I cannot profess to be an authority on Iftar. I’ve been to quite a few, I’ve prepared a number of them and I’ve fasted through Ramadan for the past two years. But there are those who are far better positioned to talk about Iftar than me who may even be offended by my take on all this. If so, I’m sorry. I’m approaching this without any judgement of myself or others and hope it provides a good read. With that in mind, let’s get into a couple of quick questions and answers to help frame my thinking and this piece.
Wait, you’re a Muslim? It’s true. My wife, Dania, is the most perfect Egyptian, Jordanian, Arab, Muslim woman. Truthfully, I converted to Islam solely for the purpose of getting married to Dania. I’d have done pretty much anything to be honest. That series of events is a book of blogs in itself, but for now, the important thing thing is yes, I’m a Muslim but no, I’m not a particularly practising one.
So, why do you fast? I started fasting last year in support of our daughter’s nanny who was staying with us during Ramadan because of Corona related lockdown restrictions in Jordan. It just didn’t feel right for her to eat Iftar on her own so I decided to fast with her and break our fast together.
Fair enough. Why did you fast for a second year then? Well, on the surface of it, to show solidarity with our nanny who still stays over a few times a week, but perhaps more deeply, I enjoy the sharing of the fasting experience with my family and friends. I have also come to love the discipline and shake up of daily structure that fasting, and breaking it, brings.
With all of this self referential justification and explanation in mind, let’s get into my four lessons (to myself) for this year’s Iftaring.
The traditional break of fast is done with a date. You don’t want bad dates. One of the many joys of breaking my fast with our nanny is that her date game is STRONG. I still don’t quite know why, but when I buy dates, they are decent, sometimes delicious but she has a knack of producing the most succulent, juicy, perfectly ripe dates for us to eat each night, seemingly out of nowhere. If you want to mix things up, arguably the best date based fast breaking experience I have had was in Tunisia at La Villa Bleue where they served a date stuffed with almond butter. Utterly, ridiculously, delicious.
When I’m cooking, preparation is the key. Especially in the early days and weeks of Ramadan, I’ve enjoyed getting all my prep done in the early morning before everyone wakes up, planning, chopping and bubbling things away on the stove while my energy levels are solid and my mind is fresh. I’ve found that prep is more careful and diligent, knowing that the next time I eat will be in 12-13 hours. It makes for a beautiful ritual.
Iftar is a family affair. With all the best laid plans and preparation, I have come to appreciate that when it turns out my mother-in-law has been cooking literally all day for a family iftar that she would love us to join, it’s best to down tools and head over for iftar with the whole family. As an incessant planner, this has proved difficult at times. What about my iftar? What about the meetings I have? What about the break of routine? However, letting go of plans and giving in to a higher motivation, I’ve found, is always in my best interests, especially given the abundance of Nafas in Naira’s cooking.
Said no one about iftar before, ever. But……..stick with me. I am obsessed with stock. After hours of youtube videos, deals done with butchers and a newfound appreciation of sauces and jus, my stock game is now pretty strong. Stocks, soups and broths are a key iftar component for me. Yes, the flavour is always better with a good stock, but it’s also about the nutritional value of that beautiful liquid that pumps your body back up with the goodness and nutrients of a homemade stock. I’m up to at least a few stocks a week during Ramadan. The down side? Try fasting with delicious stock bubbling away, wafting its goodness throughout the house for sometimes, the full duration of the fast. Torture, yes. Worth it, absolutely.