The morning is still, a silence broken by the flutter of wings as birds wheel around the minaret of our neighborhood mosque. A gentle breeze stirs the leaves of the lemon tree on the terrace. A cock crows. No motorcycles zipping along the avenue just outside the medina, no lively chatter wafting from businesses in the nearby souk. Ramadan mornings in Fez, Morocco, are preternaturally quiet, enveloping us in meditative silence. The bustle we are accustomed to outside our doors will return in the afternoon, though, as vendors open up for the day’s shortened business hour. Shopping in the last week of Ramadan, with most cafes and restaurants closed, is a time for last-minute Iftar purchases. It is also a time to prepare for Eid El Fitr, three days of prayer and feasting before life in Morocco returns to the everyday.
During Ramadan, after a morning of closed shop doors and empty souks, shoppers turn out in force for a few short hours each afternoon. They must make their purchases in good time to be home when the cannon fires and it’s time to break the fast. It’s not all fruits, veggies, and meats, though. For the past several weeks, enormous quantities of packaged smoothies and other sweetened drinks have also been available from the kiosks that dot the souks.
Tetra-Pak mountains front skinny refrigerators packed with chilled beverages, and compete with pedestrians in the narrow streets. Rows of the boxes climb the walls behind piles of peppers and carrots. Their contents don’t have the wow factor of the famous Moroccan yogurt and juice drinks we’ve enjoyed here, but some are quite tasty.
In the supermarkets of the New City, the instant soups were rearranged a few weeks ago to showcase harira. Clearly, not everyone enjoys a solid month of homemade soup to break the fast, so these have come in handy. They’re ok, but improve when pumped up with extra vermicelli and a meatball or two.
With just a few days of Ramadan to go, stocks of dates are somewhat depleted, at least the fancy sort, in boxes. Sales are on now, to move those that remain on supermarket shelves. Quite a different scene from the shoulder-high stacks of imported dates on this spot just a few frenzied weeks ago. Down other aisles, clerks busily unpack and stock the products of summer–picnic foods, coolers, and frozen goods. When Ramadan shopping is done, such things will soon be in high demand from dawn till dusk.
Cafes and restaurants, MIA
Restaurants have been closed during the day since the beginning of Ramadan, and those that open at all, offer limited evening service. Tables at normally busy cafés are pushed together, service suspended. I look forward to having familiar coffee bars, neighborhood restaurants, and food stalls back in business at mid-day, welcoming customers for luncheon and tea breaks.
The slower pace of medina life will continue for a few more days, until time for the celebration of Eid El Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Shawal, the tenth month of the Islamic calendar. The three-day festival of breaking the fast is celebrated in various ways around the world. Eid El Fitr is a public holiday in Morocco, marked with public prayers and low-key family celebrations, as described in this article on Culture Trip.
Charitable donations, usually in the form of food staples such as wheat or flour, are also made in the last days of Ramadan. These donations ensure that even the poor are able to enjoy the holiday. Food to give away is just one of the five things that Moroccans buy for Eid El Fitr.
Home kitchens around Morocco are especially and souks abustle with Ramadan shopping during the month’s final week, as households prepare for the holiday meals to be shared during Eid El Fitr celebrations. Homemade cookies and pastries are supplemented with sweets from local bakers, and all sorts of family favorites–tagines, couscous, and more–feature at Eid dinners. Here, from Christine Benlafquih of The Spruce Eats is a list of some of the most popular Eid menu items, with recipes.
After the longest days of the year
After the Tetra-Pak heaps are gone and the freezers in the souk turned on again, it will be a treat to stop by a kiosk for a Magnum (double caramel, please). It’s summer, after all!