RIYADH: Ramadan unites everyone, regardless of ethnicity, and Muslims across the Kingdom come together to break their fast with varied dishes that celebrate and showcase their cultural traditions during the holy month. Here’s a look at how expats from different cultures living in Saudi Arabia celebrate iftar and break their fast during Ramadan.
Some expatriates who have lived in the Kingdom for years and call the country their home have kept their cultural traditions, strengthened them and passed them on from one generation to the next.
“I think food is one thing in particular that keeps you connected to your home or your roots in some way. It’s also nostalgic for us when we break our fast in a home away from home,” Arshin Fathima, who has called Saudi Arabia home for the past 12 years, told Arab News “I am from Chennai (South India). India is a country of diverse cultures and because of that, each city has its own distinctive cuisine exclusive to the month of Ramadan.
She added: “I think when you start your family in another country, the kids definitely get used to the environment and adjust more comfortably here . . . so, in a way, sticking to our traditional meals makes us feel at home too sometimes.”
Fathima told Arab News that a traditional iftar table at her house contains a porridge or soup called ganji which is made with rice and lentils and very light spices. “We also have crispy and chewy donuts called medu vada made from lentils. Both are a good coolant and are light on the stomach after a long day of fasting. Of course, there are other items as well, but without ganji and medu vada, I think the whole Chennaiite fast would be incomplete,” she said.
When asked if there were any similarities between her meals and a traditional Saudi iftar table, Fathima enthusiastically replied, “Yes! It’s like my second home. We have sambousek, kunafa, logaimat cheese and meat alongside our traditional porridge. Sambousaks must be the first thing my kids look for when they break their fast.
Dr. Kifaya Ifthikar, originally from Sri Lanka, has lived in Saudi Arabia for over 22 years. “An iftar table should feel like a balance between health and happiness,” she said.
Ifthikar added: “In Sri Lankan cuisine it is usually salty all the way, we consume an assortment of fritters called cutlets, buns or patties and a thirst quenching pink drink called falooda.”
Falooda is a drink traditionally made with rose sherbet syrup, milk, basil seeds and sometimes vermiculite.
As an American convert to Islam living in Saudi Arabia, I really started to fall in love with Saudi cuisine.
Hana NemecUS citizen in Saudi Arabia
Unlike the Saudi and Chennai iftar, Ifthikar said that a Sri Lankan iftar should always consist of a dish of spicy porridge. Iftikhar explained that “even though our dishes are quite different, we see some similarities, for example, cutlets could be easily replaced with falafel or our porridge with oatmeal soup. Dates are still a staple , and sometimes a sip of qahwa.
Many Muslim expats living and working in the Kingdom have adopted the traditional Saudi style of breaking their fast with soups, light fried dishes and sweets, as well as the classic Vimto and dates.
“As an American convert to Islam living in Saudi Arabia, I really started to fall in love with Saudi cuisine,” Hana Nemec, an American citizen and communications officer for the American Chamber of Commerce, told Arab News.
“For me, American cuisine has nothing to do with iftar food. Iftar foods are so special to each of us because they are our first moment of gratitude for respite from our fast,” Nemec said.
Besides having a Saudi-style iftar table, Nemec has also dabbled in cooking local dishes. “After being my favorite dish for the past six years, I tried my own jareesh recipe last year and my friends couldn’t believe it was made by a non-Saudi,” he said. she declared.
Nemec isn’t the only American living in Saudi Arabia to have embraced and embraced the local traditional iftar.
Hasan Yusuf, an American Muslim living and working in Saudi Arabia, said his favorite way to break his fast was to share a meal with locals over a common dish of earika and haneeth – and savor it while eating hands. He explained that food brings people together. “We feast in complete privacy, sharing a single plate. Dishes like earika and haneeth should be eaten from a bowl or plate. Everyone’s hands are digging, reaching for the stars and eating happily,” he said.
Yusuf said he learned to appreciate a local favorite, camel milk, which he constantly incorporates into his iftar.
“It’s as simple as saying, ‘You are my brother, we are family, say bismillah and enjoy ‘our’ cultural dish. The “our” part makes me feel included. I never felt like eating earika or haneeth was an exclusive thing. In fact, I now master its making. So, yes, this year I will invite them to try OUR ear,” Yusuf said.
Iftar connects Muslims during the holy of Ramadan, regardless of the dishes on the table or the spices used. Muslims across the Kingdom embrace their cultural diversity. “They remind us how blessed we are to have the sustenance God has granted us, and for His mercy and bounty reflected in our lives to be able to gather with those we love to consume it. Not everyone on Earth is as blessed as us, so these foods are meant to be treasured,” Nemec said.
Although the food on each of our iftar tables may vary in color and flavor, Muslims in Saudi Arabia are united in celebrating Ramadan.