My Favorite Ramadan Memories Were Spent Around the Table
Regardless of whether you choose to fast, you’re always welcome to an iftar table.
Ramadan is a special time for Muslims around the world. During this holy month, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset and have two meals per day: suhoor (sehri in some dialects) and iftar. For Muslims, this is the month when one can spend some time reflecting and focusing on one’s inner self. It’s also about sharing, community, and feeling closer to the poor and the disadvantaged. Like many other families, my family has its own traditions and rituals when it comes to Ramadan. In the last few years I’ve tried to keep most of our traditions alive, however, it’s not the same as it was with my family back in Iran. A lot of preparation and planning would go into our days and the time my mom and I spent in the kitchen has formed some of my most cherished memories.
A few days before Ramadan started, my mom and I would sit down and plan our meals for the first days of the month. When you fast, it’s easy to crave all kinds of food and if you don’t plan ahead, you can end up making unnecessary trips to the supermarket and cooking more dishes than you can consume, resulting in food waste (which contradicts the spirit of Ramadan and purpose of fasting). Once our meal plan is set, we gather ingredients and prepare what we can ahead of time. Sometimes we made a double batch of our favorite dishes such as lubia polo (Persian green bean mixed rice) to cut down on the time we spend in the kitchen.
For suhoor, which is the meal we have in the morning before dawn, many families usually opt for a complete meal that includes rice and stews or a mixed rice dish. You want to make sure you have enough carbs and protein to keep you going for hours. Hydration is also very important. We would avoid coffee and tea, drinking water instead. I always like to have a light salad on the side of my suhoor meals.
After years of fasting and trying new dishes each year, I’ve come to understand that I prefer having a complete breakfast for my suhoor instead of a meal. I usually have a couple of hard boiled eggs, cheese, some bread (such as Turkish Ramadan pide bread — pictured above), cucumbers and tomatoes plus some herbs such as basil, parsley and mint. Lighter meals like this that are rich in protein help me stay energized during the day.
Every Muslim looks forward to the iftar time. It’s the time when we gather as a family or a community and break our fast together. The preparation for iftar in my family started with making a light and delicious soup such as my favorite creamy chicken and oat soup. We would also make or buy some zoolbia bamieh, which is fried dough coated in saffron syrup. Dates and walnuts would always be on our table to break the fast alongside some warm water. Dates are naturally sweet and easily digestible, and after a long day of fasting, consuming one date can help return the body glucose level to normal. Pairing dates with hearty walnuts would make a quick and satisfying snack to break your fast. While these days many love walnut and date balls (also known as energy balls) we would turn this combination into ranginak (my favorite date treat!) which is a classic date and walnut dessert popular in the southern regions of Iran. In addition to these, we would always have typical breakfast foods such as fresh bread, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, and jam on the table as well. Iftar would usually take a couple of hours and we always try to pace ourselves, eat slowly and enjoy iftar with our family.
When I moved to Istanbul, Turkey, I found that iftar meals were a bit different from what I grew up with. Unlike in Iran, where we would usually have bread, cheese, and a light dish such as a frittata for iftar, Turkish iftars are typically a complete dinner featuring soup, salads, and Turkish main dishes such as izmir koftesi. However, both cuisines usually include some kind of dessert to serve after iftar.
Gathering and Sharing
Ramadan is about community and sharing. At the right time (obviously not during a pandemic), many Muslims gather and share meals for iftar. We would host friends and family for iftar, and sometimes we would make iftar packages with a sandwich, something sweet, fruit juice and fruit to share with the disadvantaged, which I’m also planning to do this Ramadan here in the U.S. In Istanbul, one even sees iftars hosted in public places, usually around mosques, and anyone who passes by is welcome to the tables. That sense of community and sharing is what I love the most about Ramadan. Regardless of whether you choose to fast, you’re always welcome to an iftar table.