Food. It really does bring the entire world together. All those clichés are not far from the truth. They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. The reality is that the way into anyone’s heart is food. Of course I’m generalizing here. I know there are stronger elements – faith for one. Just go along with me here.
If I offered you this for breakfast (stuffed French toast with strawberries and bananas),
With this side of deliciousness (chai),
Would you honestly say no?
If you don’t like fruit, you’re seriously missing out. I can understand if you’re more of a coffee or simple tea. I prefer dry mint tea… If there’s a medical reason, just pretend it’s totally fine.
I have been seriously obsessed with documenting through pictures all the food in my life. Lately, ever since I have started making lattes at home, I think I have taken a picture of every cup I have made… Studying and lack of sleep makes me insane.
There’s something about food that is just so wonderful. It’s also been the factor that has brought me close to others and been the center of roommate reunions recently. Think about it.
When you ask someone who you haven’t seen in a long time (or someone you just met and want to make friends with) if they want to meet up, what do you usually suggest? Personally, I always bring up food so that we can get a chance to talk and catch up (or get to know each other).
“Let’s grab some coffee.”
“Want to get lunch?”
“How about dinner after work?”
“Let’s hit the beach. Frozen yogurt and a nice walk along the shore.”
Food covers those awkward spaces, pauses, and reactions in a conversation.
When you’re studying, you probably have your favorite drink and snacks near.
When you’re stressed, angry, or sad, you give in to your sweet and/or salty cravings.
When you’re bored or procrastinating, you can stare into the fridge for hours!
Almost always, there’s food near us. AlhamduliAllah, it’s a large ni3ma (blessing) from Allah swt.
My intention was not to write a post about food. It’s just that it’s the event of food that has brought me here to write about family. My favorite part of every day is dinner with my family. It’s the one time we set everything down (literally) and come together. My family is very big on dinner being a family affair. It doesn’t matter if there’s been an argument or some sort of tension. Dinner time means that when my parents call us to come to the table, we better all be there within a minute. It’s very rare that one of us misses dinner. My brother calls home every day from work to ask what my mom has cooked for us. If I’m out of the house, my parents call me early and tell me what time I need to be home. I always find them waiting when I enter the house so that we can begin together. It’s at the dinner table where we all share and tell stories. We discuss our day – the good and bad. We tell jokes and throw around sarcastic comments. We speak about serious issues, debate, and argue. We laugh and give encouragement. When we get up, new inside jokes have formed and we leave all of our negative thoughts on the table. It’s been like this for as long as I can remember.
Dinner is probably one of the most difficult parts of my day when I’m at school or away from home. I felt this strongly while at my last residency in Los Angeles this past June. At UCSD, it was difficult for me to eat with anyone. I used food time for some personal time. I would take my small lunch (whether homemade or something quickly bought) and take a long walk around campus. I would go in search of a secluded space, eat, pray, and reflect on my day. If I had time, I would go back to my apartment and eat on my own in comfort. If I ever had dinner, it was always late at night (after midnight) when I would get back from the library. I would make something and eat while I studied, either alone in my room or on the living room couch if my roommates were inside their rooms. I rarely ate with my friends or anyone at all. Of course my mom would pack a month’s worth of food whenever I went home, despite the fact that if I didn’t make it home for a weekend, she would come and visit to drop off more food. At AULA, I try to use food for socialization. I try to eat lunch with my friends and chat. I still use dinner for some alone time. During my entire residency, I ate dinner once out with others. I caved in to my craving of fries!
There’s something about food when I’m off away from family that I love enjoying alone and in peace.
I make it a point to call and check on my parents daily. Each of my parents have their specific worries, but they always have the same three questions when I’m far from home: How was your day? Did you sleep last night?? Have you eaten???
Food is a large part of any culture, society, and community.
My dear mother LOVES to cook. I seriously mean LOVE! Her hearts belongs somewhere in between her studies and the kitchen. When I feel like anything in my life – school, work, family, whatever – is driving me insane, I head to my writing. I make myself a warm drink, grab my pen and journal, shut myself up somewhere and write. When my mom is stressed out or panicking about school, she sets everything down and heads to the kitchen. (My mom is studying for her PhD. She loves school. I’m almost positive that if she wasn’t my role model, I wouldn’t have continued with getting my MFA after I turned away from wanting to go to Law School.) My mom is that type of person who creates new recipes on her own. It’s probably why my siblings and I love trying all types of new foods.
When it comes to food, I’m the butt of jokes in my house. When my younger brother, Bilal, is working on a new exercise plan, he manages to whip things up for himself – whether the rest of us consider it to be edible or not is besides the point. My younger sister, Batoul, can make any type of sweet or dessert. She loves spending time baking or putting something delicious together. My youngest sister, Bara’ah, also loves to put together concoctions in the kitchen. Even my dad can make authentic Palestinian meals. (I have found that his maklouba – a meal called Upside down – is really good!) He learned to cook while studying on his own in Egypt. I, on the other hand, only love entering the kitchen to clean it. I know that if I must to cook, I will put something together. Truth be told, the last time I cooked a meal was while I was studying at UCSD. I think it was pasta with chicken breast. No, wait! I made an Italian pasta salad I saw Giada make on the Food Network last Ramadan…
I’m too scared to try making Palestinian food and while at home, no one will eat my food unless my mom cooks it.
Even when it comes to family reunions, there is food involved. When we have 3azimas, or family dinner parties, it’s like having a wedding. Regardless of whether it’s just one individual that has been invited or all my aunts and uncles with their families, the food is plenty and different delicious items are served all night long. Seven course meals? Try around twelve! Before dinner it’s juice and after dinner (which consists of several elaborate dishes – truly full meals on their own) comes the tea, sweets, cake, fruits, nuts, anything else in the pantry, and finally the Turkish coffee to say goodbye. You don’t even need an 3azima. You can be certain than if you visit a Middle Eastern home, even if it’s just going to visit grandmother, you can expect the same after dinner rituals. This happens more often than you think it does. My extended family in San Diego tries to come together every last Sunday of every month. When the days are beautiful in San Diego (which AlahamduliAllah is almost always the case), we head out to the beach and have a potluck. Each family brings something. When we need to stay inside, we take up about half a restaurant.
With Ramadan coming up, food takes on a whole new meaning. For those of you who do not know what Ramadan is, it’s the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar and fulfills the fourth pillar of Islam, siyam(fasting). Ramadan is the month of fasting. The first day is decided upon through the sighting of the crescent moon. Muslims fast for twenty-nine to thirty days, each day beginning their fast at dawn and breaking it at sunset. Dawn comes before the first prayer (Fajr) of the day and sunset is at the fourth prayer (Maghreb) of the day. (Remember that Muslims observe five mandatory prayers a day.) During the month of Ramadan is when Muslims believe that the Quran descended on the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Ramadanis a month of worship and spiritual reflection. During this month, Muslims focus on others through giving to the poor and helping their brothers and sisters all over the world. During the fast, they refrain from eating, drinking, sexual relations and avoid what is obscene and irreligious. The focus is on submission to Allah swt through charity, increased prayer and recitation of the Quran. Muslims strive for a purity of both thoughts and actions so that they are able to cleanse the soul from worldly activities and steer away from harm. There is great emphasis put on self-discipline and empathy for others who are less fortunate.
After fasting all day, we break our fast with dates and water. Usually we pray Maghrebfirst and then have some soup. This all helps our stomach to relax in preparation for the food we are about to consume. It is assumed that by fasting all day, we must be starving by the time iftarcomes. On the contrary, fasting helps Muslims practice self-control and live through the teachings of the Prophet. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was recorded as saying, “Nothing is worse than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be: One-third for his food, one-third for his liquids, and one-third for his breath.”
Each night, an extra, recommended prayer called Taraweeh occurs after the fifth mandatory prayer. Aside from worship, this prayer also brings spiritual unity to those who go to the Masjidto pray in congregation. The month ends with the holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr, or Holiday of Breaking Fast. Eid-ul-Fitr is three days long. On the first day, a large prayer is held in congregation in the early morning. In San Diego, this usually occurs at the large Convention Center in Downtown or a place large enough to hold all those who come out. Even though hundreds come out, many choose go to a masjid that is closer to their house. The masajidare always overflowing. During the rest of the days, family and friends get together, sweets are passed around, and presents are exchanged. It’s a beautiful day to remember your blessings and remember Allah swt.
Muslims only have two holidays a year. One after Ramadan that lasts for three days (Eid-ul-Fitr) and one after the Hajj(annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia) that lasts for four days (Eid-ul-Adha). I will discuss that later in the year when it comes inshaAllah. As you can see, food holds a large role throughout Ramadan.
My idea for this blog post originated on my birthday this past week. My family doesn’t celebrate birthdays, but instead does sweet things for the person all day long. My siblings each gave me a present that is beneficial for me or that I need and will utilize for a long time. My parents did the same. My favorite part of my birthday is the traditional meal my mom cooks. On each of our birthdays, my mom cooks our favorite meal. This year, I tried convincing my mother to not make me my favorite meal because she has made it tradition to cook the same meal on the first day of Ramadan (which is this upcoming Friday). She refused and despite her studies, she was up until 2 AM preparing it. Warak dawali ma3 ma7shi 5eiar!!! Palestinian style stuffed grape leaves with stuffed Mediterranean cucumbers is my all time favorite meal! It was beyond delicious as usual!
What is she making the first day of Ramadan? My youngest sister jumped in first and asked for her favorite meal: ma7shi filfil a5dar (stuffed green peppers). I can’t wait!
That’s enough about food!
To my Muslim brothers and sisters, Ramadan Kareem! Kul 3am wantum bi alf 5eir wa yan3ad 3aleina wa3aleikum bisi7a wasalaamey ya rab! May Allah swt purify our hearts, forgive our sins, and accept all of our worship and dua’ in this blessed month. Please forgive me if I have wronged you in any way. Ramadan Mubarak! =]
To everyone else, I invite you to visit a masjid during this time and truly understand your Muslim brothers and sisters and Islam. I have had many friends try a day of fasting during Ramadan with me. It’s a very fulfilling thing and not as difficult as you may assume it to be.
I assume you may have been confused by the numbers I placed in my writing this time. I didn’t consider this until after I finished. The numbers are used in transliterated Arabic words in place of letters that are in the Arabic alphabet with no equivalent in English.
Arabic numerals in writing:
2 = (hamza) I wont be using this because I’m not sure how to define it.
3 = (ein) “a” that comes deep from the throat.
‘3 = (‘ein) Do you know what the “r” sounds like in French? It’s the same.
5 = Kh
6 = Hard t
7 = H