TEHRAN – For many foreigners, traveling to Iran or other Muslim-majority countries are not complete without wandering around downtown streets and labyrinthine bazaars with savoring local street food.
More specifically, during the holy month of Ramadan, traveling or swaying around may come with some restraints and inconveniences due to the fact that Muslims fast during daylight hours.
The ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan, commenced on May 17 in Iran this year.
Ramadan is amazingly a significant and sacred time for Muslims and brings a lot of joy to them.
On the bright side, it gives a chance to international visitors to perceive a different side of life in Muslim-majority countries. For such inbound passengers it would be beneficial to gain some basic knowledge about this special tradition.
Let’s delve into some insights about traveling during Ramadan:
During Ramadan, one might find streets and bazaars slightly quieter and of course with no refreshments normally available on the streets.
Avoid eating in front of Muslims during the month, just eat somewhere quiet, or at least in obvious tourist areas.
Eating, drinking and smoking in public are strictly prohibited as they are considered acts of temptation; especially for locals, where failing to observe Ramadan may attract penalties.
However, there are exceptions for the ill, pregnant or physically weak people and even long-distance travelers!
Finding public restaurants open is often difficult because Ramadan affects businesses during daylight hours when locals fast. It also includes public restaurants and fast food chains, however, there are some exceptions including country-road stops and hotel restaurants.
Moreover, one can buy fruits, snacks, drinks or whatsoever throughout the day from grocery stores and shops.
After a long day’s observance of fasting from dawn, Muslim families gather at sunset to break their fast over a meal known as Iftar.
The meal generally starts with the eating of dates according to the tradition of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). In Iran, sometimes the fast is broken with a cup of tea or plain lukewarm water. The Iftar is more than just food at the end of a ritualistic day.
It is also a time for fellowship with families, friends and the Muslim community in general. Perhaps this is one of the reasons as to why the Iftar has grown into banquet festivals and large communal gatherings at mosques, banquet halls and in large open spaces. Sometimes dinner is skipped or the Iftar and dinner are combined into one full meal.
Most common Iftar items in Iran include tea, Naan (bread), cheese along with Sabzi Khordan (fresh greens and herbs), dates, fruits and Halva.
During Ramadan, confectionary shops are crowded with customers who love to the devour the popular Persian sweet of this month, Zoolbia and Bamiyeh, a pastry made of deep fried dough soaked in sugar syrup or honey and cinnamon, and sometimes sprinkled with sesame and spices. Thick soups like Aash and Halim are also popular dishes of the month.
During Ramadan, you can eat your heart out from sunset to sunrise. Pretty much every restaurant, food stand and even households have food ready after dark.
Ramadan comes to an end by Eid al-Fitr, a joyful holiday when Muslims celebrate 29 or 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting.
PHOTO: People visit the Shah Cheragh shrine in Shiraz, southern Iran.