Perhaps ironically, food is one of the most important elements of this fasting month. In Tunisia, the women prepare for Ramadhan by stocking up on groceries and cleaning their kitchens. If they need to buy any new utensils, this is the time to do it, Amer said.
It is a must for suhur in Somalia, Esse, of Toronto, Canada, said. Pakistanis enjoy special dishes such as ‘pheni’, thin vermicelli, and “khajla,” chunky pieces made from flour served in sugared milk, which are available only during Ramadhan, Khan said.
Whether suhur is elaborate or not, iftar is often a multi-dish meal, clearly outside of the norm. Many foods special only to Ramadhan, and other extraordinary occasions like Eid, are enjoyed throughout the month and somehow forgotten for the rest of the year.
Countries such as Tunisia, Libya, Somalia, and Algeria have their respective traditional soups every iftar. “The Libyan soup is one of the most celebrated menus in the month of Ramadhan. The rich and the poor both must have it,” Ramadan said. In fact, without it, iftar feels incomplete, he said.
The Somali soup is called “mushaali” and can sometimes be as simple as milk, sugar and porridge, or as lavish as to include meats and vegetables. No matter which corner of Somalia you go to, you will find this a very important dish for iftar, Esse said.
Although the soup is often a meal onto itself, other dishes are also traditionally present, making the meal a multi-course one. Fried foods, such as the Tunisian boreek which are spring rolls stuffed with chicken, eggs, cheese, potatoes and spices, are common almost every day for iftar. Zelabaya, much like the Pakistani and Indian jalebi, maqrood, which is made out of semolina and dates, and other donut-like sweets dipped in honey are desserts eaten only in Ramadhaan or other special occasions, such as Eid, Amr said.
The Libyans enjoy Swiss chard stuffed with rice, meat and vegetables, luqmat al-qadi, which are fried dougli balls, zelabaya, qatayef and mahallabiyali, made out of rice flour and milk, Ramadan said.
Qamar ad-deen is a traditional Egyptian drink of Ramadhan made out of dried apricots. Desserts like baklava, konafi and qatayef are also very common.
In Southeast Asian countries such as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, fried foods such as pakoray, samoosas, meat or potatoes enclosed in small triangular shapes of kneaded flour and fried, and chick peas are very popular iftar snacks. In Bangladesh, it is customary to have “mourri,” rice crispies fried with onions, hot green peppers and salt, Razzaque said. They would also have lemon sherbet or salt lassi, a drink made of yogurt and milk, she recalled.
In Bosnia, a lot of cookies were made during Ramadhan, Cokic, of Belleville, N.J., remembered. On lailatul Qadr, they would make “halva,” a soft cake-like dessert made from flour and sugar syrup, she said. They also have the special bread, lepina, during Ramadhan, said M.A. Tallawi, Benevolence International Foundation office manager stationed in Bosnia.
The variety of foods during Ramadhan reflects people’s hope to celebrate it in the best special way. And, part of this celebration includes sharing iftar with those around us.