Ramadan is the 9th month in the Hijri calendar. It is one of the holiest months in the Islamic calendar, in which the Muslim Holy book the Quran was revealed. It is a month where Muslims all over the world refrain from eating, drinking any fluids including water, smoking, intercourse, and any sinful acts. During the daylight hours from right before the call to Fajr (sunrise) to the moment Maghreb [sunset] prayer is called, eating is not permitted unless you are elderly, a traveler, a child, sick, or a woman on menses.
In Saudi Arabia, Ramadan is a holiday that is observed by the majority of the population. Restaurants are closed, working hours are cut short, and the malls are open into the wee hours of the night. There are extra prayers that are observed during Ramadan, and many will take this month to be closer to Allah/God.
Many would find it amusing that the month in which we are told to refrain from eating during the day is when many will indulge in lavish feasts throughout the hours between sunset and sunrise. You will see restaurants from fast food takeout to 5-star restaurants offering great iftar deals, catering to everyone’s choice of food and their respective budgets- Yes, even McDonald’s offers a deal on Iftar meals! Most Masjids have white tents pitched on their property that feed hundreds of iftar meals to mainly foreign workers, and those that have no place to eat. You will also find boxes of food being handed out at traffic signals when the prayer call for Maghreb is approaching.
One of the most important foods you will find when breaking ones fast is Dates. Dates are found at every breakfast table. They come in a large assortment such as rutob (which is the fresh dates), as well as those that have been allowed to mature a bit such as sukari. You will also find dates that have been stuffed with different types of nuts, and some that have been pitted, and pureed and then covered in different interesting choices such as coconut, Pistachios, to even Oreos.
Ramadan is the only time during the year in which my family and I all sit together for a meal daily at our dining room table- between my husband’s work hours and my kids’ early bedtime, the kids and I just end up eating in the kitchen, and my husband will eat his dinner when he gets home from work alone. So when my kids see that the usually untouched dining room is once again being used, they get excited, and look forward to eating meals together as a family.
In my home, we eat one main meal, Iftar. Because in all honesty after eating a meal at nearly 7pm, there is no time to eat another meal. There are families that will have two elaborate meals a day during Ramadan, keeping them in the kitchen for hours at a time. In our house, I make a main course, a salad, some appetizers, and dessert. I also make sure I have fruit on the table, and of course the infamous Saudi Gahwa, an important part of our daily ritual. Oh, and how can I forget the Samboosa’s? The meat or cheese filled goodness that has been a part of my Ramadan since I was a child and could have my first memory of the holiday.
Neighbours often take food to one another, and yesterday I decided to make Ramadan-inspired cupcakes. I made date cupcakes, and my oh my were they delicious. I sent them out to my neighbours and my children enjoyed them as well.
I will go through some of the important additions to a typical Saudi Iftar table; as I mentioned already there is the samboosa, the dates, the gahwa.
There is also another dish you will usually find on tables here and they are called Lugaimat. They are much like dumplings, that are fried in really hot oil, and then covered in this sugar syrup that is made up of sugar, water, a dash of lemon, and Zaafaran. The result is this delicious crispy on the outside and fluffy and airy interior that really does melt in ones mouth.
Another dish that has become quite important during Ramadan here in Saudi, is Fool (the beans). You will notice insanely long lines at the restaurants that make foul right before the call to prayer. The meal is filling, delicious, and very cheap. People usually pair it with tamis/tameez (fresh out of the oven flat bread).
Quaker soup has also become a staple on many tables (including mine) a couple of times a week. This soup is a rather savory dish unlike the sweet oatmeal breakfast we are often used to. When Ramadan is approaching you will find towers of Quaker quick oats sold at the shops, along with piles of Vimto, custard, dream whip, and flour, lots and lots of flour!
Ramadan, whether it be in Canada or Saudi, has a truly amazing feel to it, and many of these comfort foods make it all the more special when enjoyed with wonderful family, and amazing friends.
If you celebrate Ramadan, what is on your iftar table?
You can also visit our Ramadan board on Pinterest:
About the author, Lavender
I am a Canadian expat living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with my Saudi husband and our three children. I have been here for nearly a decade and am enjoying my fun yet scary ride on the mommy roller coaster. I studied Political Science and Sociology at the University of Toronto and am now a housewife who loves to observe the world around her.