Ramadan is a time for reflection, patience, generosity, and overall goodwill. It is also a time to connect with family and friends and to build community over shared meals and prayers. While certain foods such as dates, pastries, and juices unite Iftar tables everywhere, there is vivid variation in Iftar spreads around the world. Every family has its own little culinary customs for the holy month, which makes the experience warmer and more personal each year.
People from ten countries tell Al Arabiya English what they eat during the holy month and reflect on their memories associated with the dish in this list of quintessential Ramadan food from around the world.
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Grape vine leaves are stuffed with rice, meat, and spices. While the dish is made with slight variations across other Arab countries, Menatalla Shawky says the dish is “as Egyptian as it gets.” The little bundles of flavor are served warm at Iftar.
Samosa chaat “tastes amazing, but more importantly, it lights up faces at the table,” says Mohammad Amaan Siddiqui from India. Samosas are fried potato-filled pastries, which are smashed into a bowl and covered in yoghurt and tamarind chutney to level them up into samosa chaat.
Tepsi betenjan, which translates to eggplant platter, is a quintessential Ramadan dish featured at Iftar in Iraqi households. It is an eggplant casserole made from fried slices of eggplant, meatballs, tomatoes, onions, and garlic – all placed in a baking dish, covered with potato slices, and baked. Tuqa al-Ayoubi from Iraq says her favorite thing about the dish is that it is very flavorful, “like an Iraqi ratatouille.”
No Pakistani Iftar spread is complete without fruit chaat, which is a fresh fruit salad seasoned with chaat masala. Pinar Khadeeja’s memories for Ramadan include cutting up fruits into little cubes to prepare the salad, “This dish is my mom’s favorite, which is why it brings me extra joy in making it every day for Iftar.”
A Palestinian Iftar is done right when there is makloubeh on the table – a rice dish made with meat. Jana al-Jamal says the dish reminds her of her roots as a Palestinian villager and the tradition of a family gathering around “to eat a shared dish of simple rice and chicken, but with a pinch of motherly love.”
Sarah al-Saeid calls mahshi “the ultimate Middle Eastern comfort food.” It is the dish her mom cooks on the first day of Ramadan every year. Mahshi features zucchini, eggplant, and vine leaves, stuffed with a mix of rice, spices and ground beef, which is then simmered for hours in tomato sauce and dried mint leaves. For al-Saeid, “It is home in a dish.”
A must-have dish for Sudani Ramadan spreads is asida and molaah. Asida is a dough made by stirring wheat flour into boiling water, and sometimes butter or honey is added. It is eaten with molaah or stew. Amnah Sewar al-Thahab from Sudan says, “Asida in particular is made from vegetarian and affordable ingredients, highlighting the simplicity and minimalism, which the holy month advocates for.”
Kaimati, crisp fried dumplings covered in saffron-flavored sugar syrup, is a Ramadan snack from Tanzania that is eaten at Iftar with dates or as a dessert after dinner. Lamia from Tanzania shares her associated fondness with the sweet dish, “Kaimati brings so many childhood memories of large family Iftar gatherings back home.”
United Arab Emirates
Thereed is a traditional Emirati dish which is made from regag or bread crackers mixed in with a nutritious tomato-based soup called saloona that includes meat, meat broth, Emirati spice mix, carrots and potatoes. Jawaher al-Mheiri from United Arab Emirates says the dish is like a hug for her soul, “Thereed means so much to me during Ramadan as it is always the dish that we pick for our first Iftar of the month.”
Fattah is a made from homemade cut-up pita bread, warm milk, Yemeni ghee or clarified butter, and honey. Maroa al-Dhubani recalls her nostalgia associated with Yemeni Fattah, “The smell reminds me of cold winter nights of Ramadan back when I was a teenager. Even if I was not hungry, the warm delicious smell always made me grab a spoon.”
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