What is Ramadan?
Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims’ holy month, is marked by fasting (“sawm” in Arabic and “Rooze” in Persian) from sunrise to sunset, with days mostly reserved for self-reflection, introspection & prayer, and evenings for socializing with family and friends after breaking the fast. If you’re going to visit Iran, or any other Muslim-majority country during Ramadan, follow our lead to get some information and tips about how life is during this month.
Daily Life In Ramadan
Generally speaking, daily life slows down a bit in Ramadan. Fasting leaves most of the people (who practice fasting) dehydrated, hungry, and physically tired; but travelling to a Muslim-majority country during this month, allows you to truly understand the fasting practice and the philosophies behind it (empathy with the poor, giving a break to the body and getting physically fit, practicing asceticism to increase one’s faith, etc). Ramadan pushes you (as a visitor) as well to be less materialistic, and it let you meet faithful, generous people, and taste some of their really good and nutritious food in their soothing company.
Business slows down during Ramadan as well. Many restaurants, cafés, governmental entities, and even some touristic sites reduce their work hours or maybe entirely closed during Ramadan.
Don’t plan on getting much done right before or after sunset, when people break their fast with the evening meal, iftar. Before the iftar, everyone is extremely hungry, either at home or heading there (or to wherever else they are breaking their fast). So beware of the moos swings and irritability of fasting people in Ramadan, especially during these hours. And if you don’t practice fast yourself, it’s better not to eat or drink in public or in front of the people who practice it.
Unlike the chaotic pre-iftar vibe though, everyone is usually in a blissful mood in the post-iftar hours, hydrated and well-fed.
Customs and traditions in Ramadan
It’s true that Ramadan is a time of abstinence (in so many ways), and that fasting is tough, but it’s also a time of joy, purity, and community. People often break their fast at public tables (sometimes provided by richer members of society for the poor) or at mosques. All people are welcome to attend public iftars (only a small example of the typical hospitality you’d expect from a country like Iran). But most people, break their fast at home and invite their family and friends to do the same with them. It’s very common in Iran to be invited to a private iftar. Being invited to people’s homes to share in their iftar is a sign of love, friendship, and respect and it allows you to experience this holy time in an intimate, friendly setting. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been fasting or not.
Iftar tables in Ramadan are blessed with plenty of savory dishes, sweet treats, and friendly conversations and prayers and although visitors are not expected to bring a gift for the host, dates, desserts or Zoolbia Bamieh (introduced later in this article) are good options to show your appreciation for the invitation.
At the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr is the end of a whole month of fasting, usually celebrated with an elaborate feast, special prayer, and donations for the poor.
Nightlife In Ramadan
During Ramadan, nights are full of life and activity. Once people have broken their fast, the streets come alive again. While some people spend the post-iftar hours reading the Quran or praying (at home or at the mosque), others will rest at home, or visit family and friends and, of course, eat and drink some more. Sometimes, the nocturne feast lasts until the early morning!
Where you are during Ramadan will determine how festive it seems to you, but there will usually be some sign or another, even in the not-so-religious families. As a visitor, it can be a wonderful time and an opportunity for you to be out and about, breathing in the holy atmosphere of the month and sharing a little about what makes it so magical.
Desserts You Must Try During Ramadan in Iran
The morning meal in Ramadan (served before sunrise) is called “Sahari” while the evening meal by which Muslims break their fast is called “iftar”. The foods prepared for Sahari are usually nutritious in order to physically support people through the whole day. Fruits are favoured over sweets for their hydrating effect, but rice, bread, and fiber-rich dishes are prepared as well to sustain the body for the day ahead.
Traditionally, people who have been on fast, do not break their fast at once with cold drinks or fatty food, but first, they drink a rather lukewarm soft drink with a nutritious sweet to prepare their body for eating after long hours of fasting. The most popular snack of this kind in Iran is hot water, tea or milk with dates.
This popular stew has become a favorite iftar for so many people due to its nutritious blend of mutton meat, cooked with cracked wheat, spices, and lentils. One of the most controversial topics in every iftar table is whether Haleem should be eaten with salt or sugar. People take different sides and joke about the other side’s “bad taste”.
Persian Halva is a sweet dense paste made from flour and butter, mixed with a syrup of sugar, saffron, rosewater, and cardamom that gives it a pleasant taste and smell. There are different ways of cooking Halva; but they all taste heavenly.
4. Sholeh Zard
This Persian Saffron rice pudding is very soft in texture, usually mild in sweetness, and gets its golden color from saffron. Sholeh Zard is served as a dessert in Iftar, designed with ground cinnamon and slivered pistachios or almonds.
5. Zoolbia and Bamiyeh
These sticky sweets are probably the most popular sweets of Ramadan in Iran. Bamieh is a small fried sweet, which is rolled in rose water and Saffron syrup. Zulbia, cooked in the same way is lighter in color, thinner and crunchier. There are other types of these sweets as well, such as Goosh-e-fil (literally: “elephant’s ear” as it looks like one), or other colored Zoolbias but the simple Zoolbia and Bamiyeh are the most common type which can be found in almost every confectionary in Iran, during Ramadan.
Ash Reshteh, is the traditional Iranian version of noodle soup, cooked with beans, peas, and vegetables. With a pleasant taste of dried mint powder and fried onion, it’s usually designed or mixed with a salty diary sauce called “Kashk”.