D1 – Iftar like home
9 a.m – I fight the urge to make a coffee – that robotic trance like walk to the kettle and the mechanics of opening cupboards. Instead I pace myself …. and do nothing much. Watch tv and chill.
12.30 p.m – Still chilling out. Husband says to think about prepping food. It’s only just gone midday. There’s 8 more hours to go. Is he hungry already? I know he’ll be having a caffeine withdrawal headache the size of Britain.
1.30 p.m – I say my afternoon prayer. Feels nice to not miss it and pray on time. I then do something I’ve never in my life done, even in Ramadhan. I find myself walking to my bookshelf and pulling off two books. One is the Qu’ran I was given in Mecca last year when on Hajj and the other is an English translation of the Qu’ran. I look up Qu’ran recitations on Youtube and discover Omar Hisham Al Arabi and his reading of the section on Ramadan in Surah Baraqa. It’s beautiful. For once it hits home what this month is all about.
I start to read the Qu’ran and honour my promise of trying to read 10 pages a day. Will I keep this up? For now and for today, it feels good. Like a connection being made to the words. As I follow the text in my copy of the Qu’ran to the voice of the recitor I have time to appreciate the text, the aesthetics of the letters. I remind myself, it’s just day one. Come back on day 20. If I’ve got the energy to keep it up I’ll be impressed. I also expect this blog to disintegrate to a few lines a post, if lucky.
2.30 p.m – In Algeria, so I am told, the traditional dish to serve at Iftar is called Lham Lahlou – lamb with prunes, with a sauce made of honey and sugar. I can’t quite get my culinary imagination around that so my husband says to make a version without the honey and sugar – which turns the dish into Tagine Barqork. I have all the will in the world to be as trad as possible but sugar and honey with lamb is a leap too far. For now.
The reason they make this for Ramadan is because it’s made without salt thus helping to stave off thirst the next day.
So armed with the best youtube videos and Algerian recipe blogs out there I began to work.
7.30 p.m – I am still in the kitchen cooking. I’ve been cooking the Tagine Barqork version of Lham Lahlou for quite some time. The prunes which I dutifully soaked before adding to the pot have almost dissolved. My pot doesn’t look like the images on instagram and PinInterest. I peel the almonds and brown them. Ready to scatter at the end, with the hope that it will at least look like how it’s supposed to. I throw in some more un-soaked prunes that will at least look intact, although not cooked through as they should be.
The shorba is something I can manage – I think. I’m feeling confident as I do the normal onions, garlic, cumin, ras -al-hanout and meat thing. It begins to smell how it should. But then in a moment of lack of faith, I reach for the packet of Majji shorba. A ready made mix of the traditional North African soup that is eaten commonly during Ramadan. It’s unnerving cooking without eating to taste so that’s what guides my hand to cheat. We are allowed to taste as long you don’t eat it but I don’t go that route. Sometimes it’s a bit like lucky dip. Cook it and then see if it works when you break your fast. Risky! But if it all goes pear shaped there’s always Deliveroo.
The last part of the trad Iftar is Borek – it’s a bit like somosa but long and cylindrical like mince meat filled cigars. I’ve got the mince ready with some peas and diced potatoes. A dash of cumin and some parsley. I’m all sorted and then husband decides he wants to help. It becomes a bit ‘too many cooks spoiling the broth’. Add to that a hungry caffeine withdrawing Algerian and then the tea towel gets it as it flies through the air.
I am amazed at my response. I say, quietly and composed, the words ‘calm down’ instead of what would normally come from my mouth at such times. I am quite impressed if not also taken aback. Maybe it’s Ramadan already having an impact. But the whole tea towel incident takes 20 minutes off my plans to be the ultimate housewife with a perfect table laid for iftar. Instead it’s a made rush and it’s all a bit chaotic. The thing at Ramadan is to make the table look appealing and ready. A time to celebrate breaking the fast every day. Mine is a bit lastminute.com.
8.35 p.m – Time to break the fast. I taste the date and a rush of flavour comes to my mouth. It’s delicious. I know it’s bizarre to admit but I remember my time on the Bear Grylls Island last year or rather coming off it after 25 days of no food other than some occasional fish and coconuts.
I couldn’t quite stomach coconuts after day 2 on the island and I still can’t even stand the smell of them. All my cocoa butter lotions and potions have remained untouched for the last 12 months.
The flavour blast in my mouth, after no flavour whatsoever on the island, from eating a pineapple was incredible.
We pray the Magrib (evening) prayer and by then all thoughts of tea towels aerial displays are forgotten. And yes the shorba is appreciated even with the Majji addition. I confess to that addition as if I’m on Come Dine With Me.
Coffee is drunk in copious amounts and all is well in the world.
10 p.m – It’s time to walk to the mosque for the late night prayers – taraweh – said in congregation during Ramadan. It’s the first day of the fast and so the mosque is packed. Taraweh prayer deserves a whole blog on it’s own. But for now suffice to say it’s that time of year again when we stand next to strangers in whatever floor space you can find. The whole prayer time takes about an hour with the aim of the imam completing the entire 30 chapters of the Qu’ran by the end of Ramadan. Whatever anyone says, it’s a practise in stamina and standing for an hour with intermittent bowing and kneeling after a whole day of fasting. After the first 10 minutes you get into a rhythm. By the end of it I leave feeling like a champion for making it to the end. My feet are throbbing. But it also helps digest all the food you’ve just eaten. I often think Islam does have some logical practises – fast, then eat then prayer – in that order works for making you feel kind of put together.
Walking home just before midnight in the dark streets crowded with other worshippers makes it feel like community. I feel part of something. I also feel less full.