Preparing The Iftar Meal

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During the holy month of Ramadan, many Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset — breaking their fast with a traditional feast. We'll hear how one Muslim American family prepares the Iftar meal.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand. The holy month of Ramadan concludes later this week. For many Muslim-Americans, Iftar, the evening meal that breaks each day's fast, is like a mini-Thanksgiving. Families spent hours cooking traditional dishes and they make a point of eating together every night. NPR's Jamie Tarabay has more.

JAMIE TARABAY: There's kitschy '80s background music at Salma Azhmawi(ph)'s local Giant supermarket. She's here picking up a few essentials for the Iftar meal.

Ms. SALMA AZHMAWI: I need tomatoes...

TARABAY: Peering over her Juicy Couture spectacles, she checks out a food label. It's nowhere near as hard to find Islam-sanctioned food today as it was 26 years ago when she and her husband came here from Egypt. Back then, she didn't even know what some of the food was.

Ms. AZHMAWI: We went out to dinner and we asked for baby back ribs, and the guy looked at me and looked at my husband.

TARABAY: The waiter noticed she was wearing a head scarf and figured they were Muslim.

Ms. AZHMAWI: And then he leaned down close to my husband's head and told him, this is pork. You know that? He looked at him and said, oh, thank you. We don't want it.

TARABAY: A trip to a nearby Costco for more food, and Azhmawi is done. Driving her minivan home, she admits there are few traditions her and her family are able to keep in a country that isn't Muslim. But fasting during Ramadan is something they all do. Raising her kids to be Muslim and American has been a challenge.

Ms. AZHMAWI: When Ahmad(ph) was younger, I remember he used to want to watch violent R movies and I would say no. And he says, but my friend so-and-so did. And I would say I don't care. That's not me. We have a different - you know, we do it differently.

TARABAY: By 3 p.m., she's back in their Virginia home. Azhmawi's husband, a college professor, is downstairs in his office. Their youngest son, Mohammad(ph), leafs through a recipe book. He'll marinate mushrooms to go along with the main dish.

Mr. MOHAMMAD AZHMAWI: I want to. I love them. It says use one whole piece of garlic for the recipe.

TARABAY: Pretty soon, Mohammad is mashing garlic for his marinade and his mother is preparing - of all things, a brisket.

Ms. AZHMAWI: We went to a Jewish temple for Yom Kippur, but they had brisket and I loved it. And I was like, I've got to try to cook this. They love it now.

TARABAY: Her older daughter, Ayah(ph), walks into the kitchen and starts unwrapping spinach phyllo pastries. She's back at home, working on her PhD.

Ms. AYAH AZHMAWI: Yeah, I definitely missed it when I was at school. I was breaking my fast in my dorm room. And when I had friends around, we would try to go the cafeteria together. But it's definitely different than being among your family.

TARABAY: Pretty soon, the kitchen fills up.

Unidentified Family Member: Oh no! Fire. Milk.

TARABAY: Azhmawi hurries to put out the flames, but it's nothing serious. The milk is part of the custard for today's dessert. Watching the whole scene is her eldest son, Ahmed, who likes to tease his mother.

Mr. AHMED AZHMAWI: Mom spends the whole day cooking and it seems like it's the only part of the year she cooks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TARABAY: Before long, it's time to break the fast. Azhmawi's husband, Hassam, emerges from his office and flips on the television to an Egyptian channel. He says a prayer before slipping a date into his mouth.

Mr. HASSAM AZHMAWI: (Foreign language spoken)

TARABAY: The whole family soon piles into the dining room.

Mr. H. AZHMAWI: Soup today's better than any day.

TARABAY: Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.

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