Islamic Countries. Some foods that may be served at a Ramadan Islamic suhoor or iftar include:
• Dates, pistachios, other nuts, and dried fruits
• Fresh seasonal fruits
• Fresh seasonal vegetables
• Chabbakia - a dessert made of fried dough flavored with orange blossom water and coated with sesame seeds and honey. (Morocco)
• Ramazan Kebabi - a dish made with lamb, onions, yogurt, and pita bread. (Turkey)
• Sherbet - the world's first soft drink, developed in the Ottoman Empire . Sherbets are made from fruit juices, extracts of flowers, or herbs, and combined with water and sugar. (Turkey)
• Chapatis - unleavened flatbread that is rolled up with vegetables and meats. (India and Pakistan)
• Lavash - a soft, thin crackerbread. (Azerbaijan)
• Fattoush - a salad made of vegetables and pita bread. (Lebanon and Arab countries)
• Tabbouleh - a salad made with fresh tomatoes, parsley, garlic, and bulgur wheat. (Middle East)
• Khyar Bi Laban - cucumber and yogurt salad (Middle East)
• Chorba - lamb stew with tomatoes and chickpeas (Morocco)
• Fasulia - stew with green beans and meat (North Africa and the Middle East)
• Bamia - a stew made with meat and okra (North Africa and the Middle East)
• Mujadarra - a dish made with rice and lentils (Middle East)
• Konafah - a pastry made with phyllo dough and cheese (Middle East)
• Qatayef - a type of Arabic pancake filled with sweet cheese and nuts (Saudi Arabia , Palestine)
• Ful medammes - fava beans cooked with garlic and spread on bread (North Africa)
• Kolak - a fruit dessert made with palm sugar, coconut milk, and pandanus leaf. Fruits such as jackfruit or banana are added, or mung beans. (Indonesia)
• Haleem - a porridge made of meat, wheat, and lentils. (India)
• Paneer cheese (Persia and India)
• Jalebi - deep-fried dough batter soaked in syrup. (Pakistan)
• Shabi kebab - fried patties of ground meat and chickpeas. (India and Pakistan)
Considering the high diversity of the global Muslim population, it is impossible to describe all typical suhoor or iftar meals in these countries. But here we have tried to introduce some of them by dividing them to two general groups of Arab Islamic Countries and Other Islamic countries.
1- Arab Islamic Countries
With Ramadan gracing us with its presence, one cannot deny the very culinary experiences that remind us of a part of this holy month. Ramadan, a month of worship and giving, is also a month full of flavour and wondrous gastronomic experiences. From sweet honey syrups and pistachio flavoured ice creams, to crust-less pumpkin pies, Ramadan truly knows how to excite our taste buds. Here’s a sample of Ramadan’s most delectable Arabic food:
Milk and dates
After a generous glug of water, most Arab Muslims choose to line their stomachs with sugary dates, milk and juices. Not only does this provide a quick kick of energy after a long fast, it’s also a highly symbolic start to the meal, since it’s said to reflect the chosen snack of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The juices often include jallab, a sweet, refreshing beverage made from berries and garnished with pine nuts.
Since fasting over long periods of time causes the stomach to contract, it’s important to allow it to relax before getting stuck into the feast proper. Harira which is a Moroccan-style soup of lamb, lentils and chickpeas is the ideal tool for the job. As well as warming the digestive system and prepping it for action, it’s also a rich source of fibre and protein. The fact that it’s also particularly tasty, then, comes as a happy bonus.
A lighter version of the stuffed vine leaves found on Lebanese mezze platters, these bite-size morsels consist of cabbage leaves wrapped around a variety of fillings – usually rice or bulgur wheat. Some spreads will even present their malfouf on a larger scale – hollowing out an entire cabbage before stuffing it with goodies and serving it up with a minty sauce.
Ouzi, a traditional Roast Lamb dish marinated with Arabic spices and roasted to tender perfection, is a succulent savoury dish that is great to have with family and friends at Iftar. Traditionally, the animal is spit-grilled whole, having been stuffed with a mixture of spiced rice and nuts. Similar in style to an Indian biryani, ouzi is often presented as the centrepiece of an Iftar feast. So even if you’re not fasting, this filling dish is a must-try.
A traditional dish of boiled wheat and tender, slow-cooked lamb, which is found on Iftar tables across the Gulf. It’s just the ticket for putting back into the diet what fasting takes out, providing plenty of protein and slow-release energy that’ll keep the appetite in check through till Suhoor.
With dehydration a far bigger danger than malnourishment during Ramadan (particularly when it’s 45°C outside), overly salty seafood dishes aren’t given much in the way of table space. This simple staple, consisting of white fish cooked with onion rice, is a notable exception and, the fish in question is almost always hammour. The species is massively overfished, so keep your helpings small and quaff plenty of water to combat the salt.
Though its origin is unclear (Lebanon makes a claim to the creative rights, as do Syria and Egypt), the one thing we know about this dish of yoghurt-topped, meat-stuffed courgette is that those who hang around too long will find the serving dish bare. They’re presented halved or whole, depending on where you’re eating, while some add rice, mint or garlic into the mix.
This sweet, cheese-based pastry represents the Palestinian contribution to the Iftar table. Though it’s often eaten for breakfast in Levantine nations, in the UAE you’ll find it in the dessert section, usually surrounded by excitable children wielding ladles of heavy syrup. Good for one last burst of energy, this will go nicely with your Arabic coffee.
Like many Middle Eastern dishes, baklava is said to have developed during the Ottoman Empire. However, this tasty dessert can be found in Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus and Georgia too. Another popular sweet phyllo pastry made of several layers of phyllo, chopped nuts and drizzled with sweet syrup or honey. Baklava is a crunchy pastry that is usually served in small gateaux sizes.
Umm Ali, literally the mother of Ali, is perhaps one of Egypt’s most favored desserts. Easy-to-make and economical, Umm Ali dates back to the Ayyubid dynasty. A purely Egyptian dessert, it is said that Umm Ali came about after the wife of Ezz El-Din Aybek, the ruler of Egypt at the time, Shagaret El Dorr ordered for her rival Umm Ali to be killed upon the death of her husband. After the death of Umm Ali, to celebrate, Shagaret el Dorr requested that her cooks create the most delicious dessert ever made and to distribute it throughout Egypt. This Egyptian dessert staple is made of phyllo pastry, milk, double cream, nuts and is sometimes topped with raisins, powdered sugar and coconut flakes.
Basbousa in Egyptian (but Hereessa in Alexandria), Revani in Turkey or Namoura in Syrian, this delicious well known dish can be found in the east of Middle East. A sweet cake made of semolina, same wheat used in pasta and couscous, soaked in simple sweet syrup; sometimes the syrup is flavoured with coconut or rose water. Basbousa can be eaten with nuts, heavy cream or plain.
Literally the bread of the royal palace, Aish El-Saraya is a delectable dessert eaten in special occasions. The origin of this dish is unknown, yet some have attributed this dish to the Lebanese cuisine. It is sweetened bread and often drizzled with very sweet syrup and covered with cream on top. Sometimes, Aish El-Saraya is garnished with nuts.
Qatayef is an Arab dessert commonly eaten during Ramadan. It is said that Qatayef is of Fatimid origin. Qatayef is sweet a dumpling often filled with Akkawi cheese, or any unsalted cheese. It can also be filled with nuts. It is commonly fried, yet, some cultures bake it. Qatayef are drizzled with honey, sweet sugar syrup or powdered sugar.
2- Other Islamic Countries
In Afghanistan, Iftar usually includes the traditional dates, shorwa (soup), kebabs, du piyaza (meat stewed in an onion-based sauce), manto (seasoned, minced meat wrapped in pasta), kabuli palaw (rice with lentils, raisins, carrots, and lamb), shorm beray, bolani (fried or baked flat bread with a vegetable filling), and rice, as well as other dishes. Afghans also have an extensive range of sweet dishes and desserts.
In Pakistan, almost everybody stops to rejoice for a few minutes following the iftar sirens and adhan (call to prayer). Preparations for iftar commence about 3 hours before, in homes and at roadside stalls. The fast can be ended by eating dates or drinking water, if the former is not available. Many restaurants offer iftar deals specially in the big cities like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. As a meal in Pakistan, iftar is usually heavy, consisting mainly of sweet and savoury treats such as jalebi (pretzel-shaped, deep-fried batter, soaked in sugar syrup), samosas (minced meat and/or vegetables, wrapped in dough and deep-fried or baked), pakora (sliced vegetables, dipped in batter and deep-fried) with ketchup or chatni and namak para (seasoned cracker), besides the staple dates and water.
Other items such as chicken rolls, spring rolls, Shami Kebabs, and fruit salads, papad (sheets of batter that are then sun-dried, deep-fried or roasted until they have the texture of potato chips or crisps), chana chaat (chickpea salad), dahi balay (or "dahi baray"—fried lentil dumplings served with yoghurt) are also very common. Amongst the Punjabi, Sindhi and Mohajir households, iftar is often, but not necessarily, followed up by a regular dinner later during the night. Those in the north and west, including Pashtuns, Balochis and Tajiks on the other hand combine dinner and iftar. Laghman soup (noodle soup), locally called Kalli, is an iftar staple in Chitral and parts of Gilgit.
In Turkey, the month of Ramadan is celebrated with great joy and iftar dinners play a big part in this. In the big cities like Istanbul all of the restaurants offer special deals and set menus for iftar. Most of the set menus start with a soup or an appetiser platter called "Iftariye". It consists of dates, olives, cheese, pastırma, sujuk, Turkish Pide bread (which is a special bread only baked during the Ramadan) and various pastries called "börek". The main course consists of various Turkish foods, especially the Ottoman Palace Traditional Foods. A dessert called "güllaç", which is made of rose water is served in most of the places. Most of the fine-dining restaurants offer live musical performances of Ottoman classical music, Turkish music and Sufi music.
In Bangladesh, a wide variety of foods is prepared to break the fast at Maghrib time. Some of the common iftar items from Bangladeshi cuisine include Piyajoo (made of lentils paste, chopped onions, green chilies, like falafel), Beguni (made of thin slices of eggplant dipped in a thin batter of gram flour), Jilapi, Muri ( puffed rice similar to Rice krispies ), yellow lentil grains, usually soaked in water and spiced with onion, garlic, chilli and other iftar items), Halim, dates, samosas, Dal Puri (a type of lentil based savoury pastry), Chola (cooked chickpeas), fish kabab, mughlai paratha (stuffed porota with minced meat and spices), pitha, traditional Bengali sweets and different types of fruits such as watermelon. Drinks such as lemon shorbot are common on iftar tables across the country. People like to have iftar at home with all family members and iftar parties are also arranged by mosques. According to prophet Muhammed, you should first break your fast with something sweet or with a prayer. Many break their fasts in Bangladesh by eating a kajur or a date and by saying one of the surahs in the Qur'an.
In India almost every Muslim stops to rejoice for a few minutes following the iftar sirens and adhan. Preparations for iftar commence hours before, in homes and at roadside stalls. The fast can be broken by eating dates or drinking water, if the former is not available.
In places like Hyderabad, people break their fast with Haleem because it has a rich taste and is quite filling.
In Southern states such as Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, Muslims break their fast with nonbu kanji, a rich, filling rice dish of porridge consistency, cooked for hours with meat and vegetables. This is often served with bonda, bajji, and vadai. Vegetarians of other communities are given a dish called surkumba, which is prepared from milk. It is mainly done in certain parts of Karnataka.
In Northern states like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, Muslims break their fasts with family and friends, with most Mosques also arranging free 'iftar'. Typically the fast is opened with fresh dates, cut fresh fruits (sometimes served as chaat) and fruit juice along with fried dishes like samosas, pakodas etc. The spread of 'iftar' can be grand sometimes with dishes varying from vegetarian to non-vegetarian dishes and a variety of juices and sherbets. Iftar usually is a heavy meal and is followed by a light dinner before the night (isha) prayers and the taraweeh prayers.
In Indonesia iftar is called "buka puasa", which means "to open the fast". Markets sell various foods for iftar, including the date, which is popular, as well as unique Indonesian food and drink such as kolak, es kelapa muda, es buah, es campur, cendol or dawet, etc. Most of them are only found easily in Ramadan.
In Sri Lanka they always start their Iftar with fresh fruits and traditional cold drinks like sherbet or faluda both made with rose syrup. Then followed by their normal meal and of course, little samosas filled with different fillings. Interested in preparing them? Here is the recipe for making a Faluda.
In Morocco, like most Muslim’s culture, they start with 3 dates and water. Then the ritual is followed by a bowl of Harira, a tomato-based soup, an obligatory dish to be served during Ramadan. Though there are so many versions of Harira in Morocco, however, the key ingredients are mostly the same: tomatoes and vegetables like chickpeas with whatever meat you desire or keep it simple with just vegetables. After the Harira, the meal is followed by the Moroccan’s famous Tagine dishes and off course, the meal will not be complete without ending it with fresh mint leaves tea, which is known to help with digestion.
In Malaysia, iftar is known as "berbuka puasa", which literally means "to open the fast". As usual, the Muslims break the fast with either dried or fresh dates. There are various foodstuffs from the Malaysian cuisine available in Bazaar Ramadhan (local food markets open during fasting month) such as bandung drink, sugarcane juice, soybean milk mixed with grass jelly, nasi lemak, laksa, ayam percik, nasi ayam, satay, popia basah and others. Besides, there are many exclusive restaurants and hotels providing special iftar and dinner packages for those who want to break the fast outside with the families and friends. Even most of the mosques in Malaysia also provide free bubur lambok (rice porridge) after Asar prayers.
After iftar and maghrib prayer, there will be Isya prayer followed by tarawih prayer. And after that, most Malaysian Muslims usually will have special supper called moreh (pronounced as more-ray) with local traditional snacks and hot tea.
In the Maldives, iftar is known as roadha villun, which means "break fast". As usual, most Muslims break the fast with either dried or fresh dates. There are many exclusive restaurants and hotels providing special iftar and dinner packages for those who want to break the fast outside with the families and friends. All the mosques in the Maldives provide free dates and juice to break fast. At local homes you will find various cold fruit juices (water melon, mango, passion fruit, pineapple) sweet (boakiba, pudding) and salty shorteats called hedhika (boakiba, bajiya, gulha, masroshi, cutlets), the latter made with mainly fish, curries & roshi and salads made with local greens chilli onion and lemon.
In Brunei Darussalam, iftar is locally referred to as "sungkai". Traditionally this is held at a regional or village mosque for those who have or will be performing the evening prayers. At the mosque, a mosque buffet is prepared by the local residents at which all is welcomed to break their fast together. Before the iftar, the beduk (a type of drum) must be heard as a signal to begin the sungkai. In the capital Bandar Seri Begawan, the firing of several cannons at the central business district also marks the sungkai. The sungkai is generally a welcomed time of the day, so Bruneians occasionally break their fast at restaurants along with their extended family. Additionally, only during the month of Ramadan, each district will be hosting an expansive network of tamu or Ramadan stalls with the exception of Brunei and Muara district, where freshly cooked local delicacies are sold more than other time of the year.