I keep in mind the morning I marched into the kitchen and declared to my dad and mom that I would quick for Ramadan. I used to be seven years previous and determined it was time for this ceremony of passage. I needed to really feel the sense of accomplishment I noticed in adults round me after we sat down over elaborate meals for one particular month every year, whether or not mujaddara (rice lentil pilaf) at house or Pakistani biryani at iftars (the normal meal to interrupt quick) at our native mosque. My dad and mom cautiously let me attempt half-days infrequently, however I’d neglect that I used to be fasting and pop cereal or potato chips into my mouth. Mortified at breaking my quick, the one comfort was my mom’s phrases: “That’s okay. God made you neglect to offer you a break; your quick will not be damaged.”

I grew up in a Palestinian Syrian family within the suburbs of Boston, the place our Muslim cultural traditions, particularly as they associated to meals, have been seamlessly interwoven with our Arab id. As an Arab within the diaspora, I needed to really feel a way of group and belonging. Nothing completed that like Ramadan, when breaking quick meant creating togetherness. It was the one time of 12 months we gathered weekly at potlucks with different Arab households and loved specialties I usually solely noticed throughout this holy month—like Amarideen, an apricot juice created from fruit leather-based from Syria, or Shorbat Addas, a lightweight lemony crimson lentil soup sprinkled with fried pita chips. At any given Azoumeh (“gathering” or “invitation” as we name it in Arabic), a candy cheese phyllo knafeh delicacy was additionally certain to indicate up. 

Throughout visits again to Syria and Lebanon whereas I used to be a baby, I keep in mind how the cities in these nations got here to life after sundown throughout Ramadan. For that first middle of the night, the streets went quiet; everybody was of their houses praying and having fun with the primary chunk to interrupt quick with their family members. However quickly after, complete households spilled out onto the streets. Bakeries, eating places, and distributors opened for enterprise, releasing aromas of orange-blossom-drenched desserts and sizzling steamy bread. Each block was crammed with mouthwatering scents. 

“My sister Manal and I try the streets of Damascus for late-night sweets throughout Ramadan.” Courtesy of Reem Assil

Greater than the meals, I keep in mind the camaraderie I skilled each in my Arab American family and again in Damascus, Beirut, or Gaza—communities joined in restraint and likewise the enjoyment of nourishment. I felt proud to be a part of a tradition so wealthy in meals and celebration of life. Shifting away to school (after which ultimately to California to embark on a brand new profession in group organizing) marked a pointy flip away from these weekly gatherings. As a substitute, I discovered myself  hurriedly cracking small luggage of Dorritos to interrupt my quick between midterms. Early morning suhours (the meal we had as a household proper earlier than dawn) slowly disappeared, too, because the lengthy hours of my non-profit job usually meant lacking events to interrupt bread with mates who noticed Ramadan. Even the dinners I ready for myself misplaced that means after I misplaced bodily reference to my household and entered grownup life away from them. 

In 2010, I traveled to Syria and Lebanon through the month of Ramadan to reconnect with my roots after an nearly 10-year absence  since 9/11. At the moment, I used to be desperately looking for an indication to level me to my function. I had been estranged from my household and had gone by a number of life transformations. I feared that they might not settle for a woman from America as their very own. And but they did with open arms. My biggest reminiscence was snacking on the rooftop and chatting over beneficiant spreads of labneh, zaatar, and bread pastries paired with a superbly ready argileh (a conventional water pipe with apple-flavored tobacco) till a mere hour earlier than dawn. We’d sleep all through the afternoon and get up when it was time to make a meal for iftars. I returned to the U.S. realizing that my function would contain recreating the communal consuming that was so magical to me on that journey. It introduced me nearer to my path to opening Reem’s California, my bakery and restaurant. 

Chef Reem Assil dancing with her son.

Assil having fun with a second together with her son. Images by Alanna Hale

In the present day, remembering Ramadan traditions provides me a lot pleasure. At Reem’s, I’m now in a position to present the sense of belonging I as soon as felt—then misplaced—rising up within the diaspora. I really like celebrating this month with Arab specialties from across the Arab world—whether or not it’s Atayef (yeasted stuffed pancakes drenched in syrup from the Levant), or Harira (Moroccan lentil soup). That is my alternative to tug out all of the stops for the Reem’s group—regardless of their faith—to benefit from the delicacies of the vacation. As a result of my tradition, in spite of everything, is certainly one of group constructing, and if there’s a month I strongly affiliate with that, it’s Ramadan.

Reem Assil’s new cookbook, Arabiyya: Recipes from the Lifetime of an Arab in Diaspora (Ten Pace Press), comes out April 19.


Atayef (Walnut- or Clotted Cream–Stuffed Pancakes)


Get the recipe > Republished with permission from Arabiyya: Recipes from the Lifetime of an Arab in Diaspora by Reem Assil, copyright © 2022. Revealed by Ten Pace Press, an imprint of Penguin Random Home.” Pictures copyright © 2022 by Alanna Hale.



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