For one month every year, Muslims around the world observe Ramadan, a time of spiritual reflection and prayer. Set in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (a lunar calendar, 10-11 days shorter than the Western Gregorian Calendar. Therefore, the dates for Ramadan changes every year), Muslims believe it is during this month that God revealed the first verses of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad. A key component of Ramadan is fasting from dawn until sunset. But despite this emphasis on fasting, the food eaten to break the fast is a critical aspect of Ramadan. Known as iftar, the drinks and foods partaken during these evening meals differs among Muslims around the world, each with their own culinary traditions. Sweet drinks and soups hold a particular level of importance, as hydration and easily digestible foods are emphasized after a day of fasting. To learn more, check out the list below for some of the most popular drinks and soups of Ramadan.
In Egypt and the Levant, the drink qamar al-deen reigns supreme during Ramadan. A thick apricot beverage believed to have originated from Syria, it’s made by boiling apricots with sugar before being strained through an olive oil soaked wooden strainer. The mixture is then left to dry in the sun. The finished product is a thick apricot fruit leather that is mixed with water and sugar before being served cold. Qamar al-deen is prized as a good source of hydration and energy after a long day of fasting. The name qamar al-deen is believed to have originated during the days of the medieval Caliphs. The word qamar in Arabic means moon and al-deen means religion. Since Ramadan begins when a new crescent moon is spotted, legend states that a Caliph named the apricot drink qamar al-deen as a way to celebrate the crescent moon of Ramadan.
Throughout the Middle East, a version of shorbat adas can be found in most Muslim households during Ramadan. A nutritious lentil soup enhanced with spices like cumin, coriander and topped with parsley and a squeeze of lemon, it contains essential nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates and vitamins, all very important during Ramadan. Lentils are also good for digestion and stabilizing blood sugar levels, which are critical for iftar dishes. When choosing Ramadan dishes, foods eaten after a long day of fasting should hydrate and nourish. Lentil soup is a perfect choice for that criteria, as well as being an affordable and widely available ingredient.
Hulu mur is a popular Sudanese drink during Ramadan. Made from sorghum flour and spices, hulu mur is most commonly prepared at home by Sudanese women. The process is intricate. First, raw sorghum flour is cooked into a thick porridge. While the porridge is still hot, malt flour is added. The mixture is then left to ferment in a container either in the house or outside in the sun. During the fermentation process, spices like ginger, cinnamon and tamarind water are added. Once fermented, the mixture is spread into thick sheets and baked. Finally, the mixture is placed outside for the second time and left to dry for two days. The finished product resembles thick brown sheets, which are crumbled into flakes before mixed with water and sugar into a drink. The origins of hulu mur can be traced back 600 years to the arrival of the first Muslim Arabs in Sudan.
In Morocco, a warm bowl of harira soup is used to break the fast. There is no standard recipe for harira in Morocco as every cook has their own version, with flavors ranging from spicy to aromatic. Common spices include back pepper, cinnamon, caraway, ginger or cumin. The base for harira are tomatoes, chickpeas or lentils and meat, usually lamb or beef. Harira is also often topped with fresh parsley or cilantro. The soup should have a smooth texture regardless of variation, which is possible with the addition of a wheat or barley flour slurry. A common accompaniment to harira during Ramadan are dates and cookies.
In Pakistan and India, the flavored syrup Rooh Afza is unavoidable during Ramadan. Created in 1906, the red liquid is a complex blend of rose, grape, watermelon, orange, carrot, lotus, spinach, lilies and mint. Rooh Afza is served with milk and ice, but it can also be mixed with lime and water. Rooh Afza is also used to make sherbet, ice cream and other desserts. Meaning “refresher for the soul,” it was created by Dr. Hakim Abdul Hafeez Majeed at a small laboratory in Old Delhi. Majeed was inspired to make something that could battle the sweltering heat of the Indian summer. His concoction was a smash hit. Of course, it helps that Rooh Afza is a great accompaniment to rich and spicy dishes such as haleem, a stew popular during Ramadan. Rooh Afza is also affordable and consumed by all socioeconomic groups in Pakistan and India.
Originally an Arab dish, haleem is a thick porridge made from grain, usually wheat or barley and cooked with meat, lentils and spices. Haleem is cooked for 7-8 hours, producing a porridge with a paste like consistency. Many versions exist in the region, with the most popular hailing from the Indian city of Hyderabad. The origins of the dish can traced to the Middle East and a version even appears in the 10th century Arab cookbook Kitab Al-Tabikh (The Book of Recipes). The most important component of a properly cooked haleem is nailing down the texture. First, wheat, lentils and meat are cooked slowly with spices in a earthen kiln (large claypot). A labour intensive dish, it is important to continuously stir the mixture by hand. The result should be a smooth porridge with a perfect blend of grain and meat. A good haleem should resemble mozzarella cheese, possessing a “stretchable” consistency.
Indonesians are very fond of their many colorful sweets and the month of Ramadan is no exception. Kolak is a sweet indonesian dish beloved during Ramadan and can be best described as a sweet and chunky dessert soup. Made with coconut sugar, pandan leaf (a leaf with a vanilla like flavor) and fruits like banana, sweet potatoes, jackfruit, plantain or pumpkin, kolak is not a dessert in the Western sense (a sweet dish eaten after a meal). Indonesians, like many Asian cultures, treat sweets as snacks, and kolak can be eaten throughout the day. A particularly popular version during Ramadan is kolak kolang kaling, which is made from palm fruit.
Bubur lambuk is a savory Malaysian rice porridge. The porridge consists of rice boiled until thick with spices and meat, typically beef although chicken and fish are also popular replacements. Various spices are used in bubur lambuk: aniseed, fenugreek, cardamom, cloves, star anise. black pepper and date powder. Additional ingredients like dried shrimp, garlic, onions, coconut milk and ghee are also incorporated. Bubur is also often garnished with fried onions and scallions. A special event during Ramadan in Malaysia, the dish was invented in 1949 by a Pakistani chef named Allahyarham Said Benk at a mosque in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur. Since then, mosques throughout Malaysia makes various versions of bubur lambuk, all with different spices and meats, before serving it for free to the community.