Ramadan (in Arabic: رمضان, Ramadān) is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. During the whole month, observers of Islam fast from sunrise to sunset. During the fast, no food or drink is consumed, and thoughts must be kept pure. Followers of Islam believe that fasting helps the Muslim learn patience, modesty, and spirituality. Meals are served before sunrise, called suhoor, and after sunset, called iftar, and eaten with family or with the local community.
The Islamic calendar is based on lunar cycles, so it retrogresses about two weeks backwards every year. Last year, in 2015, it began on June 17 and ended on July 17, while this year, 2016, it begins on June 5 and lasts until July 5.
Who Fasts and Who Doesn't
The fast is strictly observed, even in higher latitudes. Muslims living in Northern Europe or Canada have to fast longer than Muslims living in the Middle East due to daylight hours being longer.
That said, the elderly, sick, and mentally ill are exempt from the fasting. Also exempt are pregnant women, women during the period of their menstruation, and women nursing their newborns. In some Muslim communities, people who miss the fasting portion of Ramadan are expected to compensate by feeding the poor and unfortunate during the suhoor and iftar meals.
Suhoor and Iftar
During Ramadan, two main meals are served: suhoor, which is served before dawn, and iftar, which is served after sunset. Suhoor should be a hearty, healthy meal to provide needed energy throughout a day of fasting — it ends when the sun rises and the fajr, or morning prayer, begins.
At the end of the day, when the sun sets, the maghrib prayer starts, and the day's fast is broken with iftar. Many Muslims break their fast by eating dates before beginning the iftar meal. Muslims can continue eating and drinking throughout the night until the next day's suhoor. At the end of the Ramadan month, Muslims celebrate the Festival of Fast-Breaking, called Eid al-Fitr.
What to Eat
Both of the suhoor and iftar meals contain fresh fruit, vegetables, halal meats, breads, cheeses, and sweets. "I try to keep my Ramadan very light and full of fiber, proteins, and complex carbs. When Ramadan is during hot summer months like it is this year, I also focus on hydrating foods," says Amanda Saab of the blog Amanda's Plate. The types of food served vary by region, whether you're in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, North America, or beyond. The meals are served either at home with family, in the community mosques, or other designated places within the Muslim community.
"During iftar, a series of snacks are cooked. Some people prefer to have a few snacks and opt for having a complete dinner after. It usually includes spicy vegetable or paneer fritters, spicy fruit chaat, dal, dates, and sometimes fruit custard," says Kaif Khan of the blog Quirk Kitchen. Khan also calls out a special rosy pink syrup called Rooh Afza, made from a mix of ingredients including coriander, orange, pineapple, carrot, rose petals, spinach, and mint. "No Ramadan is complete without a bottle of Rooh Afza. This drink is a staple in our house for iftar. Usually it is prepared with addition of just water and lime — another version is a Rooh Afza lassi," she says.
10 Ramadan Foods from Around the World
- Dahi vadey: Lentil dumplings that are soaked in a spicy yogurt sauce (India)
- Haleem: A slow-cooked stew of meat, bulgur wheat, and lentils (Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Central Asia)
- Chicken 65: Spicy, bite-sized pieces of chicken that are marinated and deep-fried (India)
- Ramazan Kebabi: A dish made with lamb, onions, yogurt, and pita bread (Turkey)
- Ful medammes: Fava beans cooked with garlic and spread on bread (North Africa)
- Paomo: A bread and mutton soup (China)
- Chapatis: Unleavened flatbread that is rolled up with vegetables and meats (India and Pakistan)
- Fattoush: A salad made of vegetables and pita bread (Lebanon and Arab countries)
- Konafah: A pastry made with phyllo dough and cheese (Middle East)
- Kolak: A fruit dessert made with palm sugar, coconut milk, and pandanus leaf. Fruits, such as jackfruit or banana, or mung beans are added (Indonesia)
Where to Find More Recipes
Check out the blog Coffee & Crumpets for a great roundup of Ramadan recipes, as well as the website of Sumayya Usmani, author the cookbook Summers Under the Tamarind Tree. Allrecipes also has a good list of Ramadan recipes.
This post has been edited based on an original article by Kathryn Hill.