First, a little disclaimer: For those poor souls among you making a desperate attempt to abstain from sweets, this is simply the wrong page to be on. Below are descriptions of the most delectable little sugar parcels, the Muslim world’s sweet Eidi to the world. If you still plan to read on, be prepared to be amazed, enthralled and to wipe the drool that’ll slowly begin to drip off the corner of your mouth!
Eid-ul-Fitr is the most festive day for Muslims across the world, and like any other festival, this day brings families together for a culinary feast, in this case, after an entire month of fasting. Every region boasts of its own special dishes to mark the day and sweets are an integral part of the festivities. Oh, the sweets! From Sheer Khurma to Baklava and Muhalabiya to Umm Ali, each dessert is unique, rich and packed with the goodness of the region it hails from. Families get together a few days before Eid, cutting, chopping and prepping the hand-picked ingredients that make these sugary delights.
While the dishes may vary in taste, texture, colour and style, Muslims across the world are partial to certain ingredients that are considered rare, rich and royal – the three Rs. Of the special ones that make the cut, the most popular are saffron, almonds, pistachios, cream, butter, milk, apricots, dates, cardamoms and loads and loads of sugar. The resultant concoctions are fit for a king and ensure that you always keep coming back for more. What better way to celebrate?
The most favoured Eid dessert across the world is a rice or vermicelli pudding, also known as kheer. A variant of this sweet is found in almost every part of the world, from North America to the Indian subcontinent and the Fiji Islands to the Middle East. While the dish may seem simple, every family adds their own secret ingredient that sets it apart from a regular rice pudding, be it a hint of cardamom or a splattering of special dry fruits. A version of this pudding, made with milk and vermicelli, is specifically made on Eid in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Burma. While the Pakistani version, called sheer khurma, is made with milk and dates, Muslims in India and Bangladesh prepare their sheer khurma, also called sevaiyaan, with dried fruits and toasted, fine vermicelli. The Burmese pudding, their meal of Eid literally translated to shai mai Eid, is served with fried cashews and shreds of coconut. Then we have the rice pudding of the Middle East, Muhalabiya, fragrant with cardamom and rose water and topped with crushed pistachios. The Arab version of the pudding is Roz Bil Halib. Egyptians have their version of the bread and butter pudding, Umm Ali, made with puff pastry, nuts and sweetened condensed milk.
Move on from the puddings and you have the sweets drenched in sugar syrups, like Turkey’s immensely famous baklava. Layers of phyllo pastry are filled with nuts, especially pistachios, and finished off with a slathering of sweet, thick sugar syrup. Qatayef, the Eid speciality of the Egyptians and the Arab Levant region, also makes use of the sugar syrup, which is liberally poured on the Akkawi cheese or nut-filled pastry. Or gorge on the delicious Kunafa of Palestine, a cream-filled pastry topped with pistachios, and, you guessed right, sugar syrup!
Not had enough sugar syrup? Try the Legamat, similar to the Arab Awameh or Lugmet Il Adi. These balls of dough, made with a combination of flours, are deep fried with care and patience, drained and then soaked in a delectable concoction of sugar and water. No one, however, seems to love their sugar syrupy desserts as much as the
Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They have named their Eid speciality, Tufahije, the national dessert! Walnut-stuffed apples stewed in sugar syrup – who can blame them?
Moving away from these syrupy delights, Eid festivities also include a host of baked delicacies. It’s an interesting ritual that is followed in most traditional Middle Eastern homes – they prepare the dough of their cookies and shape them, then walk down to the local baker who bakes these special biscuits for them. These cookies are completely worth the trip, be it the sweet nutty Kahka of Egypt or the cardamom-flavoured hab el hal of Palestine. Or munch on a pineapple-filled delight that completes every Eid celebration in Malaysia and Indonesia. In Palestine and Jordan, Eid celebrations are incomplete without the sight of delicious date biscuits, known as Ma’amoul, in every household. These are traditionally served with cardamom-flavoured Arabic coffee.
Then you have the soft, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth cake made of semolina or farina that’s popular across various cultures and a must-have on Eid. The Arabs know it as Basbousa, those from Alexandria, Maghreb and Jordan as Hareesa and the Turks and Greeks as Revani. The Egyptians have a variant of this dish, known as Ma’mounia and the Kuwaiti variant, Pastusha, has an added element of finely ground pistachios. This dessert revisits the sugar syrup which is poured on the cake, but it stands apart with the occasional addition of rose water and orange flower water.
Eid in Iraq is simply not Eid, if not accompanied with the wafting aromas of Klaicha, a date-filled semolina pastry. Or try Zarda, a rice dish which is popular among many communities across the world, flavoured with saffron and cardamom and loaded with dry fruits. Then there’s Jeddah’s Debyaza, a sweet jam made with apricots, dates and other dried fruits and flavoured with cardamom. Purists begin preparing this dish close to three days prior to Eid, claiming that the flavour just deepens over the days and is perfect to be devoured on Eid. The same rule applies for Halawa Turki, a traditional Turkish pudding made of farina.
In families with many children, the sweets get sweeter and more playful. Coloured, gelatine-based sweets are popular among many families in Sri Lanka and Singapore who cater to their little members and consist of yummy crème caramels, toffees, coconut squares, jams and jellies.
While traditional sweets are irreplaceable on Eid-al-Fitr, bakeries and sweetmeat stores across the world have begun catering to those who are either away from their homeland or are simply looking to create new customs through new food. Cakes, pastries and chocolates are prepared by these stores especially for this day. But everyone agrees on one thing – the sugary delights that have been made for ages have too much history, culture and love to ever be replaced and are essential to make Eid feel like Eid.
– Sanam Khan Maner