The best part of Ramadan has to be the fun at the end; preparing all kinds of sweet delicacies for Eid Al Fitr. After 30 days of fasting, everyone is rewarded with goodies, some of which we wait for all year as they are especially made for Eid celebrations.
During Eid Al Fitr, it is customary for young children to go around their neighbourhood and relatives' homes, door to door, and wish everyone a happy Eid. They are usually rewarded with candy, chocolates, some pocket money and traditional sweets.
New dessert trends for Eid Al Fitr seem to emerge year after year, and people usually like to try something unusual. But, over the years, the very traditional desserts continue to be the top favourites with most families.
One Eid dessert that seems to be common the world over is a pudding made with either vermicelli or rice cooked in sweetened milk. Whether the Fiji Islands, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, Burma, Africa or even parts of Europe or North America, every family has their own version of this dish. Standard ingredients include milk, sugar and vermicelli or rice. Some recipes also call for nuts or dried fruits and, to spice it up, a hint of cardamon.
In Pakistan, a vermicelli dessert is called ‘sheer khurma’, which means milk with dates. In India and Bangladesh, the pudding is called 'sivayyan' or 'semai', and is made with fine, toasted sweet vermicelli with milk and dried fruits.
Another version of the sweet vermicelli pudding is traditionally eaten by Burmese Muslims during Eid. They call it 'shai mai eid', literally ‘a meal of Eid’, and serve it with fried cashews, coconut shreds, raisins and milk.
In the Middle East, a warm milky rice pudding known as ‘muhalabiya’ is served garnished with crushed pistachio nuts, and sometimes laced with cardamom and rose water. India and Pakistan also have a similar rice pudding called 'kheer'.
'Umm Ali' – literally Ali's mother - is another well-loved dessert in the Middle East. The dish is very similar to the English bread and butter pudding, except that it also has nuts and is often laced with rose water.
In the Middle East one of the most popular sweets is 'baklava', a crispy dessert made with layers of phyllo pastry, nuts and a sweet sugary syrup. In Turkey, this dessert is almost as popular as the country's famous Turkish delights.In Iraq, a popular date-filled semolina pastry made especially for Eid Al Fitr is 'klaicha'. It is very similar to the date biscuit 'mamoul', made in Jordanian and Palestinian homes; indeed, maamoul is the king of desserts in these countries during Eid Al Fitr.
Another common Eid favourite is sweet doughnuts or dumplings. The subcontinent version called Gulab Jamun is served in syrup, the Middle East version coated with thick syrup is called ‘legamat’. A similar dish is called 'awameh' or ‘lugmet il Adi' in the Arab world. This dessert is basically fried dough puffs which are then drained and soaked in sugar syrup.
Cakes and Pancakes
No Eid is complete without delicacies like 'basbousa', a sweet semolina cake, or 'kunafa', a specialty of Nablus in Palestine, which is a pastry filled with cream and garnished with crushed pistachio nuts and sugar syrup.
The Arab Levant region also favour 'qatayef' for Eid, a special dessert that is a mini pancake filled with sweet cheese or nuts with cinnamon and sugar, fried or baked and then soaked in sugar syrup.
Following the tradition of having a cake to celebrate special occasions, many bakeries now have a special edition of Eid Al Fitr cakes that are ordered in for visitors or are sent by corporate organisations to clients, suppliers and well wishers.
In Egypt, Eid dishes are dominated by cookies. No Eid is complete without 'kahka', cookies filled with nuts and covered with powdered sugar. In Palestine, ‘hab el hal’ (cardamon) cookies are popular during Eid celebrations.
In Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, a common favourite is a pineapple-filled variety that melts in the mouth.
Over in Europe, 'tufahije', walnut-stuffed apples stewed in water and sugar, is the national dessert of Bosnia and Herzegovina for Eid and other special occasions.
In countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore - particularly among families with many children - desserts like those made of flavoured gelatine, such as creme caramels, milk puddings or toffees and coconut squares are quite common.
And finally, no dessert tray is complete without chocolates. These days dessert shops, chocolate producers and gift shops prepare beautiful boxes of chocolates or chocolate bouquets decorated with Eid Mubarak greetings. It is common to visit a family during Eid celebrations and find a custom-made chocolate centrepiece in colours to match the decor of the house.
There are many other special Eid sweet delicacies created and served in Muslim homes around the world. Families look to create wonderful treats for visitors and well-wishers. And while visiting from one house to the next, well-wishers will sample and compare the innovative recipes they have just enjoyed, or about the beautiful food and sweet arrangements they have just seen.