The first week of Ramadan is nothing less than a feast in most households. Families wait for the first week to unveil their best work, and mothers often spend days before Ramadan starts just preparing.
Interestingly enough, despite all the effort and affection put into the first Iftars, it’s not a time where people aim for creativity and innovation. Instead, we return to traditional Egyptian dishes, those which smell like our childhood and are most likely prepared in the same ways our grandmothers made them.
Those signature dishes of Ramadan aren’t signature because one might not have them across the year, but because every household in the country unanimously agrees these are the dishes that make a star appearance during the first week of Ramadan.
Ramadan is special as a whole, of course, but after the first week, the atmosphere stagnates, and boredom creeps upon us. Then we start steering away, each on their own accord, towards different meals and cuisines, whatever meets what we fancy but not for the first week! For the first week, we have:
Not surprisingly, mahshi is often the main dish we welcome Ramadan with. Known as dolma in other countries, mahshi most likely spread through the Ottoman Empire and is now a part of many cuisines, including the Eastern Mediterranean, Anatolian, Balkanian, Caucasian, Iranian, Iraqi, Central Asian, North African, and Middle Eastern. There are several variations of the dish, depending on the vegetable used. Mahshi translates to stuffed, and the dish is essentially stuffed vegetables with flavourful rice. At least one wrapped version will be present on the Iftar table on the first day of Ramadan, if not both, either Mahshi Kromb or Wara’ E’nab. It’s usually served alongside either chicken or duck, but most often, it’s duck for Ramadan!
Macrona béchamel ( béchamel pasta) is one of the most beloved dishes in Egypt. So, of course, people would consider it sacrilegious if it didn’t take its place on the Iftar table in the first week of Ramadan! Often, it’s not just macrona béchamel, but various Egyptian dishes that use the originally French sauce as well! Like kosa bel-béchamel (zucchini béchamel) and mesa’a’ah bel-béchamel (eggplant & minced beef with béchamel ). They are usually side dishes to a central poultry dish like roasted chicken, duck, turkey, or kofta.
Rokak is a meat pastry made with layers of hard thin bread that gives the meal its name, with minced meat (that’s for the savoury version). Milk and sugar is a common dessert version of rokak, too! It’s unanimously loved, and works perfectly with any other dishes.
Samosa vs sambousak, cheese vs meat; this is the annual Ramadan argument that heats up both on social media and between friends. Maybe it isn’t an argument as much as a unanimous agreement that it’s sambousak (non-negotiable!) We take food seriously here! However the argument might go, whatever one wants to call it or fill it with, it’s undeniable that everyone loves it. A platter with sambousak in the middle of the Iftar table, no matter what the main dish, is an everyday occurrence in Egyptian households in Ramadan.
One of the tastiest ways of cooking rice in Egypt, it’s understandably one that makes it to all our tables during the first week. It’s usually served with roasted chicken and potatoes or molokhia. However, unlike the usual rice, it’s very rich, as it’s made with cream and milk, and baked, not boiled.