This time of year, Muslims around the world celebrate Ramadan. For about a month, lasting from April 3 until moonrise some 30 days later, followers of the Islamic faith fast from dawn to dusk, refusing even water until the sun sets, and they break their fast with their traditional iftar meal.
Ramadan is a month of penance, introspection and reflection, and the food consumed during this period is also treated with similar reverence. Depending on where they’re from, where they live and who they’re with, what a person eats to break their fast will vary greatly.
Ramadan is often a time spent with family and close friends, and while that might be doable for many people, there are others who will be breaking their fast with somewhat bittersweet memories of the ones closest to them.
Whether in Brattleboro or Brisbane, Manchester or Muscat, Bennington or Bahrain, it is considered a tradition for neighbors to share food with each other during Ramadan. A practice that goes back generations, the sharing of food fosters closer bonds, strengthens community spirit and encourages greater acceptance of others, particularly if they are a long way from home.
From Oman to the UK
Chef Dina Macki knows only too well what it means to grow up in a land far from the ones her ancestors called home. Although she was born and raised in the United Kingdom, Dina’s parents come from Oman.
Keen on melding her traditional Omani and Zanzibari heritage with her U.K. upbringing, Macki specializes in bringing Middle Eastern food to the Western world.
“The reason I love cooking so much is to do with how it brings people from all walks of life together, and everyone is able to connect,” she said. “I love how food ... makes everyone happy, and as the chef, you are able to connect on a deeper level with the person eating your food.
“As you pour your emotion into the cooking, the person eating it feels it when they taste your food,” she added. “For me, food is all about the stories, love and culture it represents. I think the beauty of food is that it organically creates a connection. No matter where you are from, when you put food in the middle, people are able to connect, share stories and experiences.”
Macking her mark, even with no formal training
Macki’s culinary insights seem to be striking the right chords: Although she’s always had a love of and for food, she’s only been cooking for the last three years … with no formal training. In that time, she’s collaborated with a number of British and international brands to create signature dishes for them. She’s partnered with BBC Good Food, household appliance brands Magimix and Cuisinart, and U.S. women-centric media company Refinery29.
She’s also done recipes for supermarket chain Waitrose, and her latest collaboration involved making six Ramadan recipes for British retailer Tesco. Macki chose these dishes because they were close to her heart and culture.
“I chose three different desserts,” she explained. “A Middle Eastern dessert traditionally eaten at Ramadan and something that reflects our sweet tooth and love for syrup during this month, but is also very easy to make, unlike some of our other dishes. It is also not fried, which is a bonus."
She has a recipe for an Indian/Persian fudge, which is also made in Zanzibar.
Another classic recipe that is on her list is for gulab jamun, an Indian-inspired dessert that features fried balls of dough dunked generously in cardamom and sugar syrup. Another subcontinent-themed dessert — carrot halwa — is also included in her collaboration.
Don't forget the savory
One of the savory options she presented was a lentil soup, because “this was a dish from my mother and something she has always made. It’s also something you find often in Oman and was another way for me to reflect my heritage.”
Macki paired her soup with cauliflower pakoras — she dipped the florets in batter and spices and deep-fried them — and three-cheese samosas — always a favorite snack and comfort food.
Food, she said, has played a hugely important role in discovering who she is, given she was raised so far away from Oman.
“Learning recipes with relatives has brought me closer to them,” she said. “Even if it's over a phone call, when they talk about a recipe, they tell you their experiences, upbringing and why they use certain methods, which you might not have learned if you didn't spend that time over food.
“But when I recreate these dishes in the U.K., it makes me feel as if Oman is in my home, it creates a comfort of knowing that wherever you are, food can connect you through your senses to feel at home,” explained Macki. “I think for others, no matter where you live, nobody can take your food away from you, so as long as you can hold onto recipes, you can hold onto home.”
For more on Macki, visit dinewithdina.co.uk.