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By Afnan Alobaidli
“I only make mahalabia in Ramadan,” said my mother-in-law, “and sambosa and habb soup,” she added. “If I make them any other time, well, it just doesn’t feel right.” My mother-in-law’s Ramadan table has well-defined boundaries. She cooks certain things during Ramadan that she doesn’t usually prepare in other months. And she would plan to make family favorites more than once during the holy month. I have noticed the same habit with my mother. She prepares her special kunafa with banana and clotted cream filling only in Ramadan. She makes lugaimat almost every day during the month because everyone loves it, and katayef only once because my family wants to have a taste of one of the traditional Ramadan sweets but not too much of it.
Many people say, “Don’t make Ramadan a month for eating and drinking.” But you cannot help but notice that there are certain cooking and eating rituals during the month. At the centre of these ritual are our beloved mothers. Even working mothers make sure to fill the freezer before Ramadan with pastries to later fry or bake in the oven. Mothers are prominently featured in television advertisements. They are depicted putting on their aprons, and cooking away favorite family dishes well until Maghreb prayer.
There is a deep connection between mothers and the Ramadan table. It has become a ritual and a convention difficult to break or ignore simply because most, if not all, yearn for the event every year. We are nostalgic to recreate the Ramadan table and we are nostalgic to see our mothers prepare them with love and joy throughout the entire month.
One wonders, at the end of the day, whether it is the food at the iftar table that we are hungry for or the re-enactment of the perfect Ramadan day that rekindles memories of earlier days that we lived through or heard about. Let us think about the moments of one family: when the mother wakes up a little bit before noon, long before anyone else in the house wakes up, to prepare four or five dishes for the iftar table. Or the moment when her daughter, two hours before sunset, marches into the kitchen and announces that she wants to prepare a desert all by herself. Or the moment when the father checks into the kitchen half an hour before breakfast to make sure everything is set in place. He might volunteer to make Vimto if it hasn’t been prepared yet. The mother is slightly agitated with the overcrowded kitchen situation, especially since it’s almost time to serve the food. Ten minutes before maghreb and the table is all set. One of the younger children picks out a piece of pastry for himself enjoy in front of his fasting older siblings who are now counting down the minutes to the athan. The local channel on TV broadcasts the call to prayer while the family hears several mosques around the neighborhood doing the same. These are solemn moments. A sip of water, three dates, and a quiet prayer, then a small family festivity with savory food. The moment is made more special knowing that many Muslims are doing the same thing at this very time.
The Ramadan table is more than just food and drink. It is an event that we yearn to re-enact every day during this special month. It is not a matter of repetition but a process of memory-making, and mothers are at the centre of this event, not as food makers but as redeemers of precious family moments. So every time you see your mother working her way through the kitchen this Ramadan, make sure to share in those memories, lend a hand, make a contribution, because what you’re preparing is more than just food.
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Afnan Alobaidli is a graduate of English Literature from Saudi Arabia. She is passionate about art, history and literature. She loves to express herself through writing and plans to make it her lifelong vocation.
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