“Can you please come into the kitchen for a minute?” our friend asked, smiling. “My wife and daughter need a taster.” Ah, that’s cool, I thought. Perhaps there is something I can contribute to this meal, after all! It was the first time for Tom and me to be in Morocco after restoring Dar Borj Dahab, our house in Fez, and our first time to be in Morocco for Ramadan. We were honored to be invited to share the Ramadan table with a Fassi family, but I was feeling a bit at loose ends as preparations for breaking the day’s fast bustled around us.
I soon found myself in a sweet-and-savory whirl of magical aromas. Taking the spoon held out to me, I dipped it into the broth bubbling on the stove. Perfect. It is perfect, I nodded. “But does it have enough salt?” One of the women waved a jar of sea salt over the pot. They looked at me sternly, as though I was withholding a firm conviction that the soup lacked something. “Enough salt?” “Yes, yes!” I insisted, not knowing how to say “just right” in Arabic. “It’s ok!” Everyone in the kitchen beamed, mother, daughter, father, and son. “Shukran!” “Thank you!”
What is Iftar?
The dawn-to-dusk fasting for the month of Ramadan is the second of the five pillars of Islam, an act of self-purification and self-restraint. Iftar is the meal served at the end of each day of Ramadan, a very welcome end to a long day of nothing at all to eat or drink. Sweet dates with sips of water are always present at the iftar table, which also features juices, teas, sweets, and appetizers and for some families, main dishes. Classic soups, slices of bread with toppings and plenty of sweets make for a sweet and savory holiday table.
Ramadan’s restorative beverages
Iftar begins with sips of fruit juice, sweetened yogurt drinks, and water. Other tasty options include sweetened avocado smoothies and almond milkshakes, such as those we have enjoyed in the Fez medina and on our food walk in Marrakech. Adding a bit of orange flower water turns a milkshake into a Ramadan classic.
Soups of Ramadan
The classic soup for the occasion is harira, a kind of lentil and chickpea minestrone, eaten with dates and curls of honey-dipped chebakia. Another favorite is Bessara, made of lightly spiced fava beans, pureed with lemon juice, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with cumin or hot paprika. Both are great with unsweetened harcha, a semolina griddle cake similar in texture to cornbread. Other soups popular with Moroccans during Ramadan include semolina soup with milk, anise seeds and honey and barley soup with milk.
Bread and pastry favorites
Chebakia is a fried cookie that is soaked in honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Sticky and with hints of orange flower water, cinnamon, and anise, this is a delightful go-with for Iftar harira. Honeyed cookies are readily available from vendors in the medina, but if I were to attempt them at home, I’d start with this chebakia recipe from Amanda Moutaki, aka MarocMama.
One of my favorite Moroccan breads is mlaoui (Malawi), a type of folded crepe, and it is one of the many that appear on an iftar table. This video from Aicha Hatim Morelli shows how she prepares this delight for her Ramadan table.
The many types of bread—mlaoui, batbout (yeasted bread akin to pita), and harcha to name just a few–can be served plain with honey, jam, and cheese or stuffed with meat and vegetables. Beghir, an aerated pancake cooked on just one side and pocked with bubble holes, is ideal for dipping in honey or nutty amlou paste.
Sellou, in a class of its own
Sellou, an unbaked sweet made from sesame seeds, fried almonds, and browned flour, is a staple sweet on the Ramadan table. For many families, this rich crumble is one of the most important dishes for breaking the fast at Ramadan, served in a communal bowl and dipped out by the spoonful. So good!
Almond briouats are made of filo-like warka dough folded around almond paste flavored with orange flower water and cinnamon, fried and soaked in honey. Their counterparts, savory briouats, wrapped in sheets of warka dough and deep-fried, are also a highlight of the early-evening Ramadan breakfast, and one of my favorite items on the table. Home cooks get creative with these, filling them such mixtures as turkey and vermicelli, spiced fish, or creamy egg salad. I would be tempted to try these cheese-filled briouats wrapped in phyllo dough, from Epicurious, or oven-baked briouats with a tuna filling, using spring roll wrappers.
Sandwiches for the Ramadan table
The late-evening meal will feature main courses, such as tagines. For many, though, tasty sandwiches help bridge the gap. During Ramadan, baguette and sandwich vendors set up in the plaza near our house. The souk is a busy place as families pick up last-minute goodies for Iftar.
Moroccan mint tea
For most of the year in Morocco, mint tea is served all day. And for many Moroccans, mint tea is a must after a day of Ramadan fasting. Gunpowder green tea is the base, steeped with mint leaves and sometimes other herbs. Moroccans generally take their tea loaded with sugar—hacked off one of the large cone-shaped bricks in supermarkets—but the degree of sweetness is negotiable, and there’s no shame in requesting tea that is lightly sweetened or without any sugar at all. What is not negotiable for most is the pouring to achieve a head of foam on the glass. Pouring Moroccan mint tea is an art form!
Iftar—a warm and convivial occasion
Iftar is an especially warm and convivial occasion, a fitting backdrop to the observance of the holy month. Some non-Muslims in Fez do fast in solidarity with Moroccans. Some time ago, Moulay Idriss resident and hotel owner Rose Button provided her perspective on participating in Ramadan in an article on The View from Fez. Her observations are just as relevant today.
I like mint tea, but, not the Maghreb way –too much sugar. Good tpo hear from you Anita Breland!
Hi Karl! I’m continually amazed at the quantities of sweet that goes into a pot of traditionally prepared Moroccan tea. Thankfully, it is perfectly ok to order sugar on the side these days, which I certainly do!
Thanks for walking us through this Ramadan meal. We were just in a taxi in New York City and the driver, who was from Kashmir, talked about the fast—but didn’t reveal much about the food.
Great to have friends who are able to share their food and culture!
Sharing Iftar with friends does make the occasion special, I agree! Our experience with Ramadan has only been in Morocco, but I’d imagine most Muslim communities have their regional specialties on show for the holiday.
Thanks for this lovely post, Anita. I’m sure I just finished my dinner, as I’m sure my mouth would otherwise have been watering full tilt! the Ramadan offering you have shared with us all look very tempting. Having been in the UAE, I have tried a number of them and really enjoyed the myriad of flavours.
Having spent quite a bit of time in Morocco, I’ve seen that nearly all the Ramadan dishes we shared are available year-round. Home cooks do go all out for the holiday, though, following family traditions, much as we do for holidays in North America. I think it is the family touch–and of course, the camaraderie around the holiday table–that make it special.
These dishes look tasty to me now, just after finishing lunch. They’d be a true delight after a day of fasting.
Definitely, Donna! This time of year, the smoothies are especially good!
Beautifully written, Anita, and full of tasty information. I read a post about your home in Fez last week and drooled over the photos. Oh, how I would love to go spend a week or more there, away from the rest of the world, steeped in someplace new and different. And the photos of what you have done with it are beautiful.
Thanks so much, Donna. Fez is magical, and a big part of that is the food, and the traditions that are all around us here. We are in the final week of Ramadan now, and I really enjoy heading into the souks when the shops open for last-minute Iftar shopping. Ramadan is a special time to be here!
Thank you for your tips. Ramdan season is the time when you get to try out different cuisines. A lot of hotels and restaurants hosts Iftar buffet during this season, with different varieties of cuisines where you can dine out and celebrate Iftar with your family.
wow !! Amazing it looks very delicious. thank you so much Anita for sharing with us Ramdhan special dishes, their culture.