A Fast Guide to Ramadan
In anticipation of Ramadan, we’ve put together a quick blurb about fast food. Let us clarify – we mean break-fast food. No, not the type that involves drive-throughs and chicken nuggets, but rather the kind that puts you in a spiritual frame of mind. Admittedly, some of you may still be thinking McDonald’s or Wendy’s. The type of fast we’re referring to is one that begins and ends with a feast, but which also prepares one’s body and soul for days of abstinence, prayer, good behavior, deep thought, and charity. This period of fasting occurs during the holy month of Ramadan, which is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, and observed by Muslims as a time to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad as one of the pillars of Islamic belief. This year, Ramadan will be celebrated starting the evening of Wednesday, May 16th and ending on the evening of Thursday, June 14th. During this lunar month, those of the Islamic faith will fast during the dawn to dusk hours, abstaining from food and drink, unless they have one of a handful of special reasons not to do so.
Based on a lunar calendar, in many years, Ramadan is observed during the months with shorter days. However, in 2018 the holiday falls during peak daylight season – all the more reason to fortify with some of the delicious foods of Egypt, both morning and night. Eating and drinking are permitted only before and after sunrise. So, at this time of the year, that could mean 13 hours without food or water (a feat worthy of marvel for those of us used to an Americanized way of eating). Not to worry, intermittent fasting is all the dietary rage nowadays. The pre-dawn meal that is enjoyed by those practicing is called the suhoor, and is typically shared in one’s home with family members. The evening meal, ifṭār, generally begins with a buffet of appetizers, starting with dates, a tradition associated with Muhammad breaking his fast, and ending in a complete meal that is often shared with family and other community members.
Foods consumed during suhoor should contain enough protein, fluids, and nutrients to fuel the body through the day, particularly during hotter months. For example, smoothies containing high-protein yogurt and fruit, eggs, peanut butter, halal meats and fresh vegetables, such as avocados, are good candidates. Desserts are the stars breaking through the pre-dawn meal, and often are made with sustaining ingredients which use layers (and yes, phyllo happens to be one of them) of the food pyramid, including starch, dairy, nuts, fats, and dried fruits. There’s nothing like a dose of sweetness to put one in a good mood for fasting and recognition of life’s good blessings. These bloggers are seriously ready to dig into any of these delicious desserts for Ramadan.
After a day of fasting, prayer, and reflection, the ifṭār is the time to celebrate faith, family, and community with a sizeable feast. In Egypt, the coming of evening also means the turning on of lanterns and lights to serve as festive decorations. Like celebrations of most every ilk, food plays a large role. After a day of deprivation, the body and the palate are ready to be treated to some really delectable meals, and so for the month, people bring out their best and traditional recipes to share with fellow celebrants. This is no time for a quick bite, but rather a time to savor and share what life has to offer. Lentil soup, filled pastries, kebabs, meat and rice, shawarmas, and, of course, desserts to share, are just a few of the ifṭār foods served in Egypt. These tasty bites are often served with Karkadeeh, a drink made from hibiscus flowers and served either hot or cold. As you can imagine, preparing for this cooking marathon requires a good deal of planning and preparation, so take note from one writer who has graciously compiled a week of menus to help get you started.
Notice the only difference between the words “fast” and “feast” is the letter “e”. We like to think that the “e” stands for “eat”. Whether you celebrate Ramadan or not, the principles of fasting, self-examination, care for others, and sharing of love of family, friends, and community are values worth pursuing. Now you know how to #EatLikeAnEgyptian just in time for Ramadan!