(via CharlesFred on Flickr)
Yesterday was the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, and it makes me really nostalgic for the Middle East.
I arrived in Amman in the early morning hours of the first day of Ramadan five years ago. The beautiful Abeer, Yasmeen, and Mahamoud were waiting at the airport for me, an American woman they had never met. I lived with the family of a good friend for the three months I was there, and it was a wonderful experience. So wonderful, in fact, that had I not missed my own family I might have stayed a while longer.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast (no food or drink) all day and then break the fast with a big meal (called iftar, or the breaking of the fast, or literally, breakfast, which caused some confusion for me at first) at sundown. I’ll never forget the pink sky and sleepy peace of dusk during Ramadan, when even taxis became scarce. Iftar, whether shared simply with my Jordanian sisters Sousan and Abeer or with the entire family, was always a special time, and I cannot even articulate how delicious the food is. One iftar we had the following, according to my journal: fatoush, lamb and white beans in a bandoora (tomato) sauce, rice, a yummy salad of cabbage, carrots, corn, mayo (and a little sugar). I also remember livers cooked with onions (amazing!); a chicken, rice and cauliflower dish called maglouba (literally means upside down); stuffed grape leaves; fresh pita; and mansaf (the national dish of Jordan). We always followed up with dessert too, although, usually it was qatayef, which, by the end of my stay, I did not love. Qatayef is essentially a little pancake filled with either a mixture of walnut, coconut, sugar or a white cheese, folded over in a half moon shape, and drizzled with simple syrup.
Every iftar begins rather beautifully with a sip of water and a sweet, meaty date. My host family and I happened to be at the airport waiting for friends once at sundown during Ramadan, and a stranger handed out dates for the iftar. S. had a similar experience in Cairo during Ramadan. He was in a taxi and a man on the street was handing out dates to those that had not yet made it home to their families. It makes me smile when he tells that story to people, as he sometimes does, because I know that the experience touched him in the same way it touched me.
And so, Ramadan has begun and I am sad that I am not able to spend the holiday with my friends and family in Jordan, but oh-so happy that I had the opportunity in the first place!
I saw on the City Paper’s food blog Meal Ticket that Manakeesh, a Lebanese restaurant in West Philly, is offering a special Ramadan menu. I’m going to try to make reservations for the night they are serving mansaf. I’m sure that it will not compare to Umm Mohammad’s mansaf, but it is better than nothing.
Also, I plan to put some Ramadan-inspired recipes up this month too, so look for those.
P.S. If you’re interested, you can read an (unpublished) article on mansaf that I wrote with a journalism classmate here.