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Shahed Amanullah, Zabihah founder

Ramadan is all about fasting - and food

It is a particular quirk of Ramadan that while the Muslim holiday revolves around fasting, it is also a celebration of food - Bosnian cevapi, Indonesian babi guling, Bangladeshi boti kababs, Malaysian kuih, Tunisian chakchouka.

For the next month, Muslims will fast from dawn to sunset each day. Fasting, or sawm, is one of the five pillars of Islam. Each evening during Ramadan Muslims, will break their 13- to 14-hour fast with a frequently festive communal meal called the iftar. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a feast called Eid ul-Fitr.

Ramadan is a busy time of year for food-related businesses that cater to Muslims.

"Business is very good this month," said Rashed Kazmi, owner of Mideast Market in Ballwin. "It's like Christmas.", an online resource of businesses such as Kazmi's, lists 13 restaurants and 12 markets around St. Louis that offer halal food, or meat from animals that have been slaughtered and prepared according to Islamic law.

"Over the last five years there's been a critical mass of new Muslim businesses that have profoundly changed the culture of Ramadan in America," said Shahed Amanullah, the founder and editor of "Five years ago, the only congregational aspect of Ramadan would be at a mosque or someone's home. Now the community aspect of the month has shifted to restaurants and other public gathering spots."

Fasting for Ramadan begins at dawn - about 5:13 a.m. - today, according to the Fiqh Council of North America, an official national Islamic legal authority, that, for the second year in a row, used astronomical calculations to determine the beginning of Ramadan. Traditionally, Muslims rely on the sighting of the new moon to signal that fasting should begin.

At Sameem's, an Afghan restaurant on south Grand Boulevard, owner Fahime Mohammad said he was adding a nightly iftar special this Ramadan because his clientele had become increasingly Muslim.

"When we first opened up, it was mostly local Americans who came in," he said. "Now it's at least 50 percent Muslim immigrants - Somali taxi drivers, Pakistani doctors and I.T. guys."

Kazmi, a Pakistani who has been in business in Ballwin for a decade, has also added price specials for Ramadan, and is stocking a large supply of Medjool dates. It is traditional for Muslims to break their fast each day by first eating a date because, it is said, the Prophet Muhammad broke his own fast with dates.

About a mile away at Salam Mediterranean Marketplace, head chef Omar Shalabi manned the beef and chicken shewarma spits as one of Salam's owners, Rabieh Ead, helped several customers. The store opened in January, so this will be its first Ramadan, and the Palestinian men said they were expecting a rush for the holiday.

"We are trying really hard to have everything available for Muslim people who are fasting," Shalabi said.

Shalabi described how the ingredients for a popular iftar snack, called a qatayef (Arabic pancakes filled with either almonds and sugar, or white cheese) would be available for customers, but he said he also would prepare qatayefs in the store for people who were in a rush.

Shahed said that was a trend in American cities where the Muslim population was growing. "Especially in bigger cities, like in New York, you're starting to see iftar meals to go," he said.

Shahed said the second generation of American Muslims was increasingly interested in combining foods from Muslim lands - such as Indian-Chinese iftars - during Ramadan as a way to celebrate the global unity of Islam. "My generation is interested in mixing things up and not settling with just the kind of things Mom used to make."

(Tim Townsend, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 13, 2007)


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