For the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, the month of Ramadan is well underway. Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, and is a time where Muslims fulfil their obligations to fast everyday from sunrise to sunset and give to charity. Ramadan exists to serve as a reminder of those less fortunate, and encourage introspection, self-reflection and spirituality—fasting in the literal sense, abstaining from food and water, but also fasting from negative or toxic behaviours, habits and mindsets.
Although Ramadan is not all about food, the meals before sunrise (suhoor) and after sunset (iftar) are important, and need to be nutritious, full of sustenance and (of course) tasty. This is my third Ramadan away from family and, although it does make things harder I still try to feast as if I was surrounded by them, breaking our fasts together. Usually, the food I cook for iftar to break my fast depends on the cravings I’ve had throughout the day (normally something full of carbs and heavily deep fried), but I do still try to incorporate certain things into my iftar meal that are nutritious and culturally important to me, personally.
In this edition of the series, I’m going to take you through what a typical iftar meal is to many Muslims, starting with breaking the fast with dates and nuts, then onto harira (spiced vegetable soup) and bread, Kabuli pulao (rice) and lamb stew with green beans, and ending the meal with Lebanese pastries and spiced chai (tea). Iftar meals look different across the globe depending on where you’re from, but most cultures will make sure to include a healthy mix of dates, nuts, beans, rice, some form of meat, and a sweet pastry to top it all off (and many glasses of water throughout the night to stay hydrated!). Given how multicultural Brunswick is—particularly so with Middle Eastern cultures—finding food and ingredients to break your fast, or to enjoy iftar with any Muslim people you may know, is an easy task to be done by simply walking through the streets of Brunswick.
When looking for a good quality, wholesale dried fruit and nut store, you’re luckily spoilt for choice here in Brunswick. Though they may not be as fancy as some of the other more boutique alternatives, NSM Foods is a reliable place to find a wide range of dried fruits, nuts, legumes, rice and grains for a fraction of the price of most other places. They are a third-generation family-owned Australian business dedicated to supplying fresh, good quality bulk and wholesale products. You can buy almost everything you need for a well-stocked pantry, including rice, flour, dried beans, spices and snacks. Grab some dates and nuts of your choice—my favourites for iftar are walnuts and pistachios—and some chickpeas and lentils for the harira. Head to the spice section for some cinnamon sticks (you’ll need some for the chai, too!), turmeric, cumin and cardamom for the Kabuli pulao, as well as some raisins, slivered almonds and basmati rice. If you’re a snacker like me, be sure to grab some soy crisps, pretzels and dried apricots on your way out.
If you live in Melbourne and haven’t heard of A1 Bakery, there’s something seriously wrong. Opening all the way back in 1992 on Sydney Road by a local Lebanese family, A1 has become an empire for Lebanese food and pastries, and one of the busiest places to go for lunch on Sydney Road on almost any day of the week. It’s simple, honest food made with fresh ingredients, love and a lot of dough—what more could you want? It’s my go to place for a quick and cheap meal that is guaranteed to be delicious, with many of their dishes and pastries priced at under $10.
I usually pick up a loaf of some plain Turkish bread to dip into the harira, and some zaatar, meat pizzas or spinach and cheese triangles to eat as a side. They’ve also got a well-stocked little grocery store in the shop, where you’ll find a variety of dips, pickles and spices to add to your pantry; grab some olive oil, pomegranate molasses and pita bread for the fattoush salad.
Though it’s tucked down on the border between Brunswick and Coburg, Balha’s is hard to miss. It’s a grand place for a pastry shop, with tall staircases, a chandelier and shiny glass cabinets filled with sweets, but all of this just adds to the excitement of stocking up on some traditional Lebanese delights. If you head here at night, it’s a lively experience, with crowds of families sitting at their tables, drinking coffee and chatting between the sounds of laughing children. They stock many of the more well-known Lebanese sweets like baklava and namoora (a syrup soaked semolina cake), but also a wide range of traditional pastries and desserts like knafeh (a sweet, cheesy dessert), mafroukeh (a semolina and cream dessert) and fatira ashta (a cream pastry). Although their baklava is great, I’d encourage you stepping out of your comfort zone and buying a mix of new things to try—I’m yet to eat something there that hasn’t left me wanting more!
Iftar time is the opportunity to slow down, spend time with family and friends and express the gratitude of having access to fresh food and ingredients—and what better place to do that than Brunswick? If you’re not Muslim but have a Muslim friend that may be away from their family this year or in need of support, it’s the perfect opportunity to do your own act of charity and cook them a meal that is nutritious, culturally special and helps out the local Muslim grocers, cooks and bakers in the suburb during Ramadan.
Estimated cost: $40
Head to the recipe section of the Dine in Brunswick series here for my family’s spiced chai recipe.
Have you got a cuisine in mind that you’d like me to cover? Or even a particular recipe that you’re finding hard to source ingredients for? Let me know in the comments below!