As I write this, I am currently 5 days in to what is (and always has been) by far one of my favourite months of the year – Ramadan.
Ramadan, as you may or may not know is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, but more importantly it is the holy month of fasting in Islam. Now you may be wondering why I, a self proclaimed lover of all things edible and vegan, would cite a month of fasting, as one of my favourites. But before I get to that, a brief explanation for those of you who might not really know what Ramadan is, or what it entails.
Fasting during Ramadan primarily calls for the complete abstinence from food and drink including water during the daylight hours (sunrise to sundown). A breakfast like meal, “suhoor”, is eaten in the early hours of the morning just before the sunrise call to prayer . After the sun sets we have “iftar” – the evening meal. In most households (including mine, many moons ago) this is traditionally a large and heavy meal. A typical iftar table in an Arab’s home looks more akin to a roman feast than a dinner for four.
Ramadan is observed religiously and is regarded by many as a time of increased spirituality and reflection. It’s also intended to increase compassion for those who are less fortunate (as such charity is seen as very important during the month), teach patience and humility, and instill self-discipline.
Sounds scary, right? I guarantee you it’s far from it. Ramadan is also a very festive and cultural time of year in this part of the world- which is why I love it. The whole family gathers and we’ll often have large iftar dinners with friends and family alike. In some countries (unfortunately, not here in Bahrain – Egypt wins the prize on this one) traditional decorations like lanterns and stringed lights are hung up around neighbourhoods and there’s just a lovely atmosphere of warmth and giving everywhere.
It’s hard to explain but I’d liken it to how western society celebrates Christmas in a sense. When I was younger, in fact, I often saw it as the “Muslim alternative” to Christmas as it used to fall around the same time – there’s nothing better than huddling around the dinner table on a cold mild winter’s evening and breaking your fast on a piping hot bowl of lentil soup.
Unfortunately, with recent temperatures in Bahrain hitting as high as 53 degrees celcius, it is definitely not winter anymore.
Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, the months get earlier each year (by about 11 days or so). Fasting in the summer means longer daylight hours and unbearably hot and humid weather – not exactly an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination.
Although I was initially thrilled at the thought of my first Ramadan as a fully fledged vegan, ersonally, I’ve struggled a little bit with fasting this year. Surprisingly enough, it hasn’t been down to the weather. In recent months, my eating habits have definitely leaned towards that of a grazer’s. I tend to eat small, frequent meals with various snacks in between. As a result, my metabolism is pretty much always raring to go, which is great in normal situations, but presents a little bit of a problem when you wake up a few short hours after suhoor and are already starving at the day’s start.
Slowly but surely, my body (and my stomach) is adjusting, and I’m sure that in a week’s time I’ll feel back to normal. In the interim, I’ve been experimenting with different meal combinations at suhoor to see what keeps me full the longest. So far, cooked oatmeal is coming out on top with traditional ful mudammas and wholewheat Arabic bread coming a close second. The only problem I have with ful (and other savoury things) is that any added salt tends to make me more thirsty the next day/morning. Tonight I’ll be trying out an all raw meal complete with a green smoothie and raw granola with almond milk – I’m curious to see how it’ll affect my hunger and hydration levels tomorrow.
I’ll report my findings back soon, hopefully with a new recipe in tow. In the mean time, here are some of my staple Ramadan recipes!
- Egyptian Red Lentil Soup
- Baked Kabab Bahraini
- Ful Mudammas
- Brown Rice Mujaddara
Before I go, I just want to say thank you so much for all your wonderful comments on my last post. Each and every one made me smile from ear to ear – I’m so blessed to have readers like you. 🙂
Until next time, Ramadan Kareem folks!