Unique Eats: Ramadan Edition
The Fourth of July is a time for fireworks, beach gatherings and plenty of food -- so last week, much of America feasted on sizzling hotdogs, watermelon and maybe potato salad.
But South Florida's Muslim community celebrated with fresh fruits, exotic cuisine and prayer.
This year, Independence Day fell on the sixth day of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.
Ramadan is also a time for Muslims to test their faith and willpower in Allah -- God. After completely refraining from food, drink and negative thoughts throughout the day, Muslims break their fast with a short prayer and a small meal called an iftar. It's usually shared with close family and friends at a local mosque, or in the home.
"[Fasting] is really to understand how people who are poor and not well off feel every day, because they can't really afford to have three meals a day," says Muhammad Nasimul Ghani, a student at Florida International University.
Ghani was one of several students who gathered at FIU last week for an open iftar hosted by the Muslim Student Association and the Pakistani Student Association. Muslim students from Lebanon, Egypt, Pakistan, Cuba, America and India gathered to break fast and to tell us about what foods they usually eat to break fast.
"My family from Pakistan isn't that cultural, so we just [break fast] with dates," says Ghani.
He's not talking about romantic dates. He means the dried fruit.
Dates and a glass of water is a traditional iftar for Muslims all across the world. The practice was inspired by the Prophet Muhammad, who broke his fasts with dates. But in South Florida, Muslims also break their fast with unique dishes and drinks from their native country.
Here's a sample.
Samosas are the cousins of empanadas. They are triangle-shaped, meat- or potato-filled patties that are usually deep fried. The dish is cooked by people from parts of Southeast Asia and certain parts of the Caribbean, like Guyana and Trinidad.
Irum Khan, who helped organize FIU's open iftar, usually drinks pink milk to break her fast. Her family is from Pakistan and pink milk is a special beverage they make during Ramadan.
Khan says the pink milk is regular milk that's flavored with Rooh Afza, a Pakistani syrup made from watermelon, flower petals and coriander seeds. The syrup gives the milk its color and sweet, potent taste.
While people from Pakistan drink pink milk, Salma Howeedy's Egyptian family dissolves apricots into water to create another unique beverage for breaking fast.
"I think [it's] just an Egyptian thing," Howeedy, who is an FIU alumni, says.
Pakora is a small, fried ball that is stuffed with ground lentils. Like samosas, the food is also popular in parts of Southeast Asia. They resemble fritters.
Eduardo Pineda, a Cuban-American student at Florida Atlantic University, recently converted to Islam. Because he is the only Muslim in his family, he usually goes to a mosque in Miami Gardens to break his fast. But he remembers his very first iftar.
"I broke it with a bottle of Gatorade," he says.
Pineda was in the middle of a football game at the time, but he says it wasn't as difficult because the games were later in the day.
"Once you get on the field you just forget about everything and just go," he says.