Monday, September 1, 2008

Ramadan Kareem!

There’s no time in the Muslim calendar where food matters as much as Ramadan, although you’d be forgiven for thinking about it as a food-free occasion. If you’d ever actually tried fasting, you’d start to appreciate quite how much food can matter! The 30-day fast is arguably a hardcore version of the Christian Lenten fast – an annual occasion where devotion to God takes place of all else and where abstinence is a constant reminder that we owe our existence to a greater purpose.

The fast of Ramadan begins at sunrise: formally, at the moment when it is possible to differentiate a black and white thread in the dawn light. Because the Muslim, or Hijri, Calendar is lunar, Ramadan moves ahead compared to the Gregorian calendar each year. That means an advancement of approximately 10 days each year. So we’ll be looking at Ramadan ending at approximately the 1st October and then being followed by Eid Al Fitr at around the 1st - 5th October. The next Eid is Edi Al Adha – some 70 days on from Eid Al Fitr, Eid Al Adha would fall this year at around the 10th December. In the UAE, where National Day falls on the 2nd December, the month is already starting to look somewhat disrupted!

Ramadan eating patterns are pretty different. The fast is broken at dusk, with the maghrib prayer followed by ‘Iftar’. The fast is actually broken by taking a symbolic date and a drink of pure water before going to the mosque and praying. Following this prayer, the family returns from the mosque and iftar, the first meal ending the fast, is taken – literally, break-fast: the origin of the English phrase being, of course, religious.

This perhaps explains the controversy over advertisements that portray people waiting for the prayer before going mad and attacking a piece of chicken: Iftar is supposed to be perhaps a little more.... errr.. spiritual than just guzzling grub on the bell.

The traditional food of Ramadan is heavyweight stuff, though. Iftar, the breaking of the fast, sees a traditional soup starter followed by heavier foods to hit the empty bellies of people that have been waiting 8 hours and more to eat. Traditional fast-breakers include foods such as ‘harees’, a porridge of cracked wheat, stock and spiced shredded chicken. In the Gulf, particularly the Emirates, traditional evening dishes include Matchbous, a heavy stew of lamb, tomatoes and rice flavoured with spices and dried limes (‘loomi’ if you don’t mind). Other versions of this most fundamental Bedouin food include ‘Kebseh’, the Egyptian ‘Kucheri’ (a cousin of the Anglo-Indian dish ‘Kedgree’, incidentally) and the Jordanian ‘Mensaf’. These all translate into the English ‘Mutton grab’.

Following Iftar, Suhour is a social occasion revolving around rich food dishes; meats; heavy, fatty dairy and rice-heavy dishes and then meat, dairy and carbohydrate melanges. Kebbeh in yoghurt, meat-filled spicy dumplings in yoghurt topped with fried bread, stuffed courgettes, stews and biryanis would be the order of the day. These are then followed by rich desserts such as crème caramel – a perennial favourite in the Gulf and a dessert which suits a palate that favours heavy, sweet, rich and creamy puddings.

Although the suhour meal served in the hotels is heavy, many families (particularly from the Levant) would take a social lighter meal with friends around midnight.

But we’re looking, basically, at ‘peasant food’ – big stomach fillers, food to see you through the hard day ahead and fast sustenance with a long, hard day ahead in mind.

Just to start you off, here are a couple of Ramadan menu suggestions!

Of course, you can always look through the archives using the tabs to the right of The Fat Expat for more ideas and menu combinations - enjoy!


Mars said...

hmm...i wonder if i could guest and talk about a lighter iftar menu, with some nifty recipes. what say?

Mars said...

not that this is bad, but our household goes alot lighter on food so we use ramadan as a time to detox - in a yummy way :)

alexander... said...

Ramadan detox!!!

Go for it - lighter iftar away... we'll need photos though!!

Anonymous said...

Considering this is a "Ramadan Menu", a chocolate mousse recipe containing alcohol is probably no the best idea :)

alexander... said...

You are absolutely right and I have removed the recipe.

However, people are more than welcome to make the recipe, omitting the alcohol. I can assure you, having tested it, that it is just as delicious. I sort of thought that's what they'd do - particularly as the recipe gives a substitution for the alcohol. Oh well...

If you do want to make it, you'll have to search for it now. It's called 'Tortoni Al Cioccolato'.