The Iftar experience

So much yummy food!

So much yummy food!

During Ramadan, Muslims break their fast at sunset with a meal called Iftar.

There are lots of Iftar parties, restaurants offer special Iftar menus, and it’s generally a time when you eat a lot of food, which is understandable if you’ve been fasting all day.

But for most Americans, who go about their day eating as they normally would, and then go to an Iftar, this when they start to pack on the pounds if they’re not careful (myself included).

The fast is traditionally broken with dates,* and the other food that is served varies depending on where you are, but there seems to usually be a good amount of fried food.

Cheese-filled pastries, potato and meat fritters, fried eggplant, Bangladeshi hush puppies, and more!

Cheese-filled pastries, potato and meat fritters, fried eggplant, Bangladeshi hush puppies, and more!

Nate and I were invited to an Iftar at the home of a Bangladeshi friend, and we’ve also been to some restaurant Iftars.  As you might expect, the home-cooked Iftar was hands-down the best.

Our friend and her family made fried meat and potato fritters, fried eggplant, fried pastries filled with cheese, fried lentil fritters, and fried semonlina fritters that tasted like Bangladeshi hush puppies.  She also made Vietnamese spring rolls, which were just amazing.  They served homemade limeade, made from the limes grown on their rooftop, and freshly made lassi, a sweet yogurt drink.

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I ate more than my fill, only to discover that this was just the Iftar meal, and dinner was still to come. So then I ate some really tasty chicken and rice.  I had flashbacks to hram in Moldova, which is a several-day celebration in each village, town and city in Moldova celebrating the name day for that locality’s patron saint.  You’d go from one party to the next, where you were expected to basically do nothing but eat.

A few nights ago we went to an Iftar party at Heritage, an Indian restaurant.  We were served Iftar plates, full of dates, fruit and fried food, and then there was a buffet dinner.  The halim, a spicy lentil stew with chunks of meat which is traditionally served for Iftar,  was tasty and not too greasy.

Iftar plate at Heritage; jilapi is in the top corner

Iftar plate at Heritage; jilapi is in the top corner

A traditional Iftar dessert (following in the “fried food” theme) is jilapi, which is basically like if you made a funnel cake and it didn’t expand while it was being fried, and then you soaked it in sugar syrup.  It’s crunchy, sweet, and you can’t tell when you bite into it if it’s grease or syrup that’s dripping down your chin.

It’s interesting going to restaurants right before Iftar because the restaurant will be packed, and there will be loads of food and drinks at every table, but no one is touching anything. When I sit down at a restaurant, I always reach for something to drink and it’s hard to see it in front of me, but to not drink it. I can’t even imagine how those that have been fasting all day must feel.

Iftar dinner buffet at Heritage

Iftar dinner buffet at Heritage

Tarka’s Iftar is really good, but the Iftar at Lucknow is the best.  Their saag paneer is just so darn tasty.

We tried Nando’s Iftar platter, and it was way overpriced, cold, and blah.  I think it will be a while before I go back to Nando’s because that experience was scarring.

There were lots of restaurants with Iftar specials that we wanted to try, but we just didn’t have time (or pants that would fit if we kept eating out every night). Luckily, there’s always next year!

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Dogwalking during Ramadan

This is our first time living in a predominantly Muslim country, and we’ve learned a lot about life during Ramadan.  Every day, the fast is broken with a meal called Iftar, which begins as soon as the sun sets.  By late afternoon, it seems that everything basically revolves around where you’re having Iftar and how you’re getting there.  Some people leave work early, and traffic is a complete gridlock as everyone is on the roads to get to Iftar.

Once it’s about 6:45 pm, though, the streets are empty.  No cars, few rickshaws, and a handful of pedestrians.  It’s a Dhaka miracle.

And that’s when we take Athena for her evening walk.  It’s a wonderful, quiet time, and I’m going to miss it after Eid.

If you head out for a walk 20 to 30 minutes before Iftar, be prepared for cars barreling down the street, with little regard for pedestrians, as people hurry to get to Iftar on-time.  There aren’t many cars on the roads, but the ones that are out have no time to waste and drive even more crazily than usual.

The solitude of Iftar lasts for about 20 to 30 minutes, and then there are vehicles and people on the streets again.  Also on the streets, you will find discarded food, which makes this time of the evening Athena’s favorite time for a walk.  She goes into scavenger-mode and will not lift her nose from the ground.  Apparently the other night Nate pulled a huge meatball out of her mouth.

We avoid going for walks after about 8:45 pm because there are loads of people on the streets leaving the mosques near our apartment, and this includes mobs of trouble-making boys.  They ask us for money and try to hassle Athena, and she gets (understandably) really uncomfortable and anxious.  A few nights ago the three of us were out walking, and I had Athena’s leash. Nate was walking behind us to make sure the boys didn’t bother Athena and me, and they threw rocks at him. Little shits.

So no more late night potty breaks for Athena, but she’d rather snuggle and sleep anyways, so I don’t think she cares.

Ramadan lasts until July 17, and we will savor the quiet walks until Ramadan starts again on June 7, 2016!

Ramadan and other random things

Ramadan started last week, and it lasts until July 17, which is the date of Eid al-Fitr (not to be confused with Eid al-Adha.  I had no idea there were two Eids before moving here.).  Eid al-Fitr is one of the main holidays in Islam, and Ramadan is the period of fasting that leads up to it.  In terms of religious holidays, just like Christmas is the big one for Christians, Eid al-Fitr is the big one for Muslims.  From what I understand anyways; I could be wrong.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, which here is about 6:30 am to 6:45 pm. One afternoon, we walked to our favorite bakery, Holey, which caters to expats and is open during Ramadan.  All the usual market and tea stalls along the way were still there, but they were covered in tarps.  You could see some people behind the tarps drinking tea, although there was definitely less hustle and bustle than normal.  This is the first time I’ve been in a predominantly Muslim country during Ramadan, and it is interesting.

I am not observing Ramadan, and now that we are settled into our apartment, I’ve started doing some baking.  I made a mango upside-down cake for our amazing social sponsors, which was so good I made a pineapple up-side down cake the next day for me and Nate.  I’m sad to say that I made the cake 4 days ago and it’s almost gone… and Nate’s not much of a dessert eater, so, yes, I’ve eaten nearly the whole thing.

Not the best photo I've made of a cake, but tasty none-the-less!

Not the best photo I’ve made of a cake, but tasty none-the-less!

This morning I made an apple coffee cake that is also really good.   Nate likes coffee cake more than I do, so I’m really hoping that he’ll eat this one.

Whenever I’m cooking in our kitchen here, I’m always struck by the amount of garbage that we produce.  This is primarily because, since moving to Dhaka, we don’t recycle anymore. Even worse, we don’t pick up after our dog.

A few nights ago, we were cooking dinner and Nate asked if we needed to save a glass jar.  I said, “No, just toss it in the recycling.”  His response was, “Um, don’t you mean garbage?” Right…. Currently in our garbage there is paper, a empty egg carton, a yogurt container, soda cans, and an empty milk box. I feel so guilty.

I’m able to rationalize not recycling here because there are people who go through the garbage and pull out the recyclables. Not that I think that picking through garbage should be something people have to do to survive, but, hey, at least someone is trying to make some money and also happens to be helping the environment.

And if we picked up after our dog, then we’d be walking around with a bag full of poop and no where to throw it away.  We do our part, to the extent possible, and encourage Athena to take care of her business on the trash piles. But still, it feels strange and wrong.

Well I’m not really sure how this when from Islamic holidays to everything we’re doing wrong for the environment, but there you go, that’s my train of thought these days.