Egyptian customs practiced during the month of Ramadan vary, especially regarding the iftar and suhoor meals.
The Ramadan table receives a lot of attention, and families often prepare a budget to meet the expenses of the most delicious meals, drinks and desserts during the month.
Far from the five-star hotels and famous restaurants where the iftar tables combine all types of Eastern dishes, Ramadan tables in family homes remain the most beautiful for their components.
Each dish has its story, and every drink has its tale. The variety of foods changes from one day to the next.
Dr. Mohyeldine Mohammed, a social scientist and a lecturer at Al-Azhar University, said studying the Ramadan table in Egypt is difficult because different traditions are practiced in each province.
He said, "The food variety is different and thus the rituals of Ramadan are somehow different. However, everyone agrees for instance to have the first iftar of the month at the family home, where everyone meets on the first of fasting."
Mohammed said because Cairo attracts people from all other provinces, it has created a unique Ramadan atmosphere. People who migrated to it from other provinces have brought with them their traditional dishes and customs. He pointed out that only four million of Cairo's 20 million people are natives of the capital.
Asked about the most popular Ramadan dishes among Egyptian families, Rawyah Shaltout, a housewife, said the month of Ramadan is characterised by multiple dishes that are prepared throughout the year, apart from some exceptions such as fish and Kushari because they make people who fast thirsty.
Shaltout said dishes that can be found on the Ramadan table daily are fava beans, yogurt, all types of pickles, and dried and ripe dates. Drinks are usually consumed at the beginning of the meal, including qamar eldin, and the khashaf drink (a mixture of dried dates, raisins, figs, unripe dates which are boiled with milk), in addition to other natural juices.
Most Egyptians first eat the dried and ripe dates as well as drink the juice and then leave the table to pray the evening prayer, before they return to the table to eat their actual iftar.
The iftar table also includes green or mixed salad or yogurt with cucumber. Other known items include stews such as mulukhiyah, okra, spaghetti with bechamel sauce, stuffed grape leaves, grilled chicken, kebab and kufta, Egyptian kufta with rice and fitir mishaltit. It also includes Saidi (Upper Egypt) kishik, riqaq or goulash and regheef el-hawashi, pigeons with crushed wheat and fried duck.
Ramadan desserts include kunafa, basbousah, qatayef and baklava, muhallabiyah and Umm Ali.
Shaltout said the suhoor meal in her kitchen relies mostly on fava beans prepared with spices, oil or tahini in addition to Falafel, cheese, eggs and yogurt.
Dr. Marwa Ramadan, a nutrition expert at October 6 University, said Egyptian women need to monitor their spending during the month of Ramadan and study the types of dishes they prepare for their families.
She said, "They need to buy basic necessities such as meat, chicken, duck and vegetables before the month of Ramadan and preserve them well because the price of these items rises during the month."