Iftar – Breaking the Fast

Phul Pitha, a Bangladeshi flower shaped cookie.
Phul Pitha, a Bangladeshi flower shaped biscuit.

For those who fast during the month of Ramadan (called Ramzan here in Bangladesh), breaking the fast at sunset, called iftar, is a celebration. Iftar on Fridays, the holy day of the week for Muslims, is often the day when the whole family can get together. As a foreigner living in Dhaka, I was invited to many iftars. Some are restaurants which serve an iftar buffet. And some at home. I was recently at a friend’s house for iftar and served the beautiful bicuit in the photo above. This biscuit, a phul pita, was crunchy, nutty, and slightly sweet. Plus, it was made by my friend’s grandmother. A masterpiece only surpassed by the host’s hospitality.

There are traditions to iftar. Most people try to get to their iftar location at least 45 minutes before sunset (which changes the rush hour pattern during Ramadan). As the sunset approaches, everyone sits at their place. At the minute of sunset (announced by the mosque announcements and followed on TV), breaking the fast starts. Usually, iftar is started by eating a date and drinking some lemonade. The iftar plates are individual plates with a variety of bites ready for eating as soon as the sun sets. After breaking the fast, Muslims will go and pray before returning for more food. Jalallaby (fried swirls of dough soaked in sugar water), haleem (a meat lentil stew/soup), and pakora (fried vegetable chickpea dumplings) are some of the most common items served for iftar. There can be ten or more dishes served, more when there are guests. I really enjoyed the split pea salad with ginger (in center of photo below) as this was the first time I tried this dish. The yellow peas were crunchy and the salad tasted fresh and spicy.

My iftar plate. From the top: pakora, dates, lentil salad, jalallopy, deep fried eggplant, and in the center, split pea salad.
My iftar plate. From the top: pakora, dates, lentil salad, jalallopy, deep fried eggplant, and in the center, split pea salad.

For most Bangladeshis, who normally eat dinner at 9-10 in the evening, iftar is just the appetizer course. Enjoy!

Eid Mubarak!

Ramadan In Dhaka

One of the changes in Dhaka during Ramadan (or Ramzan as they call it here), is that the traffic patterns change. After 6:30 p.m., there is almost no traffic on the roads so it makes getting around at that time ideal for those of us not trying to be somewhere to break the fast (Iftar) at sunset. The times of the shop openings are slightly different and things are in general not as bustling. But only slightly. Mostly, what one notices is the lack of traffic during normal rush hour hours.

One of my favorite roads in Dhaka.

If you are lucky enough to be invited to Iftar, you will find certain foods ready on your plate for that exact minute when the sun sets. Most of the items are small fried items like dates, fish cake, lentil patty, mini funnel cake, etc. There is also a special lentil soup called “haleem” which is a must to break the fast. Lemon water is the normal drink served. After the Iftar, or breaking of the fast, people will go for a quick prayer, then they eat a supper, often buffet if at a restaurant. Many, if not most, restaurants offer Iftar menus.

The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid-ul-Fitr (the first of two in the year). The long Eid is a festive time lasting days. Families give gifts, mainly of clothes, to each other. The shops are open all night long so that people can shop. Bonuses are paid. During the long Eid, many businesses close for days and many people leave town for the long holiday. The start and end of Ramadan depend on the moon.