Eid al-Fitr food and sweets
Eid al-Fitr is one of the two major holidays in the Muslim calendar. Although both holidays are often referred to as Eid, there are some key differences between Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Fitr comes first – taking place in the 10th month of the Muslim calendar. Eid al-Adha, on the other hand, is celebrated on the 12th month of the Muslim calendar, 70 days after the first holiday. (If you need help remembering, think Fitr = First, Adha = After.)
Besides where they fall on the calendar, the traditional Eid al-Fitr food is also different from those dishes enjoyed during Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Fitr, also known as the Feast of Breaking the Fast, takes place after the Ramadan fast. It has culturally earned the nicknames “Sugar Day”, “Sweet Eid”, and “Festival of Sweets”, due to the sweets enjoyed during this holiday. In contrast, Eid al-Adha takes place after the Hajj pilgrimage and is known as “The Feast of Sacrifice”, with holiday menus placing greater emphasis on meat and savory foods.
The tradition of eating sweets on Eid al-Fitr probably started among the early Muslims of Medina, Saudi Arabia, using available cooking ingredients such as dates and honey for their festivities. The sugar content of both foods is a great energy boost after a month of fasting. As Islam spread to more geographical regions, each culture used its available ingredients and culinary expertise for its Eid al-Fitr celebrations, resulting in the myriad dishes of Eid al-Fitr that we have today.
To celebrate Eid al-Fitr, here are some of the sweet treats that different Muslim cultures prepare for this special time of year.
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The Oxford Companion of Food states that although North Americans generally know phyllo dough by its Greek name, the dough dates back to Turkish origins. In Ottoman Istanbul, the city would host a Baklava parade the 15th of Ramadan. Today, the dish still remains a big part of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. These days, many families opt for store-bought baklava; but some families, especially those of Turkish and Balkan descent, make a large platter of baklava for Eid al-Fitr from scratch, passing down family recipes from generation to generation.
In Morocco, they are called briouatwhile in the Persian Gulf, the name Sambusa Hilwa is more common. In each version, the phyllo dough is shaped into triangular pockets and then filled with a sweet filling. Fruits like pears and apples or syrup-soaked nuts are popular stuffings. Alternatively, the phyllo dough can be rolled into a cigar shape (instead of a triangle) and stuffed with a soft, cannoli-like cream.
A favorite in Middle Eastern restaurants, this dessert is a great choice for Eid al-Fitr in Levantine cultures. For this dessert, the grated phyllo dough is associated with a fromage blanc, such as Nabulsi or Akkawi cheese. It is served with a drizzle of fragrant sugar syrup, usually in the form of a rectangular cake.
Saviya is a dessert popular with Muslims in South Asia on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr. It is made by sautéing vermicelli, ghee, sugar and aromatic spices like cardamom. Many families enjoy saviya right after Eid prayer for brunch or breakfast. A similar counterpart, pure khourma, is equally popular. It also uses vermicelli as the main ingredient, but the vermicelli is cooked in a milk base (often overnight). The dessert is akin to a sweet noodle soup; depending on personal preference, some serve it cold and some serve it hot.
Dates are delicious on their own, but for Eid al-Fitr, many people prefer to dress them up with stuffing. Common stuffings include whole nuts, nut butters, cream cheese and sweet nut-based pastahoney and rose water.
In Egypt, kahk – a crumbly butter cookie stuffed with a ball of date paste and dusted with icing sugar – is a family favorite for Eid al-Fitr. In other countries, such as Palestine, a cookie stuffed with dates called maamoul takes precedence over the Eid table. Yet still in Indonesia, cookies stuffed with pineapple jam are the popular choice for Eid.
Vanilla, chocolate, lemon, cardamom and almond are just a sampling of the buttery cookie flavors enjoyed during Eid al-Fitr. Names and offerings differ from region to region. For example, you might find ghraybeh in the Middle East, naan khatai in South Asia, or crescent-shaped sable cookies in North Africa.
In Southeast Asia, kuih lapisor kue lapis, is a steamed cake so laborious that it is reserved for special occasions like Eid al-Fitr (natively called Hari Raya or Lebaron). Made of rice flour, sago, coconut milk, eggs and sugar, it is a colorful cake with a gelatinous texture, similar to custard. Lapis is just one type of kuih (traditional snack) popular for Eid; there are many other varieties of kuih.
In Uzbekistan and neighboring Central Asian cultures, the month of Ramadan brings with it the good news of nisolda or nishallo. Egg whites are whipped and combined with sugar and plant roots, usually licorice root. Almost like a marshmallow fluff, it is served with naan for a sweet finish to a meal.
Similar to licorice, the Oxford Companion of Food traces the roots of nougat to Central Asia and Iran. Later spreading to Arabia and Andalusian Spain, nougat has been a favorite treat for Eid al-Fitr since at least the 10th century.
Although its name may suggest origins in Turkey, Turkish delight is believed to have originated in Iran. Called good morning in Persian, these little bites come in a variety of flavors and textures, from jelly to sweet marshmallow.
There are countless ways semolina ends up in Eid al-Fitr desserts. In some cultures, semolina is stir-fried with eggs, ghee and sugar to make a sweet dish called Halva. In others, cooked semolina is combined with date pastes and put into molds to make a kind of fudge. Semolina is also used as a base for traditional puddings – or when mixed with olive oil and honey, it’s a semolina cake for Eid!
Fatira and Cambaabur Bread
In Africa, thin pancake-like pancakes take center stage for Eid al-Fitr. In Ethiopia, Fatira is a popular pancake with honey for breakfast on Eid day. In neighboring Somalia, cambabour is a pancake sprinkled with sugar and yogurt.
In Yemen, khaliat nahaI are beautiful honeycomb baked honey glazed buns for Ramadan and Eid. In Iraq, cleicha are rolled buns with date jam for a sweet Eid breakfast.
Fried foods are popular throughout Ramadan, and on the day of Eid al-Fitr, fried treats are a crowd pleaser! Churro type donuts with different names are found in all Muslim cultures. In Libya they are called sfinz and are topped with date molasses and sprinkled sugar.
In Senegal, lakh is a type of sweet porridge made from curd and millet. It is traditionally eaten right after returning from the Eid prayer. Adding baobab fruit is a common way to dress the porridge for the occasion. Other West African cultures similarly enjoy a sweet porridge, also known as thiakry or deguethe day of Eid.
Common to South Asian cultures, mithai is a generic term for traditional sweets. A box of assorted mithai is a must-have hostess gift for Eid celebrations in these cultures.
In Iran, rice is cooked with saffron and sugar to make a dessert called sard of shit. Dried fruits and dates added to the rice provide an extra touch of sweetness for the religious holiday.
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