Today’s post is about Ramadan and how it’s observed and “celebrated” in Morocco.
I’d like to propose a better understanding of what Ramadan is about but most importantly, Islam being one Religion, people live it differently, according to their own cultural background, which is an important point to remember when we watch the mainstream media who tries to put all Muslim in one mold…
I’m going to write about the holy month of Ramadan from a cultural (including culinary) point of view.
In my description of the Moroccan way of eating during Ramadan, I’ll try to give a glimpse of the main habits, old and Modern bearing in mind that they can vary from a family to another. Also bear in mind things can be very different between major city dwellers and other parts of the country.
Moroccan savoury bites during Ramadan
Each month of Ramadan, the usual eating habits are very different as compared to non-fasting days. If Harira (the National soup) remains the essential dish in Ramadan’s table for many families, each home has some other preferred specialties.
Last meal before sunrise is called S’hour or souhour (an Ealy breakfast) and the meal at sunset is called Iftar (f’tour in Morocco).
We love shneiks, Moroccan krachel and danish during Iftar or just after it, along with coffee..
This a stereotype about Harira soup being served in EVERY Moroccan home during Ramadan. Actually, this is not the case. There is a repertoire of other soups which are served (like the one here and the other there). More on that subject, I am one of those who can’t digest it due to amount of tomatoes in it and I never ask for it.
Many Moroccans, aware of how harira can be heavy on their stomach (but their pocket too since the price of tomatoes during Ramadan goes sky-high), they literally avoid any bowl of soup to leave space for other goodies. Harira is a meal in itself.
The Moroccan ouarka sheets (not to confuse with phylo dough) is highly needed to make sweet and savoury triangles (samosa’s cousins), rolls or sbiaats (with almond here or savoury there), mini-bastillas. You may be surprised on the number of mini-bites served on a Moroccan table for Iftar.
Making mini-bastillas ahead of time, they’ll be frozen, uncooked, then baked when needed.
Moroccan women are very creative in the kitchen and cooking is most of the time a second nature which reach its peak in this holy month. They also get organized and make many recipes ahead of Ramadan..Usually, the two weeks before Ramadan are quite busy in our Moroccan homes with all the preparations related to food.
Msemmen, baghrir, mlaoui and other baked or pan-fried Moroccan pancake specialties are also served during Iftar or sohour, either stuffed on the savoury side (for Msemmen and mlaoui) or just drizzled with warm honey and butter.
Plenty of Moroccan pancakes
As far as the drinks are concerned, Coffee, tea, a myriad of homemade juices are a must on the Iftar table or just after that. It actually depends on the family members. Here is the scenario in our house: While I like having my cold orange for Iftar, my brother would rather have milk and dates in the mosque then join us for the meal.. My brother-in-law can’t function without a first coffee with a croissant. Some just settle for water as a start..Then comes the food.
The so-traditional chebbakia
The Moroccan F’tour
So, is there a rule as to what people eat and how/when? Not really..But like I said, let’s just give some common “formulas” for a Moroccan F’tour.
1- Soup is vital: Some won’t call it ramadan’s Iftar if they don’t see a soup on their table (Harira is one of them). This comes with dates and chebbakia. Then a pause, then tea, coffee, sellou and Moroccan pancakes of different kind are served just before everybody dashes for Isha prayer, after which a light tagine or grills will be served for dinner. This is a very traditional and widely spread in the deep part of the country and in families with limited budget.
2- Fish, fish and fish :In some coastal cities such as Casablanca and El Jadida, some families can literally have fish for Iftar every single day.”If there is no fish, there is no f’tour”. These also fall under the persons who chose to eat a meal and not break the fast with the soup & small bites formula. Some will have a small bowl of soup, pray while somebody is in charge of finalizing the fish dish.
3- Start slowly: People following Sunna (Prophet’s way of living) break the fast with dates and milk , pray, then have the soup with the mini-bites as mentioned previously. The dinner time will be only after the last prayer of the night called (Isha’a)…Anyone following Sunna will wake up for Souhour even for a date or a yoghurt. They usually get the most of the Ramadan’s diet.
4- All in one go: Some, like me, prefer to eat in one go during Iftar which we combine with dinner: A juice and one or two of the usual small bites on the table that day (small Moroccan krachel or danish, an almond briouats or sbiaat, a couple of stuffed mini-batbout, seafood rolls, mini-harcha…). I then eat my dinner right after, that could be grilled meat or fish, tagine of vegetables. I’m done until souhour where I keep it light but wisely chosen: bread, egg, yoghurt, cheese or a sort of porridge.
Classic Ramadan sweets
The Moroccan S’hour
This is again something following everyone’s taste. In Fez where my family comes from, it’s either a homemade yoghurt called Raib or/and mini-batbout drenched in warm honey and butter which would be flavoured with a bit of orange blossom water. Jben (Moroccan white cheese) is also part of the souhour table. Some go for heavier option such as egg and khlii omelet or eat leftover dinner or leftover pastry..
I prefer to keep it simple and wise, it’s either an egg sandwich or cheese sandwich for me. Sometimes, I’ll just settle for yoghurt or a hot porridge to keep me going for a few hours. I avoid too much sweets at all cost during souhour. You need to play it smart or you won’t last until next Iftar :).
Some decide to skip the whole thing, which is not advisable neither by the religion nor by the fact that ramadan is now falling in longer days of the years (for some time)..
There is nothing special in term of food in mid-ramadan unless you are running out of chebbakia and not wanting to buy it from the market. In this case, you have a long task which consist on replenishing your stock..
The sweet thing in that day is that most of the children who are not eligible to fast yet give it a go (even for half a day) and try to look “grown-up”..The child (ren) is then rewarded by his favourite culinary requests, maybe some money too but most of all, he/she feels so special especially if they manage to finish the day..There is practically nothing to expect from chidren below 9 or 10 especially when It’s about fasting a long day. It’s fun when they try to fast half a day then come and ask mummy “can you sew all the hours I’ve been fasting (understand not nibbling) to make up for a day? I don’t know any mother who didn’t have the magic needle..
Moroccan Jben, a fresh white cheese
Lailat El Qadr (Night of Power, Night of destiny)
The most important night in Ramadan on a spiritual level (Although it hasn’t been precised as of which of the last 10 unpair nights it is, many people tend to believe it’s the 27th). Some families serve trays dried nuts and fruits, draw henna patterns on the hands and feet of little girls (not eligible for fasting yet) who decided to fast that day (and also grown ups). In some areas of Morocco, the main dish for that day is a special couscous.
Eid ul Fitr: Feast of Breaking the Fast
In Morocco, this Eid is also called Eid S’ghir (small) as opposed to Eid El K’bir (the feast of the sheep). People perform the zakat El fitr which is an obligatory form of charity from those who can afford it.
This Eid is basically the day after the last fasting day when men wake up before sunset to get ready with their best traditional attire and head to Moussalla to offer Eid prayer.
In the meantime, women are busy making an important breakfast: plain Moroccan pancakes in all forms and shapes, tea and coffee. Sweets’ trays are prepared to be placed in the guests’ area because the day is for receiving families and loved ones and counting the blessings.
Some traditional Moroccan sweets for eid.
Notes about the meaning of Ramadan
Ramadan, besides being a month to go for a good body detox (and potentially lose weight and drop bad habits), it is primarily meant to be a detox for the soul and a time to strengthen our faith and our community bonds.
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar year. Practicing Muslims are asked to fast for 29 to 30 days (the month’s observance is based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon).
Fasting is obligatory for adult Muslims, except those who are seriously ill, traveling, pregnant (special cases and times of pregnancy or breastfeeding), or women with PMS.
While fasting from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking or smoking, no sexual intercourse either. Food and drink is served daily, before dawn (call for Fajr prayer) and at sunset (call for Maghrib prayer) and life goes back to normal between couples (unlike what I have heard from Non-Muslims who thought they knew what Ramadan was about).
Muslims are also called to work on their soul and attitudes by refraining from swearing, gossiping and remembering to be decent at all time. To those who give Jihad another bloody meaning, this is what Jihad is first and foremost about: the Prophet asked us to educate our soul and self against wrong-doing and elevate it to a pure creation, this is called “Jihad an-nafss” considering the energy once needs to put in this effort.
Unfortunately, what we see in the media, Jihad is usually associated with blood and ignorant people seeking power and coming with the worst misinterpretation this religion has ever had.
If Muslims can’t be an example anymore of the Perfect God’s creature in his/her behaviour, this is the month where he/she is supposed to re-educate themselves and take the right path that God is asking is to chose.
Having lived in many Muslim countries including our homeland, the reality is else: some people lose it easily, burglary and accidents go up, people eat too much and mix up things (as opposed to what the
Prophet’s Sunna has advised) and this result in sickness and waste. There is a lot of laziness and no commitment at work (which is considered wrong and viewed as a form of treachery). Unfortunately, people only remember the stomach-fasting part of it but not the eye (sight), ear (listening), the heart (bad feelings towards others), ..
Now from a culinary point of view, one can’t limit all Muslim under one ritual..
Being Moroccan from a certain region, I’d say we have a common line of conduct among all of us and I’ll even include Algerian and Tunisia in this pattern. Egyptians and Middle-Eastern Arabs (I will only limit my comparison to this ethnic group) have a wayyyyy different set of recipes for this month.
When I lived in Dubai and Doha, I had to re-create my own menu and I was only going out for Iftar to have something “exotic”. That is how different Moroccan F’tour can be from the other fellow Arabs. Not only that, Moroccans do not have Sohour tents with massive entertainment until dawn. Sohour in Morocco refers to the first early meal before fajr prayer (announcing we should refrain from eating) while a Souhour tent in the Middle-East is usually associated with Music, shiisha, food and a good dose of socializing. Moroccans either go to coffee shops or go visit families/friends in their homes and potentially share dinner. They’ll go home to sleep and then wake up for the Sohour bite..1 Ramadan, 2 different practices.