Sweet smell of Ramadan tempts as South Asia’s Muslims fast

This combination of photographs shows plates with traditional food for Muslims to break their fast during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. (AFP)
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Updated 04 April 2022

Sweet smell of Ramadan tempts as South Asia’s Muslims fast

  • Mosques have been lit up with lanterns and nearby markets are bustling
  • Crowds stop for fried sweet pastries and stock up on meals to distribute to the poor

DHAKA: Mosques and market streets teem with evening crowds tempted by the scent of syrupy sweets and hefty rice plates, as more than half a billion Muslims across southern Asia break the day’s Ramadan fast.
The Islamic holy month began over the weekend and during that time believers abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual relations between sunrise and sunset.
The fast is conceived as a spiritual struggle against the seduction of earthly pleasures — but for the nightly “iftar” meal, festive meals traditionally bring families together and there is intense social activity.
The centuries-old Chawkbazar market in Bangladesh is a traditional center for evening meet-ups during Ramadan, with hundreds of makeshift food stalls selling traditional grilled meats and delicacies.

People purchase food for iftar meal from the Chawkbazar makeshift market during the first day of the holy month of Ramadan in Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 3, 2022. (Reuters)

Huge crowds returned to the neighborhood on Sunday for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic put a pin in large public gatherings.
“I am so happy to see people here,” said Ramzan Ali, who has sold barbequed quail at the market for around four decades. “The last two years were painful.”
Traditional dishes of pakoras and lentil soup were on offer alongside more esoteric fare, like kebabs made from the meat of bull genitalia and the ever-popular fried goat brain served to accompany roast meats and vegetables.
“It felt so good to come here again,” said businessman Mohammad Ashrafuddin.
“Without Chawkabazar’s iftar items, I feel like my Ramadan isn’t complete.”
Pakistan’s Muslims are also basking in the opportunity to again break fast in company and out from under a Covid crowd, with the government lifting restrictions on public gatherings weeks earlier.

Volunteers distribute food plates to Muslims to break their fast at a free food distribution point on the first day of Ramadan in Lahore on April 3, 2022. (AFP)

Mosques have been lit up with lanterns and nearby markets are bustling as crowds stop for fried sweet pastries and stock up on meals to distribute to the poor.
In India, crowds flock to stalls which line a street in the shadow of New Delhi’s resplendent Jama Masjid, one of the country’s largest houses of worship, snacking on wrinkled dates and seasonal sweet buns baked with infusions of coconut or cherries.

A shopkeeper selling a sweet dish waits for customers at a market on the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in the old quarters of Delhi. (AFP)

More subdued evening gatherings are underway in Afghanistan, where people are still reckoning with an acute humanitarian crisis in the wake of last year’s US withdrawal and the Taliban’s return to power.
The most popular fast-breaking local dish is Kabuli pulao — rice sprinkled with saffron and mixed with dry fruits, especially black raisins.
Special spicy pickles and jalebis — a calorific sphere of deep-fried batter soaked in sugary syrup — are also relished by families during their evening meals after breaking the dawn-to-dusk fast.

A vendor selling jalebis waits for customers on the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Kandahar. (AFP)

But many have been forced to keep their purchases to a bare minimum this year on account of the country’s food shortage.
“For the first time I’m seeing that food prices have risen so much in Ramadan,” Kabul resident Shahbuddin told AFP on the weekend.
“People were expecting that in an Islamic country prices would drop during Ramadan, but that has not happened.”
Islam is the second-largest religion in South Asia after Hinduism, and the region is home to around a third of the faith’s adherents.
Ramadan is sacred to Muslims because tradition says the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during that month.
The global observance draws to a close with the Eid Al-Fitr festival, a celebration marked with prayers and feasts.


Where We Are Going Today: Shurekie bakery in Jeddah

Updated 18 November 2022

Where We Are Going Today: Shurekie bakery in Jeddah

Saudi cuisine offers a wide array of bread and pastries, which vary according to the Kingdom’s many regions, including samoli, gursan, fatoot, tamees, tannouri, and shurek, to name a few.

Shurekie is a newly opened Saudi bakery in the Al-Rawdah district of Jeddah that offers shurek, a traditional Hijazi bread made in Madinah, with a modern twist.

The bread is coated with sesame seeds, which gives it its distinctive taste.

The demand for this type of bread increases during Ramadan as it is served with yogurt as a daily ritual for breakfast in the Prophet’s Mosque of Madinah.

Maintaining the texture of the original recipe, Shurekie adjusted the traditional shape to resemble a bagel, which it offers with delicious fillings such as halloumi, turkey, roast beef and tuna.

Shurekie also offers fatoot and suhaira, which is another type of shurek made with milk and chickpeas, as well as different kinds of flavored biscuits, cakes and cheesecakes.

To complement the traditional experience, Shurekie offers a combination box featuring six different Hijazi-inspired dips and condiments of your choice including cheeses, olives, pickles and jams.

The bakery also offers hot and cold drinks, including coffee, tea and kombucha.

For more details and information, visit the Instagram page @shurekie.sa.


What We Are Eating Today: Get the vacation vibes at Brekkie in Riyadh

Updated 26 October 2022

What We Are Eating Today: Get the vacation vibes at Brekkie in Riyadh

While summer is officially over, one of Riyadh’s newest breakfast spots recreates those crisp vacation morning vibes complete with delicious dishes that will get you out of bed easily for just a taste.

Reminiscent of laid-back eateries straight from Bali, Brekkie All Day Brunch and Cafe carries a tropical feel with its bamboo ceiling, woven-back chairs, and accent greenery wall. The modest restaurant makes you feel as if you’re sitting down for an experience rather than a meal.

The joint offers a wide variety of plates, including Western and Eastern takes on various dishes. For an indulgent meal, they recommend the scrambled mess, a combination of avocado, sweet potatoes, and eggs, nuanced by hints of sweet paprika, or the farmer’s breakfast, a similar concept dish with fried eggs and hash browns, drizzled with date syrup.

The double-layered Brekkie tostada is a fine take on the traditional Mexican breakfast: A crunchy toasted tortilla topped with a sunny-side-up egg, mashed avocado, beans and sour cream, garnished with some fresh coriander. It’s the perfect selection for someone looking for a light but filling meal.

For those born with a morning sweet tooth, their caramelized banana or sticky toffee French toast are the perfect starters to your day, made with sweet and thick brioche bread. The two dishes are perfect for the autumn season, garnished with candied nuts and smooth maple syrup.

Their offerings also include a variety of Middle Eastern-style dishes, like roasted pepper moutabel and foul moudames mezzes as well as types of shakshuka dishes.

Their mid-range prices make it the perfect place to have a weekend brunch with a big group. Whether you need an ambient place to get some solo work done or gather a few friends for some quality time, Brekkie will not disappoint.

While their coffee offerings are not the best in town and the waiting period is quite long on weekends, Brekkie makes up for it with flavorful, exciting and fresh meals and a summer vacation ambience.

Their branch on Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq Road, currently the only one in Riyadh, welcomes diners from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

For more information, visit their Instagram @brekkie.sa.

In southern Philippines, special ‘black stew’ offers taste of local Muslim culture

Updated 22 October 2022

In southern Philippines, special ‘black stew’ offers taste of local Muslim culture

  • Tiyula itum takes dark color from charred coconut powder
  • Dish is often served during festivities, including holy fasting month of Ramadan

ZAMBOANGA CITY: As she tosses charred coconut powder into a bowl of marinated beef, Yolanda Adrias prepares a special dish that is not only a famous southwestern Philippine delicacy, but also a gateway to the cultural identity of one of the region’s largest Muslim ethnic groups.

The dish, tiyula itum, means black stew in the language of the Tausug people, who live primarily in the southwestern parts of the Mindanao island group — in Sulu and Zamboanga.

Though not a native member of the Tausug community, 28-year-old Adrias, a gourmet cook of Philippine cuisines, has mastered tiyula itum to perfection, gaining some fame in Zamboanga where she works.

“Our Tausug neighbors here would request me to cook it for them,” she told Arab News as she began to saute onion, garlic and lemongrass to intensify the flavor of the dish.

She then adds beef and brings it to a boil, mixing in chili to produce the spicy kick that many people love about the stew.

Left to simmer for a while until the meat becomes soft, the ingredients soon take on color from the charred coconut, turning black in the process.

Sometimes known as “royal beef stew” and historically linked to the dining rooms of the Sultanate of Sulu, which existed until the early 20th century, tiyula itum is nowadays served on special occasions such as weddings or religious festivals closely linked with Tausug traditions.

“It’s our identity,” Jainab Abdulmajid, who used to work as provincial tourism officer in Sulu, told Arab News. “If you want to know the Tausug culture, you have to embrace our delicacy.”

For the family of Gamaria Abubakar Bawasanta, a former civil servant in Sulu, tiyula itum is a staple dish during the fasting month.

“Most Tausug families serve that dish during Ramadan,” the 59-year-old said. “It’s part of our culture.”

To some, it is also the ultimate comfort food, and one that brings a sense of belonging.

Ismael Bantilano, a taxi driver in Zamboanga, would always make a stop at Kim-Rise, a restaurant famous for tiyula itum, to feel better whenever he is feeling low or under the weather.

“If someone from the family has a cough or cold, the soup is a good remedy,” he said, recounting how during his childhood, the stew would bring him relief during illness.

But Bantilano’s strongest memory of the distinct flavor of tiyula itum is related to his late mother, who would await his return from school to serve the dish.

“It’s my comfort food,” he said. “I can’t live without having it whenever I am craving.”


What We Are Reading Today: ‘A Spoonful of Home’ by Rania Moualla

Updated 22 October 2022

What We Are Reading Today: ‘A Spoonful of Home’ by Rania Moualla

Rania Moualla, the founder of Saudi culinary academy ZaDK, is happiest in the kitchen.

At her home in Alkhobar, she loves to prepare meals for her family and guests.

She said the main ingredient of her creations was always love but she also sprinkled a few fun innovative twists into her favorite Middle Eastern dishes.

She has collected recipes that her Syrian mother prepared for her as a child and compiled an updated version of them for her “A Spoonful of Home” cookbook, with accurate measures and cooking times.

Her love of Saudi Arabia is evident in the book with dishes such as date rocca salad, maamoul, and tuna kabsa.

Moualla tries to minimize food waste, for example, saving scraps of bread to toast for fattet hummus, and freezing prepared meat to save time and reduce overall waste.

Her cookbook is a love letter in book form to her mother, who equipped her with her culinary skills. 

Photographic illustrations for the book were taken by Moualla’s friend Bushra al-Hindi, and all the dishes were cooked, prepared, plated, and shot in Moualla’s kitchen, using her own tableware.

With categories such as appetizers, and salad as main dishes including seafood, chicken, and meat, there is also a section dedicated to desserts and jams, and another just offering cooking tips.

All proceeds from book sales go to ZaDK’s food for change initiative. Priced at SR250 ($66), “A Spoonful of Home” can be purchased from the ZaDK website.

What We Are Doing Today: Making the most of Starbucks Rewards 

Updated 21 October 2022

What We Are Doing Today: Making the most of Starbucks Rewards 

Visitors to Starbucks in Saudi Arabia can now justify their caffeine addiction with a sweeter deal.

When ordering pumpkin spice latte, iced cold brew, or any other fancy customized drink, customers are now able to collect points or stars via a free app introduced to the Kingdom.

As in other countries, customers obtain stars according to how much they spend. Every SR10 ($2.66) spent will be worth four stars, and once 250 have been collected a free drink of choice can be claimed.

A total of 750 stars, which is the gold level, affords a free drink on the birthday of the customer plus access to exclusive offers and benefits.

People can download the app, add their name and then scan the QR code at the store after making their order.

As yet, the system is not as efficient as in the US where one of the perks of using the Starbucks app allows orders to be placed in advance and drinks to be customized. Users can also choose their nearest store, size of drink, add or remove any syrups or additions, and even request a sandwich to be warmed.

The order can then be collected, conveniently packed with the customer's name attached. Credit card details can be inputted to give the option of direct payment.

The Saudi version does not currently offer either of those options. It is simply an app to collect or redeem stars, and people cannot order on the app or pay directly using it.

However, improvements to the app are expected soon.