To save contracting ‘eyes bigger than your belly’ syndrome, it is customary to gently ease into eating again before the real feasting begins. Salad is a good way of doing this, although the more usual way is to grab a bowl of harira (or lamb, lentil and chickpea soup). Yes, salad and lentils can make you feel as though you’re at a vegetarian convention, but the warming soup relaxes the stomach after a day of fasting and offers a good source of fibre. Alternatively, bilhamoud and shorat are other types of soup made from ground lentils and served with Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese salad.
Milk and dates
It doesn’t sound too exciting, does it? In fact, only eating dry Weetabix dusted with sand could seem more boring. But as it happens, breaking the fast with milk and dates is perhaps the most traditional method of all, as the Prophet Mohammad broke his fast with these humble offerings before praying. They are a regular sight on Iftar tables, and the high sugar and vitamin content has many physical benefits too.
Parched throats and stomachs demand fresh food that will both nourish and rehydrate the body. Consequently, many of the traditional Ramadan dishes are based on appetising, easily digestible sauces, and stew is the perfect candidate to tick all of the above boxes. Packed with nutritious pulses and slow-releasing starchy vegetables, it wouldn’t be surprising to sometimes find beef or lamb in there as well, so if any of you thought these picks were getting a bit veggie-heavy, think again.
This local delicacy can be found on Bahraini tables throughout the year, but is still a regular Iftar feature. Shredded pieces of slow cooked lamb and a mulch of boiled wheat are vigorously pounded together with a heavy stick or crushed in a wooden press. The heavy starchy mass usually constitutes a meal in itself, but over Ramadan it provides the base upon which other dishes are served, and is sometimes flavoured with cinnamon and cumin.
One of the more spectacular dishes, the spit-roast lamb isn’t your usual marshmallows round the camp fire situation; the entire thing is hollowed out and then stuffed with a mixture of minced meat, nuts and rice. A must- try Iftar dish.
Kepsa bel sanak
Salty fish and seafood are generally avoided during Ramadan, as it is thought to make fasters thirsty. Not the most ideal situation to be left in, especially coupled with the intense heat. However, some buffets will feature kepsa bel sanak – a sort of fragrant rice and fish casserole flavoured with cumin and peppers. Dishes vary from tent to tent, but the dishes on offer generally have a distinctly Arabic flavour to them, including hot and cold mezze, shawarma, and a wide variety of kebabs. Although many dishes are prepared in advance, you will often be able to catch them being prepared in front of you.
Given the desert climate, abstaining from water during the daylight hours is serious business, and refreshing drinks form a crucial part of the Iftar dinner. A range of multi-coloured liquid delights are on offer to quench the most parched palate. The deep gamet jallab is a mixture of grape extracts, rosewater and sugar, poured over ice and finished off with floating pine nuts. Tamerhindi is a root-based drink meaning ‘Indian date’, made from the fruit pods of trees native to Asia, and has a distinctive sweet taste. A more substantial drink is ayran, a lassi-like yoghurt-based drink diluted and flavoured with mint.
Abstaining during the day not only leaves fasters hungry, but also drained of energy, therefore it’s important to provide a quick fix. Sugary foods provide this much-needed energy and are an essential part of breaking the fast. Kunafeh is a favourite Arabic dessert and consists of a soft white cheese topped with cracked semolina baked to form a hard crust. This is served with a heavy sweet syrup.
Sahour is a light meal eaten before the sun rises. For some Muslims, it is simply a continuation of the feast of the night before. For others, it’s a chance to grab a bite to eat before a long working day without food or water. The aptly named fattier is also eaten at this time, and consists of oven-baked bread with a variety of sweet and savoury toppings.
Katyef is a traditional pastry pancake filled to the brim with cream or crushed walnuts and almonds. And, as if it were to be found in a Scottish recipe book, it is then deep-fried and served with lemon and rosewater-flavoured syrup. Moushabek is another type of fried sweet, but has a distinct round shape to it and is made using leaves of fine filo pastry.