Ramadan – it’s a month during which Muslims abstain from eating and drinking, every day, from sunrise to sunset. Its intention is often encapsulated as encouraging commitment, devotion and empathy, for those who are unable to have readily available access to food and drink.
The routine and traditions attached to it, however, have developed, particularly among Muslims in Britain, whereby accommodation of the month itself has brought with it the opportunity not only for community spirit to flourish, but also for businesses to thrive. Nouse takes a look at this aforementioned development and how abstaining from food and drink doesn’t stop them from being an integral part of observing the month.
Traditions exist amongst many things and Ramadan is certainly a time of the year during which several traditions manifest and, for a month, entrench themselves as being part of a Muslim’s regular routine.
The first of which comes in the form of ‘Suhoor’, a period which predates the start of the fast and thus sunrise itself. This is a time during which food and drink are both consumed in preparation for the fast. It’s necessary to make sure that a person has enough energy to last them through the day, especially since an important tenet of fasting is to do so while going about your normal daily routine.
Thus there is often a preference for foodstuffs containing protein and fibre, eggs and cereal for example, and those which offer a slow-release of energy to help a person get through the day. Furthermore, often it is in fact the lack of liquids consumed which makes thirst a more pressing concern for many – as a result, it is often recommended to make sure one drinks enough water both prior to the fast beginning and following its culmination.
The meal associated with this period of culmination is more commonly known as the ‘Iftar’ and offers the chance for people to get together and ‘break’ their fast with one another. Occurring just after sunset, people begin this by offering a short prayer before ensuring if possible that the first thing consumed is either one or several dates, a practice dating back to the beginnings of the religion itself.
Of course, culturally speaking, there are preferences following this with regards to what exactly a person chooses to eat and drink. An example, found in Pakistani culture, would be the beverage made from ‘Rooh-Afza’ a rose-based syrup, which is then mixed with milk and has tapioca seeds added to it.
The significance of the unity between people breaking their fast is something which shouldn’t be understated, and as such, a fair share of mosques open their doors to the general public and welcome them in to share an Iftar together. This often has a very community-based feel to it insofar as it relies often on donations and contributions (financially speaking) to be able to provide food for many, day-in, day-out.
The importance of dates during Ramadan means that businesses often see a surge in demand
One way of accommodating this is by mosques having a rotational system whereby a different family may provide the food for a specific day during Ramadan, encouraging people to not only give back to their community but also help feed those who may come along to the Iftar for their only meal of the day.
A more general example of such an initiative not attached to any speciic place of worship would be the ‘Ramadan Tent Project’, founded in London in 2011 by a group of students from the School of Oriental and African Studies. Usually “expecting around two hundred or three hundred guests per evening”, they also supplement their events with guests and have, since their inception, expanded not just to several different cities but also several different countries.
In addition to this, a further initiative that exists is the ‘Big Iftar’, which provides a platform and opportunity to those who want to host their own Iftar, again often open to many, particularly in a public setting. A nationwide initiative, the ‘Big Iftar’ also encourages multi-faith inclusion and thus has had events held in synagogues for one.
The commercial aspect of Ramadan is one that has also grown and developed significantly, particularly in the UK. Restaurants will often offer Iftar-based set menus, specifically aimed at those breaking their fast, while others may operate a buffet-style system, which allows for people to plate their food in preparation for being able to eat.
Over the past few years, demand and therefore availability has increased for restaurants that stay open late night to accommodate for ‘Suhoor’. Brioche Burger in Walthamstow is one such example of a restaurant that has decided to provide such an opportunity, with a specific menu being created just for that time of day. Furthermore, due to the importance of dates during Ramadan, businesses that focus on bespoke dates often thrive due to a surge in demand. Again, these companies will often tailor their products to this newfound demand and thus offer special packages to customers, specifically due to it being Ramadan.
Demand isn’t just limited to restaurants being able to supply food to customers – more often than not, people choose to have their Iftar meal at home with their family. This means that despite not expecting there to be, a considerable amount of food is bought, perhaps even more so than outside of Ramadan.
This is echoed in the fact that, particularly over the past few years, more and more national supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s choose to accommodate this and openly advertise and encourage people to come, offering deals that take into consideration this increase in consumption. Ramadan is undoubtably increasing its impact on everyday life in the UK.
Abstaining from food and drink is therefore one key part of the month and understandably the first thing people associate with the month itself. However, it’s fair to say that both fasting and community do still play an important part in allowing people to get through the month.
Whether it be the more community-based initiatives such as ‘Ramadan Tent Project’ or the commercialism of Iftar based set-menus offered by some restaurants to both accommodate Muslims and see their own profits rise, the influence of Ramadan on food in the UK seems to continually be on the rise.