Anatomy of an Iftar

Well Ramadan is over but I figure, no time like the present to talk about it anyway. 

A refresher: Ramadan is a holy month where Muslims fast from sun up to sun down, eating only in the early hours of the morning and late at night when the sun has gone down.  This daylight abstinence is not only from food, but drink, cigarettes and sex as well.  This demonstration of devotion is commanded in the Koran and also commemorates the month during which the Prophet Mohammed received the Koran from the angel Gabriel.  It is a time of fasting, reflecting on ones blessings by experiencing what hunger is like for the poor, and much prayer and devotion.  After Ramadan (and to an extent during) Muslims give Zakat or alms to the poor.

At the end of the day, around 7 (7:20 ish in Morocco this year) the call to prayer sounds and participating Muslims break their fast at a meal called Iftar.  Max and I were very fortunate this year to attend a couple of Iftar's during Ramadan.  There are a few traditions associated with Iftar that we were not aware of before coming to the Mahgreb.  

To begin with, a date and/or something sweet is traditionally eaten first to end the fast.  We sat around a table heaped with pastries, dates and dried fruit at one dinner and I have to say, sweets first is my kind of meal.   

Other traditional iftar foods in Morocco include hard boiled eggs, harrira soup - a tomato based soup with herbs, chickpeas, vegetables, sometimes meat - and something called shpekia.  How you spell it is anyone's guess, but it is a small sticky pastry made of fried dough, sesame seeds and honey.

At one iftar we were served fried fish caught in the sea that very day along with kefta (spiced ground meat) and various yummy bread/sauce concoctions.  At the other iftar we tried our first dish of Kalia.  We first spotted Kalia in the Fez medina and I said to our tour guide "...what is that stuff that looks like chunks of meat that have been curing in fat for months without refrigeration?" and she said "Oh, that's chunks of meat that have been curing in fat for months without refrigeration.  It's called Kalia."  I later learned that it is common to eat Kalia in a tajine that has been slow cooked with eggs.  Sounds like a groovy breakfast catastrophe, doesn't it?  I was a little skeptical when I saw it sandwiched between layers of fat in the open air markets, but served in a lovely tagine and sopped up with a fresh baguette I actually quite liked it.  Will I make it at home?  Probably not.  Would I eat it again?  Absolutely.  

The meal is finished, of course, with the ubiquitous mint tea found in every kitchen, stoop, cranny, and street corner in Morocco.  Our friends have been gracious to prepare a special no-tea-tea for us on such occasions.  

In light of all this food obsession, I'll leave one more food related anecdote that a wise Moroccan told me before Ramadan began.  He said to me You know, Ramadan is really special for women.  And I thought But surely its special for everyone, what do you mean?  He went on to ask me how I felt when I prepared food for Max and I said I liked to do it because I like to cook but more importantly I like to feed Max, to look after him and care for him.  He said that Ramadan can be hard for women because they have to cook all day for what are often elaborate iftars while fasting and they are tired.  But then he related the cooking of the iftar to my feeling when I cook for Max. 

You do this because you love him, because you want him to be happy.  If the woman makes her family food during Ramadan with this kind of love it is a very special thing. 

A very special thing for her relationship with her family, but also her relationship with Allah, with God.  Anyway,  it was a lovely sentiment that the labor involved in the fasting and food preparation could be a kind of devotion to her love for God and family.     


  1. What a fantastic post, thanks so much for the great description of your experience with Ramadan. It sounds like you're having the quintessential FS life!

  2. Lovely. I especially like your final comment--that's the best reason to cook!

  3. I was kind of happy to miss the last three weeks of Ramadan, but am glad that I got three iftars in first. I LOVE both khlia and chebekia (that's how I spell them; no idea what the "correct" transliteration is). Enjoy fall in Morocco!

  4. ixoj - sweet, isn't it? I'm glad you thought so too! Thanks Sarah!

  5. Liz - AHH! So glad to see you commenting :) AND so glad you are a better speller than I am.... take care

  6. I came across your blog a couple of months ago and have thoroughly enjoyed your fantastic pictures and great writing. I am an aspiring FSO and am fascinated by Morocco, hence, why I love your blog. We are actually planning a trip to Morocco now and I thank you for your beautiful descriptions of the country. Can't wait to visit. Please know that your blog is truly one of the best.

  7. @jkennedy - THANK YOU!

    Thank you so much for your kind words. The best part of keeping this blog is making friends with similar interests and values I wouldn't have otherwise met. Thanks!

    Morocco is such a great place. We are really lucky to be posted here - I'm only worried two years isn't long enough to see everything :) But what a problem to have, eh?

    Good luck with the FSO process - it's a bear! If there is any way I can be helpful don't hesitate to email me. For state department related stuff or Morocco trip planning stuff (I've read oodles of travel books) or whatever . I mean it. theworldthatweliveinblog@gmail.com

    Take care!