Ask An Iranian - How do I survive Ramadan - microphone with a silhouette crescent like the moon

Even the world’s fastest-growing religion occasionally needs to take a break. Yes, each year it takes a month-long break and fills it with lots of breakier brakes. Call it a celebration; call it an endurance test — either way, you’ll be calling it Ramadan. Although the fundamentals are the same, there are many ways in which different nations go about it. Iran is different, and for many differing reasons, so we wanted to point those differences out. So, until the day that the world’s fastest religion becomes the world’s only religion, there will still be folks out there that are ignorant of Ramadan. To help correct this, we describe Ramadan: what happens, when it happens and why it happens. Armed with this knowledge, the non-Muslim listener will be able to tread carefully around the fasters. In doing this they will be enduring their “fakefast” by being forced to hide any ingestion.

To help us explain all this and more, we called on a friend of the show. Shanay joined us, not only to tackle this topic but to also taste-test Ramadan foods, both for the fasters and the “fakefasters”. On this occasion, she was accompanied by her four-legged friend, Sita, who also gave her opinion on the Iftar, spread. Listen here to hear our verdict, while also learning about Ramadan in Iran.

Questions we also get answers to in this episode

  • Why do Iranians say Ramazan instead of Ramadan?
  • What is “Iftar“, and what happens during it?
  • How do I greet somebody on Ramadan in Iran?
  • When should you fast and when shouldn’t you fast?
  • What’s the difference between Ramadan and Lent?
  • How many days do Muslims fast during Ramadan?
  • What can I eat for “fakefast”?
  • Is the Iranian dish “haleem“, the worst?
  • Who’s the biggest Iranophile?
  • Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?

List of the foods eaten by Iranians during the holy month of Ramadan

  • Zulbia and Bamiyeh: fried batter soaked in syrup, similar to jalebis and churros.
  • Halva Ardeh: tahini-based halva, and may or may not include whole pistachios.
  • Haleem: a stew that is made of wheat or barley, meat (chicken or turkey during Ramadan in Iran), spices including cassia and fennel, and water, milk, or a broth.
  • Flatbreads: including barbari, sangak, taaftoon and lavaash.
  • Dates: you know, the ones that come from trees

7 tips on how to survive Ramadan in Iran if you’re not fasting

Although fasting for Muslims at Ramadan is ‘fard‘ (obligatory in Arabic), exceptions are made for persons in particular circumstances. Exemptions to fasting include travel, menstruation, severe illness, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. If you are not Muslim and happen to be in a Muslim nation during Ramadan, you won’t be expected to fast, but you will be expected to be respectful of those observing it. To help you survive Ramadan as a non-Muslim or as a person who is exempt, we’ve added a list of tips below.

  1. DON’T INGEST IN PUBLICDon’t eat, drink, chew gum or smoke in front of people unless you know they are also not fasting. Some places may have designated areas where you can do this as a non-faster. Be delicate when asking somebody where you can find it.
  2. ORDER COLD FOODGetting food from restaurants in Iran during Ramadan is a little tricky. Restaurants are obliged to not sell hot food until “Iftar” during Ramadan but can make and deliver cold foods such as sandwiches and salads.
  3. GET PRE-PREPARED FOODBuying food from corner shops and supermarkets is an option for you if you need to get food on the go. You can get sandwiches, pasta dishes, salads, bread and cheeses from most shops.
  4. CARRY A FLASKWater coolers, drinking fountains or kitchens, may be made inaccessible during Ramadan. Carrying a non-transparent flask can be a way to remain hydrated, while also being respectful of those around you that are fasting (obviously, don’t drink in front of them).
  5. SCHEDULE PRECISELY – Many businesses in Iran will adapt their working hours to empathise with those fasting. Governmental organisations and banks will reduce opening hours, whereas sports facilities may only operate at night. Restaurants will open just before sundown and will be open until late.
  6. PREPARE FOR TRAFFIC – Iranians will join one another each evening for “Iftar” (the name for the moment breaking one’s fast at sundown). Due to this, you might experience heavy traffic should you be travelling just before.
  7. CELEBRATE, BUT DON’T CELEBRATE – Although Arab nations may celebrate Ramadan each evening, for Shia Iranians, things are a little more sedate. This especially the case during the three-day commemorative event for the martyrdom of the Shia Imam, Imam Ali. This is from the 19th day of Ramadan to the 21st.

Foods that we ate for Iftar during the recording of this episode

We taste-tested foods consumed by regular fasters, such as:

We also taste-tested food that is suited to “fakefasters”, such as:

Follow this episode’s guest, Shanay

If you’d like to follow our guest and maybe see how her restoration project is going, you can follow Shanay on Instagram, here.

Translation of Persian (Farsi) words used in this episode

PersianEnglish translations
(Ramadan) karim:Arabic for “generous”, among many other things
Tarakhoon:“Tarragon” – the herb
Noon panir o sabzi:“Bread, cheese and greens”
Pashmak:A sugary treat, similar to cotton candy
Taarof:The term for Iranian social protocol
Khejaalat bekesh:“Be ashamed”
“a” appearing alone, will be pronounced as a short-a — double ‘aa’s are long, as used in the word “water”

Image credit: “The Ramadan mic and a dog”, by Ask An Iranian copyright 2021