Iftar Table

During the month of Ramadan, the role of food transcends sustenance. It plays an integral role in strengthening family and community ties among the approximately 3.45 million Muslims in America and over 2 billion around the globe. Ramadan occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, when people fast from dawn to sunset, abstaining from eating and drinking. There are two main meals: suhoor, eaten before dawn, and iftar, the meal that breaks the fast at sunset.

The cultural exchange of food fosters community and family bonding during Ramadan. For example, in Pakistani homes, iftar staples such as samosas are shared with neighbors as a gesture of friendship and cultural exchange. Because of this, neighbors learn about each other’s families, swap recipes, and establish fellowship. Beyond the neighborhood, people also connect with each other at different community events. Without these traditions and communal gatherings, the holy month would be less meaningful.


Dates are the key food item during Ramadan, eaten to break the fast at iftar. They’re rich in potassium, magnesium, vitamin b6, and fiber. Natural sugars contain an energy boost that is much needed after abstaining from food and drink, while the fiber aids in digestion. There are over 200 varieties of dates, with popular dates like the medjool being the most commonly found in American grocery stores, and are thus more likely to be at the iftar table. Another popular date are Ajwa dates, believed by the Prophet Muhammad to be from paradise. The date palm, referenced 22 times in the Qur'an, holds significant symbolism in Islam and is closely linked with Muslim culture worldwide. Known as tamr in Arabic, khajoor in Urdu, and buah kurma in Indonesian, dates are indispensable to Muslim traditions and upbringing.

Ash Reshteh

Every culture has its own Ramadan specialties, and some dishes are staples for the season due to their nutrition. Preparing specialty dishes for Ramadan is a labor of love. For the experienced chef, it’s not uncommon to be in the kitchen for hours before iftar is served. The table is usually brimming with various appetizers and main dishes—some of these dishes only making an appearance during Ramadan.

Soup is a popular appetizer for iftar, helping to restore energy levels through the vitamins, proteins, and minerals present. Iranis enjoy ash reshteh, a thick, hearty noodle soup, filled with beans, lentils, herbs, and spices like turmeric and saffron.


As a result of proximity and cultural understanding, Pakistanis have created their own variations on Chinese dishes like hot and sour soup. The special ingredient? Ketchup! Pakistanis also bring out appetizer staples similar to North Indians like pakoras and chaat. Pakoras are vegetables battered and fried to crispy perfection, accompanied by chutney. Chaat usually has a base of chickpeas or fried dough and can vary from spicy, tangy, sweet, and salty—or a combination of all four.


Meat is often essential for main courses during the holy month. Malaysians eat murtabak, a type of stuffed, fried bread with minced chicken or beef, onions, and spices.  Biryani is the star of the table during Ramadan. The world of biryanis is rich and diverse, from the fragrant Malaysian nasi biryani to the spicy Indian Hyderabadi biryani, and the flavorful Bangladeshi biryani, each with its unique blend of spice, meat, and rice.

Ramadan would be nothing without desserts. After a day of not eating and drinking, it’s paramount to reward yourself with something sweet. Indonesians may eat kolak, a dessert made with palm sugar, coconut milk, pandan leaves, and fruit. Banana kolak is popular; other variations may include jackfruit, rice balls, or sweet potatoes. Sri Lankans like to serve watalappam, a coconut custard pudding made of coconut or condensed milk, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and other spices.


It's not just the community that gets into the spirit of Ramadan—restaurants across the country offer special iftar menus. Friends and family host iftar parties, sometimes in the form of potlucks, and people come together to create iftar meals for the less fortunate. Charity in the form of feeding others is paramount, as it’s a reminder that Ramadan is not just a time of physical fasting, but also a spiritual journey intertwined with communal solidarity. As food is shared and cultural traditions are passed down, we are reminded that this holy month reflects the rich cultural tapestry of Muslim Americans.