Sweet Fasting

12 Oct 2006

During the last few weeks, oriental bakeries have spiced up their shelves in the evening with vast arrays of colorful sweets. Ramadan starts in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, this year on September 24. During the thirty days Muslims do not eat anything during daylight hours, but feast between sunset and sunrise.

Whereas Lent encourages a diet of deprivation, during Ramadan the consumption of nourishing, reconstituting food is encouraged. Rich dishes and highly sugary sweets are necessary for replenishing the body after the fast.

In France, oriental bakeries abound, and Tunisians and Moroccans compete to see who can make the best “patisserie orientales”, a generic term for highly refined sweets such as makroud (semolina soaked in honey and filled with dates) and ghrayba (dry pastry made form sugar, chickpea flour and salted butter).

The contest extends to sweets prepared exclusively for Ramadan; according to La Vie, a French weekly, 88% of Muslims is France will observe the fasting period. An example of Ramadan sweets is grioach, a mixture of flour, eggs, butter and oil, sesame, aniseed, cinnamon, saffron and orange flowers. The dough is cut in the shape of a flower then fried and covered with honey. Another is sfouf, a paste made from sugar, milk, sesame paste and flour, curcuma and pine nuts, baked and then cut into squares, found in Lebanon and all over the Maghreb.

The Parisian restaurant Oum-el-Banine offers a Ramadan menu, served only in the evening. First the fast is broken with a glass of milk and a date. Chabakaya, one of the most popular sweets, and ghrayef, a cracker, follow. The meal then begins in earnest, with harira, a hearty soup, couscous or tajine, the typical Maghreb stew. To finish, Ramadan sweets or oranges and cinnamon: and the guest is ready for another day of Ramadan.

Source: Le Monde

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