Madi Jahangir * – Cooking Shami is tricky. You will have to make a hole in the corner before placing it in the frying pan. In order to make it puffy and fluffy, you will have to keep pouring the hot oil on its surface. I’ve learned this trick from my mother who’s learned from her mother as well and this tradition of cooking complicated Iranian food circulates in the family to the next possible generation through me.
Iranian cuisine is as delicious and captivating as ever, considering all the different ethnic groups and cultures residing in the country. The art of cooking is legendary in the realm of Middle Eastern food and each part has its own recipe and special dishes. For that matter, the type of food during the month of fasting is also of a much more importance and verity.
Shami is the food that people in the northern Iran cook it by frying small pieces of dough which is a mixture of meat and split yellow peas. They often serve this food during Ramadan beside Iranian bread, cheese, green herbs and non separable part of Iranian breakfast table, Chai (Black tea).
In northern Iran there is a tradition of making this special sweets as well, Khoshkar made by rice flour. However, Zulbia and Bamia which can also be found in Arab countries and Turkey, is the national Iranian sweet during Ramadan which is sold throughout the country.
Iranians often break their fast with a small portion of food at the time of sunset, following a proper meal after the Maqrib prayer and most family members gather at one home, one at the time. Breaking the fast has this special ritual that they will wait for the Moazzin to say the call for Maqrib prayer (often on TV or from a mosque nearby). They say some supplications afterward. But still no one rushes for the meal. They gently break the fast with a glass of warm water and some dates as it was the tradition of prophet Muhammad. And patiently they keep themselves from eating until they say the night prayers. Just then, they start the bigger meal after a long period of fasting in which not even a drop of water has entered their mouth.
For those who are still at work or strangers in the city, the iftar is available at the workplace or at mosques after the prayer, specially in Qum and Mashhad. Close to the time of breakfast, some people distribute food in the small containers among the poorer families. And in most neighborhood, there is a family or two distributing food for Iftar just for the matter of sharing their meals with others. So It is quite likely that you hear the door rings just few moments before the sunset and one of the neighbors appears behind the door with a big bowl of Ash or Shole Zard for you and wishes your Ramadan prayers be accepted in the presence of God.
Ash is a type of Iranian thick soup, usually served hot and cooked into different types. It is yet another tricky Iranian food which my mom taught me. It often takes long to cook and preparation begins a day or two before. Iranians make some big pots of Ash in the month of Ramadan so that they can distribute as many bowl of it as possible to the families nearby. The doors of such houses are often open and people come from every corner to have a share of Ramadan Ash.
Ramadan is one of the times to observe that Iranian legendary hospitality. It is a tradition in Iran to invite guests during Ramadan and at the time of breakfast, even uninvited people are welcomed. Iranians believe that God showers the host with blessings when he shares his food with other people and during Ramadan this tradition comes even more into practice. In Iranian culture, “the guest is God’s friend” after all!
* Madi Jahangir is Editor in Chief of Dream of Iran.