Vote for my Shawerma Tuna Flavour for a chance to win AED 15,000

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Ramadan in Jordan part 2 - The Ramadan Cannon Tradition & Jordanian Zalabia

Jordanian Bedouin

"Back in the day, when people in Jordan did not have televisions, radio or speakers to hear the Athan الأذان (call for prayer), the kids used to go to the Mosque before Iftar and wait there until the Athan, then run back home to tell their families that they can now break their fast. Then came out the Cannon. When people heard its sound, they gathered at the table for Iftar."
- Rawan Otoom, Jordanian Food Blogger

The Ramadan Cannon
Then came the Cannon...
which when fired signaled the time to break the fast. When exactly did the Cannon tradition start, remains debatable. Some believe it started during the Mamelukes era, while others argue that it started during Ottoman times.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Ramadan in Jordan Part 1 - Unique Traditions and the Bedouin Jordanian Mansaf

Jordanian Desert Police, also Known as the Bedouin Police
Photo by Rawan Otoom

"Ramadan in my country means Home and Family. We like to eat at home during the Holy month, or at a close relative's home. We enjoy family gatherings, and raise our kids to appreciate them too, as we believe these family ties have a huge positive effect on our kids. Teaching children to be close to and appreciate family enhances virtues of kinship and love in their minds." 

- Rawan Otoom, Healthy Food expert in e-magazine
 and a Jordanian food blogger

A cuisine dictated by Geography
Characterised by a generously varied geography, Jordan houses the desert, a variety of agricultural plains, the valley that is home to earth's lowest below-sea-level spot (the Dead Sea), as well as pinning many high mountains. These environmental variations are very well reflected onto the country's cuisine, as the Jordanian cuisine differs from an area to another, both in ingredients and method of cooking.  The Jordanian cuisine is unique as it is the outcome of a marriage between Beduin food and the agricultural community's food. I say unique, because in most cases the food is either evidently Bedouin or characteristically agricultural, however, in Jordan it is very common to see both features in the same dish.

Monday, 29 July 2013

What do soups have to do with the origin of Restaurants & the roots of their association with curing ailments - Algerian Chorba Frik (Green Wheat & Tomato Soup)

"Soup" A painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1865)

Did you know that soups are the base of eating as we know it today? Better yet,  did you know that soups are the base of the thought 'nurturing the body through food'? How about if I tell you that soups are the origin of restaurants? What does it all have to do with Ramadan?

Yes soups are the base of eating, body nurturing and the food industry as we know it today! If such statements make you curious as they made me, then read and explore how all cooked food started and evolved to all the varieties we know today...

Sunday, 28 July 2013

How She Remembers Ramadan in 1910 - 1950 & Khobz Eddar (Home-baked Algerian Bread Recipe)

Nana Kadidja
Radia Youcef's Great Grandmother

"My grandmother Djenet is 82 years old, Alla Yihmiha (Bless Her), and is a very curious lady who likes to chat. I love her and love chatting with her especially about old times. When I asked her what she remembers about Ramadan food back in the day and during her early years, she said: 'food was simple, less sophisticated than today but still women made sure to produce good food for their families during Ramadan. So much so, that they went the extent of selling their jewelery, if needed, in order to feed their family properly during the Holly month'."

- Radia Youcef, Algerian doctor turned food blogger 
and her  grandmother Djenet

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Ramadan in Lebanon - Old Traditions & a Lebanese Lentil Soup

Lebanese children celebrating Ramadan
Photo by

"The most significant Ramadan tradition that my family follows is being together as a family and I do hope and believe that the younger generation does follow this tradition. Ramadan is a lovely time of the year that I would invite everyone to join in and celebrate regardless of religion or culture." 
 - Tala Soubra, UAE Blogger 'Fork it over Dubai'

As part of the celebrations in the days leading up to Ramadan, many Lebanese people head out to the beaches or public parks with their children for sighting the crescent that signals the beginning of Ramadan, as part of the longstanding Beiruti tradition called "Istibanat Ramadan" إستبانات رمضان . Back in the day, after people have seen the crescent they would head to Dar Al fatwa دار الفتوى (The Islamic Court) where they would testify seeing the crescent and the Mufti مفتي will then announce the beginning of Ramadan. While much of the old traditions seem to be diminishing with time, most people still carry out this tradition and some even insist that their children and grandchildren should take part to keep the tradition alive. After all, these traditions are ones that give Ramadan its distinct flavour.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Al Hakawati الحكواتي - The Story Teller tradition & another traditional recipe

Al Hakawati (The story teller)

Hakawati is an Arabic world that Literally means 'a story teller'.

In Arabic Culture a Hakawati is the person who is known for his/her talent in story telling, that who attracts everyone to sit and eagerly listen. However, never one to tell none-sense or aimless stories of self heroism - which traditionally is seen as a shameful act of boasting - rather one to tell meaningful stories with universal wisdom.

سرد ارتجالي - 
Spontaneous Narrative

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Machboos Rubyan - Traditional Bahraini Dish of Rice & Shrimps

Machboos Rubyan - Bahraini Rice & Shrimps Dish

Machboos is one of my favourite Bahraini dishes.

I was first introduced to Machboos through a colleague in Bahrain and instantly fell in love with it. However, she refused to give me the recipe, as some people do. In fact it used to be very common for most people to tell you that a recipe is secret and not for sharing. More so in the past than today, but until today many people still look at recipes as top secret and not for sharing.

I really wanted to learn how she made her Machboos because it is by far the best I have had, but never was lucky enough to convince her of it. Years later another Bahraini friend shared her recipe with me, which I have tweaked and worked and tweaked some more trying to achieve the flavours of the first secret recipe and never did! However, I did end up with this recipe which is slightly different but just as good :)

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Ramadan in Bahrain - Traditional Bahraini Saloona and its transformation into Thireed

Isla Town market stalls in Bahrain
Photo by Green Prophet

"For as long as I remember, Saloona has been the comfort dish that is popular with all of us - my siblings and me. "                                  
 -     Zain Al-Zayani Bahraini Food Blogger  

When I was living in Bahrain I used to always look forward to Ramadan over there. The island is such fun during the Holy month! With many Ramadan tents to hang out after Iftar, where everyone gathers to play cards, and nibble on delicious food all the while listening to live music bands playing music that ranges from classical arabic (Oud and Qanoon) to Um Kulthum and Abdil Wahab songs and old favourites. Bahrain Definitely has a Ramadan spirit that is unique and very amusing.

In the days leading to Ramadan and throughout the month the markets are filled with many varieties of food and ingredients as well as Ramadan special offers. The markets get so buzzing with people, that you actually have traffic inside the shops. Everyone is buying and stocking ingredients for Ramadan cooking, home entertaining and last minute cravings. It is such a pleasure to go and watch the beat of Bahraini markets during Ramadan.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Ramadan in UAE - The Authentic Emirati Ramadan Traditions, Rice Farni Recipe

A scene from Old Dubai Market, the Coffee Shop
Photo taken at the Dubai Museum

"We never eat out during Ramadan. It's a time we spend with the family."
- Arwa Lootah, Emirati food blogger 'La Mere Culinaire'

Recent Trends
Perhaps the most prominent image, in the mind of all expats, for Ramadan in the UAE is that of the Ramadan Tents. Set up for the month of Ramadan, these tents usually offer Iftar buffets and an after Iftar gathering place mainly in the form of an indoor lounge set up. The entertainment often features Arabic instrumental music, or large TV screens showing Ramadan comedies or sports programmes... and some tents offer backgammon, card or video games as well as shisha. Foodwise, customers can indulge in a la carte or buffet selections of snacks and desserts, along with hot and cold beverages...etc.

Monday, 22 July 2013

How Savoury Can Become Sweet - Halawet il Jiben (Arabic Dessert made with cheese)

Halawet il Jiben
An Arabic dessert made with Cheese sprinkled with nuts then drenched with sugar syrup

I had recently been invited to like a facebook page "Wisdom in A Story", the page is written in Arabic, telling stories that have an underlying wisdom, morale or piece of advice. While browsing through the stories I found the one I am posting here today, which I thought is the best accompaniment for today's recipe.

Today, I am posting the recipe of Halawet il Jiben حلاوة الجبن, an Arabic dessert made out of cheese, which is essentially savoury. The cheese is sweetened, then mixed with Semolina to turn it into a dough. It is then filled with fresh Ashta قشطة (Arabic style clotted cream) and rolled to seal the filling. The rolls can be made in the size you desire (larger ones or small dainty ones depending how you want to serve the dessert).

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Ramadan in Morocco - A time for mothers and grandmothers to care for the whole family & Moroccan Hareera Soup

Old day Moroccan market place painting by A.S. Forrest
for the Book 'Morocco' by Journalist & Author S.L. Bensusan, first published in 1904

"For the Moroccans, Ramadan is the time of home, a time where mothers and grandmothers care for the family and as ever that care is displayed through food. Around a big table of meticulously created meals sits the whole family, all at the same time, to share and enjoy the delicious food prepared with utmost care." 

- Assia Othman, food blogger

While, not so long ago, a family sitting to savour a meal together used to be taken for granted, anyone living in today's world knows how such simple joys have become quite challenging these days and might need taking extra measures and at times may even require pre-scheduling to happen! Today's hectic lifestyle, the sonic speed, and work demands have left families striving for each other's company and to many, Ramadan presents people with a welcome break from that challenge allowing families to gather again, catch up and share meals together as they have always done, and are meant to be. 'Silat Al Arham' صلة الأرحام  meaning gathering and connecting with the family is a fundamental virtue of the Holy month. Therefore, families ensure gathering and connecting. 

In most cases motherly love is on full display through nurturing by food. We all know too well how our mothers always want to feed us. They always demand we gather and tempt us with spreads of deliciousness, and during Ramadan, knowing that everyone is hungry and appreciating good meals, they go out of their way and artistically create demanding and time consuming extremely delicious treats for all their children to enjoy. The beauty of Ramadan is that this is a mission taken on not only by our mothers, but even our grandmothers. There is charm in the sight of a mother and grandmother standing together in the kitchen, cooking together for their children. I have always enjoyed watching mine, and now more than ever appreciate the sentiment and the effort of such generosity of spirit. 

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Mystery of Moroccan Tagines - My favourite lamb & aubergine Tagine recipe

Morocco is beautiful, come back tomorrow and find out
how Ramadan is celebrated in Morocco
Like Morocco, a Tagine promises mystery in the shape of a round and edged earthenware plate always topped with a conical lid that once removed can no longer contain the escaping whiffs of highly aromatic steam making their escape in almost a whisper hinting complexity of flavour in a story of marriage between sweet and savoury that could only mature under the repeated on and off showers of cooled steam once rising above all the rest of the ingredients only to return when it has cooled in solitude to rediscover and reignite its own love affair with those ingredients. Like Morocco, Tagine is a decadence that comes in stages, one that you can never fully understand in terms of complexity until you have experienced it again and again, and like Morocco, a Tagine is eternal.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Ramadan in USA - Qamar El Deen (Apricot Juice)

"My Ramadan food memories come from my family’s very Egyptian kitchen in the US, where I grew up. One of the most important aspects of the season was to feed the community around us."                  
                                             - Sarah Dajani, pastry student at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris

While the US is not the first place that pops to mind when saying Ramadan, there is a Ramadan culture in some areas over there too. Whereas only the Muslims observe the fast, more and more people join in the cultural aspect of the Holy, which is mainly characteristised by being a time to focus on good deeds and acts of supporting the community.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Hareem Al Sultan, The Reality & The Drama - Tulumba Dessert بلح الشام

The Turkish TV Drama Hareem Al Sultan

"The people think of wealth and power as the greatest fate,
But in this world a spell of health is the best state.
What men call sovereignty is a worldly strife and constant war;
Worship of God is the highest throne, the happiest of all estates."

- Sultan Suleiman i, aka Suleiman the Magnificent

While most of Ramadan traditions are derived from the past, one of the most recent Ramadan Traditions is the abundance of TV shows produced specifically for Ramadan, promoted heavily before the month and eagerly awaited and watched throughout. It is safe to say that Ramadan TV shows are an undivided part of the spirit of the month. Like the stocking of the pantry, once the poster's are hung to promote the shows, you sense the closeness of the approaching month. Because of the magnitude of the shows aired during Ramadan, channel providers are now offering recording services as well as later viewing on their websites in case you miss anything. this way, most people get to watch most programmes even if they are aired at conflicting times.

The shows range from drama, to comedy, short films, competitions, reportage, cook shows and a most recent cook show drama... you name it, it is included. One such huge show that many eagerly wait for is
Hareem Al Sultan حريم السلطان

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Ramadan in Topkapi Palace, Royal Iftars, Ceremonies & Religious Rituals - Ottoman Khoshaf

For more info on Topkapi Palace

"Throne of my lonely niche, my wealth, my love, my moonlight.
My most sincere friend, my confidant, my very existence, my Sultan, my one and only love.
The most beautiful among the beautiful...
My springtime, my merry faced love, my daytime, my sweetheart, laughing leaf...
My plants, my sweet, my rose, the one only who does not distress me in this world...
My Constantinople, my Caraman, the earth of my Anatolia
My Badakhshan, my Baghdad and Khorasan
My woman of the beautiful hair, my love of the slanted brow, my love of eyes full of mischief...
I'll sing your praises always
I, lover of the tormented heart, Muhibbi of the eyes full of tears, I am happy."

- Under his pen name, Muhibbi, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent 
composed this poem for Hurrem Sultan (AKA Roxelana or Huyam)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Ottoman Ramadan Food & Food Traditions - Baklava

Classic Ottoman Jam Jars

"This evening is number 16

As the month of Ramadan goes

Today the Janissaries got

Baklava from the Padisah"

- Ottoman Fasil recited at the palace when Baklava trays 
have been distributed to the Janissaries

The Ottoman Ramadan Pantry
Unlike today, in old times fruit, vegetable and dried goods were not available throughout the year. Therefore, all foods and ingredients that are to be consumed during Ramadan had to be prepared during the seasons when they were available. In Ottoman times, these foods that were bought or prepared ahead of time specifically for consumption during Ramadan were known as Ramazanlik. Such foods included pastirma, sucuk, kavruma and other meat products as well as dried green beans, vegetables (such as eggplants, tomatoes and red peppers) and various pickles, cheese and oils, preserves, marmalades and fruit leathers and also bulgur, noodles, rice, pasta and breads. Back then, it was important that such foods be bought or prepared in quantities sufficient to last at least a month.

According to Abdulaziz Bey, in his book Osmanli Adet, Merasim ve Tabirleri (Ottoman Customs, Ceremonies and Expressions), the preparation for Ramadan during Ottoman times was as follows: 

Monday, 15 July 2013

Ramadan in Ottoman Times - After Iftar Entertainment, Music & Light Illuminations - Mengen Pilaf

Sarai, at the palace

"The moon of my Ramadan
My soul is happy and pleased
May your honored Ramadan
Be blessed, my Sultan

Listen to the happiness tonight

Bid hello tonight
Oh statesman mine
They saw the moon tonight

Tonight they saw the moon

They prostrated themselves on the ground
They decked themselves out with candles
The mosques were adorned..."

- Classic Ottoman Fasil Song for the Night Before Ramadan

Many of Ramadan's cultural traditions have their roots in the Ottoman times. While there are traditions that date way back to the era of the Caliphates, most of the traditions we know today, and in various countries, came to light during the Ottoman empire. They have been adapted and continued to exist until modern times. Fasting, feasting, poetry, light displays, street performances, theatre, music, night celebrations lasting to dawn... are all characteristic of Ramadan in Ottoman times, and continue to be characteristic of Ramadan today.

In this post I will explore the after Iftar activities that took place during Ottoman times. This is an exploration of Ramadan from the perspective of the public during the Ottoman era. I am also dedicating a separate post for exploring the Ramadan traditions and food from the palace perspective to give you a fuller picture of Ramadan in Ottoman Times..  
So read on and hope you enjoy these posts ...

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Ramadan in Algeria - The traditions, customs and food

Algerian Baklawa

"Food is the most prominent of my early childhood memories of Ramadan. The fragrance of fresh coriander leaves being chopped for my mother's hearty 'chorba frik', prepared in a shorba clay pot that is purposely bought for Ramadan... the aroma of orange blossom water from the 'Andalusian Prune Tajine'... and the smoky flavors of grilled peppers ... all whisper Ramadan to my memory."         

                                                                           - Kaouther M., author of Simply Algerian

I have had the pleasure of picking Kaouther's brain and had an ever so interesting chat with her about Ramadan in Algeria, its Algerian traditions and specific foods. I have come to learn that while there are ample similarities between Algerian Ramadan traditions with those in other Arab countries, I must say, there were lots of traditions over there that are completely new to me, and very specific to the Algerian culture. It was really a pleasure getting to know Ramadan in Algeria and exploring its cuisine and traditions which I have found very interesting and thought you might too. 
Read on and explore The traditions, culture and food of Ramadan in Algeria.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Luqam and Medieval Islamic Cooking

How food travels around the world fascinates me
The Medieval Islamic dish: Luqam Al Qadi

Despite having published the recipe of Luqam a few years ago (find the recipe here), I had to include this recipe again this year because as I have come to learn, Luqam Al Qadi happens to have such an interesting history and that is one of my focal points this Ramadan. Moreover, Luqam is a dish that is known to be a part of the menu that devout Muslims of the Medieval Era ate to break their Ramadan fast and continues to be one of the most favourite and widest spread dessert options in Ramadan until today.
So read on I think you will enjoy exploring this traditional dessert from a fresh perspective.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Traditional, Old Fashioned Mint Tea & Flavoured Water - Drinks from old traditions revived into new Ramadani traditions

Moroccan Mint Tea

"Whither resorting from the vernal heat
Shall Old Acquaintance Old Acquaintance greet,
Under the Branch that leans above the Wall
To shed his Blossom over head and feet."
- The Rubaiyat of Omar Al Khayyam

While coffee, especially Turkish and Arabic Coffee are very popular in most Arab countries, tea remains the widest spread drink of choice everywhere in the Middle East. Over here, people unwind in the afternoon with a cup of tea usually sitting in the front yard under the shade of a tree where the children play and the grown ups chat. And as they sit, they will greet passers by in the street as usually most people know each other. They will even insist they join for a cup of tea. Tea is also served for breakfast, dinner, before a meal, then after as a digestif. It is even the drink served when getting together with old acquaintances, and an absolute must with desserts.

One beautiful tea tradition, recently revived and brought back to life in many cities after having disappeared for a while, is that of Sabbabeen il Shai  صبابين الشاي  (the traditional tea sellers). Originally, in countries of the Levant and North Africa, it used to be very common to see tea sellers in bazaars, souks and some restaurants. These men characteristically wearing traditional Sherwal  شروال  (wide saddled pants), a red Tarboosh طربوش (a cylindrical-shaped red felt hat with a black tassel draping from one side) and over their shirts wearing a vest of leather straps holding a brass or copper tray containing compartments to hold several cups are known as Sabbabin il Shai (literally meaning the tea pourers) if they sell tea and Qahwaji  قهوجي (literally meaning the Coffee man) if he sells coffee. They will bend to pour you tea or coffee from a larger than life pot that they carry on their backs. Usually ultra sweet tea is served (the preference of most people), which can be flavoured with mint (mostly) or sage (in some areas). As the tea seller pours the tea, he will lower the cup, to allow the pouring tea to aerate, believed to allow tea to develop a stronger and better flavour.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Ramadan in Iraq - (Part 2) Cultural Traditions - 'Sweet ‘n Golden Vermicelli Noodles' A Traditional Iraqi Dessert

The Almost Tangible Spirit of Ramadan
From Communal breaking of fast, to ancient open markets filled with buyers and buzzing with sounds to after Iftar outdoor games played with the enthusiasm of the Mondial, and the qussakhoun (story tellers) entertaining customers of coffee houses during the evenings, to children trick or treating in their neighbourhoods, these are the colours of Ramadan's cultural traditions in Iraq. Over there, the Holy month is one filled with contemplation and after Iftar fun.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Ramadan in Iraq - (Part 1) The cuisine & Ramadan food culture - Chicken with Red Rice, A Traditional Iraqi Recipe

The new edition of Nawal Nasrallah's book 
Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine
has just been released

"Ramadan is not the month for cooking or tasting experimentations, period. After long hours of fasting, people usually crave comfort foods, and expect to be pampered with the delicious traditional foods they have been dreaming of all day."  
                                  - Professor Nawal Nasrallah, author of 'Delights From the Garden of Eden: 
                                                                                     A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine'

Iraq is a country with a huge legacy and a history that dates back to the most ancient of times. It is the land where human civilisation first took shape, and one that continued to enrich human history for the longest time. It is therefore, not surprising that the Iraqi cuisine - being one of the oldest - is the reference for many food historians, as the cuisine not only has created recipes that are at the base of most modern cookery, but it also has some of the world's earliest records of cookery and recipes. When it comes to food heritage, Iraq is at the heart of it, influencing not only all Arabic cookery, but also more than a handful of the world's recipes. For this reason, I thought that Iraq is the best country to start with.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

As Ever, I Start On A Sweet Note - Turkish Delights

The flavours of Tradition

I always like to start my Ramadan Special with a sweet recipe, and this Ramadan is no different. 

I have chosen to begin with my favourite Turkish Delights recipe for two reasons. The first, I always thought I did not like Turkish Delights! Unable to trace back the memory to the day I have made the decision that I don't like these chewy delights, but somehow always thought I did not, and passed when served anything that even remotely looked like it (Arabic Raha included, very similar to Turkish delights but differently flavoured).

When I was in Istanbul earlier this year, and mainly out of courtesy to the merchants, I ate so much Turkish delights of all types and flavours. The first I was offered (a pomegranate and pistachio delight) presented me with an honest turmoil (in thought), in my head I did not like it, but there I was having to try it. I held on to it, and tried to distract the man with questions about how it's made and this and that. As he explained, he kept on telling me "when you try it you will see... followed by now try it and you will see..." there I was, with a chewy red delight in my hand, and an enthusiastic maker eagerly awaiting the verdict, I ate the first delight and a real delight it was. I reached out for more! Cliche? Yes, but honest too. I truly do not remember why I thought I did not like it. It was chewy, sweet, very well flavoured and absolutely delicious. Ever since then, Turkish delights have become a delight I really like to indulge in, my favourite being pomegranate and pistachio, while the rest are equally good. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Ramadan Special 2013 - A Focus on Ramadan Culture & The Spirit of Ramadan

Ramadan is here  
I remember working for the Gulf Hotel, Bahrain - a hotel that is especially famous for its food outlets - and remember how in the months leading to Ramadan we would be very busy designing the theme for the hotel's Ramadan Tent, menus, sohour entertainment for after Iftar and what have you. I always love efforts of design, it is a time and place where you get to create and execute an idea, see it take form and then enjoy the outcome. 

To date, in the month leading to Ramadan I find myself thinking in the same terms. I catch myself designing my Ramadan Special, and each year, looking for new things to explore new angles under a different spotlight. Every Ramadan I find the effort to be so rewarding, so enriching that I actually look forward to this otherwise very demanding job of posting daily.

For Ramadan 2013, my main objective is to bring interesting to your tables, not only by posting recipes and short random stories, instead by focusing on the Ramadan Culture.