Saturday marked the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, a month of daytime fasting for Muslims around the world. From sunrise to sunset Muslims abstain from eating or drinking, including chewing gum or cigarettes. It’s a month of self-control and self-reflection as well as a month of ‘being extra nice’ and staying away from all things haraam. But the nicest thing I remember from the month of Ramadan, is of course, the food.
It’s customary to break the fast together at sundown with a meal called iftaar. Tables are laden with dates, fruits, nuts; the hosts prepare their most elaborate dishes, such as biryani, homemade couscous or a leg of lamb…
My mother would vie to be one of the first to host the Saturday iftaar. She would say that there is great blessing in feeding a person who is fasting. She would toil singlehandedly in our kitchen for days to prepare a meal that would feed at least 100 people. For women like my mother, an immigrant from India, a potluck was unthinkable, counter to everything she had been taught about hospitality.
Most of the people from our center were from Hyderabad, India, and the weekly meals were remarkably similar. First, we would break our fast with appetizers: samosas, channa daal, dahi bades, fruit chaat, rosewater milk, and of course the requisite date (with pits). After the sunset prayer and with a sated stomach, we would dive into the biryani, curries and kebabs. We’d top off our meal with kheer, a rice pudding-like dish, and chai.[link]
p>Growing up in my parents house we had a similar spread with an additional spattering of pakoras, muri, juices, and fried eggplant. When we lived in Saudi Arabia, a country of scheduled nap times and stores open from 6pm to 4am during Ramadan, the food spread was even more spectacular at iftaar time — the small shacks would fill the streets with aromas of fresh bread, sharmas and other savories. But now, since living on my own, making an iftar feast for myself always seemed rather pointless. Not to mention that I can’t really cook. Iftar this week has been dates, water, and whatever cereal is in the cupboard.
Last night while grumpily eating my cereal, I vowed to break fast with at least one ‘traditional’ item for the rest of Ramadan — I have even toyed with the idea of having an iftaar potluck for my friends. Luckily there are plenty of websites out there to help me out with recipes: Iranian Iftar, Arab Iftar, and of course, Desi Iftar. Drooling yet? I am and I’m heading to the kitchen with these recipes in hand for tonight’s iftar. To all that are fasting, Ramadan Mubarak!