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Home > Life & Culture > Cuisine
The Palestinian kitchen: Foods of Ramadan
Sufian Mustafa, This Week in Palestine, Sep 22, 2007

This article was originally published by This Week in Palestine and is republished with permission.

A Palestinian man prepares the traditional Ramadan sweet katayif in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. (Haythem Othman, Maan Images)
Food traditions form a major part of the Palestinian national identity. As a matter of fact, Palestinian culture revolves around the kitchen, for there isn't a single social event that is not connected to food and drink, of which the most honourable is the month of Ramadan, described as the month of generosity.

Palestinian cuisine is displayed on the table throughout the month of Ramadan, a veritable feast every day of the month. It is an old tradition that was started at the time of Muhammad the prophet in the seventh century. Ramadan is the Muslims' month of fasting during which food and drink are prohibited from dawn to sunset.

In the olden days, before the advent of radios and alarm clocks, the Musaher would go around the houses, singing and beating his drums in order to wake people up for the Shour, a time for prayer and eating before the beginning of the fast at the crack of dawn. In preparation for fasting, light foods are usually consumed, such as labaneh (strained yoghurt), white goat cheese, and fried or boiled eggs, along with lots of liquids to drink. The call to dawn prayers announces the beginning of the fast.

Waiting at the table for the call to evening prayers or the firing of the Ramadan canon to announce the end of the day's fast, and smelling the mixed aroma of different dishes, is a real torture, but the reward is worth it. The aroma gives you a clue to what might be cooking. The smell of sauteed garlic qadha keeps you wondering, is it bamieh (okra) in thick tomato sauce, or is it mloukhiyeh (Jews mallow)? Or is it maqali, fried tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, potatoes and zucchini? Or maybe it is just a dip or a potato salad.

Traditionally, breaking the fast starts with consuming a couple of dates, for a quick supply of energy, a tradition passed on from the Arabian Peninsula, followed by a cold drink. Tamarind, soaked in water from the night before then strained, sweetened, and mixed with rose water and some

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lemon juice, makes for a traditional drink, as does Qamar Eddeen, a drink made of dried, cooked apricots. Soups are also a must for an additional supply of liquids after a long day of fasting. The most popular soups are those made with lentils, vegetables, or freekeh, which is cracked, green wheat that is cooked in chicken stock. It has become customary to have more than one main dish at the table. Rice always accompanies stews and sauteed vegetables that are either plain or cooked with meat. No table is complete without the inclusion of one or two types of salads, hummos, and falafel, which are usually bought at the very last minute so that they are still crisp when brought to the table.

In Ramadan, unlike the other months of the year, meat is consumed in relatively large quantities. The generosity of those who are well to do extends to those who are less fortunate. Each household prepares extra food to provide for the neighbours and the poor. Food given to the poor should be of the same quality as that consumed at home.

The month of Ramadan in Palestine has become more of a cultural than a religious ritual. Christian Palestinians, too, eagerly await the month of Ramadan, as it is the only time of the year when Katayif are sold. Katayif are similar to pancakes that are cooked on one side only then filled with ground walnuts mixed with cinnamon and sugar, or with sweetened, white goat cheese. The filled pancakes are then baked or fried and served with syrup or honey. Other desserts include Muhalabiyeh, a pudding made of milk flavoured with Arabic gum, and Qamar Eddeen, a pudding made from apricot paste.

Small cookies made of semolina and stuffed with ajweh (dates) or ground walnuts are prepared towards the end of the month for the celebration of the "Eid", the holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

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