September 17, 2009
Beginning this Sunday, after a month of fasting from sunup to sundown, millions of Muslims around the world will observe the end of Ramadan with the three-day festival of Eid ul-Fitr. Traditions vary from country to country, but it’s not too surprising that food is central to the celebrations nearly everywhere, often in the form of elaborate family feasts.
Sweets are particularly popular. Iraqis make a rosewater-scented, date-filled pastry called klaicha (see links for recipes). A similar cookie called mamoul, served in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere, is filled with dates or ground walnuts. Palestinians make a butter cookie with almonds or pine nuts called ghraybeh. Indonesians eat lapis legit, a rich “thousand-layered” spice cake that was introduced by the former Dutch colonists. In the Netherlands, it’s called spekkoek. It’s a high-maintenance dessert to make because the batter is poured, and broiled, thin layer by thin layer.
Seviyan, or vermicelli noodles, are toasted and served dried or boiled and turned into a milky, soupy pudding called sheer khurma. This is the traditional Eid breakfast in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where it’s called shemai. Morocco’s Eid breakfast of choice is laasida, or buttered couscous. Iraqis start the day with a meal of buffalo cream with honey and bread.
In many countries children visit family and neighbors and are showered with small gifts and treats. In Turkey, it might be lokum (what we call Turkish delight).
Later in the day families gather for a big meal, with extra care going into presentation and serving a variety of special dishes. In Egypt, fish is usually the main attraction, while lamb is often featured in Iraq, Indonesia, and elsewhere. Beef is also popular, as in the Malaysian dish beef rendang, a spicy coconut curry.
At least as important as what is eaten is the fact that it is shared with family and friends. The prophet Muhammad instructed his disciples to “eat together, and do not separate, for the blessing is in the company.”
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