Ramadan in Algeria : set apart from all other months
Thursday 16/May/2019 - 09:24 AM
The Algerian people wait for Ramadan with a great deal of anticipation. Ramadan is set apart from all the other months to the extent that over there it is given the “honourable title of ‘Sidna Ramadan‘”. Sidna meaning our owner or master. Kaouther explains: “Beyond its philosophy and spiritual side، Ramadan، unlike the rest of the year، is a month that has unique ritual precision. Common، daily routines like eating and socializing go topsy- turvy and take place between sunset and dawn. People feel a sense of a common experience، since they all abstain from earthly pleasures and break their fast at the exact same time. Another part of the excitement is that common food، often associated with Ramadan، which finds its way to our plates.”
Such enthusiasm and excitement is also very evident in the amount of preparation that takes place prior to the start of the Holy Month. Preparations start a while ahead، beginning with a complete house clean up، where the house is rearranged and spotlessly dusted، as well as equipped with new utensils and kitchen items including the traditional soup clay pots known as Teen Barma طين برمة، and at times purchasing new sets of flatware and cutleries to be ready for Ramadan entertaining. The preparations also include stocking up on local dates، dried fruits، assorted nuts، honey، grains and other ingredients for Ramadan cooking. It is all in a way resembling a new start، which goes in line with the common belief that during Ramadan one has a chance to wipe out the old and start anew.
Precise Rituals One of the examples of Algerian specific Ramadan culture is the precise rituals related to the sahriya night gatherings (elsewhere known as suhoor gatherings)، where although copper trays are no longer widely used as in the past “Ramadan gatherings can not be conceived without this big copper siniya (tray) full of Ramadan delicacies” explained Kaouther and carried on explaining the precise food types displayed on this tray: “A typical Ramadan siniya should include: assorted trays of your choice of traditional Ramadan sweets such as: Baklawa، Ktayef، Mhancha، Samsa، Zlabiya، Qualbellouz…etc. The siniya also includes a tray of Deglat Nour (Algerian dates)، which are either served natural or stuffed with almond paste. In addition to Halwat Tourk (rice pudding usually made from home-made rice powder)، Mhalbi محلبى، Algerian buns like chrik or lamouna and Jawziya (which is an Algerian nougat from the city of Constantine، stuffed with nuts and flavored with natural honey). And finally assorted nuts which are to be served with green tea.” But that is not all! More details of precise service are explained in how beverages are to be served. Kaouther explains: “In addition to these various delicacies، drinks must also be served the traditional way. Mint green tea is served in a copper tea pot called berrad or bakradj. Orange blossom splusher known as Mrach مرش must accompany the coffee thermos for those who like to flavor their Turkish coffee with orange blossom water، and a silver napkin holder must carry beautifully folded napkins for guests to wipe their fingers after eating all those honey- soaked pastries.”
Another very Algerian specific Ramadan tradition that I learnt from Kaouther is the circumcision of infants being traditionally done on the 27th of Ramadan. Where it is a fairly large event، during which the boy wears a traditional costume especially made for this event، and where it is celebrated with an abundance of Ramadan sweets and other varieties of food. Huge attention to details، assortments of food and the company of extended family all to ensure a special and memorable event. This is very interesting because the 27th of Ramadan is The Night of Destiny for Muslims، which is believed to be the night where Prophet Muhammad’s soul was summoned to the highest universe and the whole Quran was revealed to him. The 27th of Ramadan is also a day when Algerians prepare a special dish، what they refer to as Algerian Pasta، which is traditionally only served on the 27th and the 15th of the holy month. One of the nicest Ramadan traditions I learnt from Kaouther is that of always serving Tajine Barkook (prunes tajine) on the first day of Ramadan to symbolize wishing everyone a sweet and happy month، as this is a sweet and savoury Tajine.