Ramadan is a totally unique time in a predominately Muslim country. The days slow. Businesses either close or shorten hours. Traffic drops off during the day, gets crazy in the hour or two before sunset, lulls over sunset, and then gets crazy again. Evenings are joyous and late and full of food.
The vast majority of Muslims fast during daylight hours of Ramadan. That means sunrise to sunset without food or water. Now think about that. In Cairo, sunrise tomorrow is 4:55 am and sunset is 6:50 pm. That is close to 14 hours without food or water when the high tomorrow should reach 106 degrees F (41C). No wonder everything moves slower. DS’ preschool shortened hours from the normal 8 am to 4:30 pm to 8:30 am to 3 pm. Some businesses, especially those related to food or alcohol, closed completely for the entire month. Only tourist hotels are serving alcohol to foreigners this month.
But as soon as the sun sets, everyone breaks their fast and goes out to enjoy the evening or makes rounds visiting friends or family. The evening breaking of the fast is called Iftar. (The morning meal is called suhoor and happens right before sunrise–many wake to pray and eat and then go back to sleep for a bit). I joined a group of women on a trip to the souq Khan el Khalili to have iftar and wander the stalls and streets of Islamic Cairo. It was so much fun!
Our original plan was to drive over sunset (we hired a van and driver) so that traffic would be light. But we were all ready early and Googlemaps was showing light traffic so we set out. Then our driver drove slightly like a madman and we made the trip in record time! We actually pulled up at the Khan just a minute before sunset. It was fascinating during the drive seeing rows and rows of tables and chairs set up outside with people sitting with plates of food in front of them waiting for sunset so they could start eating.
When we got out of the van, people were passing out dates to everyone they saw. Having a date and some water or cold hibiscus tea is a typical way to break the fast. I ate a date and watched men running around in traffic passing cups of water or hibiscus tea through taxi and car windows so everyone could break fast. It was so festive and joyous!
We walked just a minute into the Khan and got our seats at the Egyptian Pancake place. My friend went through quite the effort of attempting to make reservations for our group of 11 and we had no idea until we arrived if her attempts had actually resulted in reservations. But they had! The Egyptian Pancake place is fiteer with different fillings or toppings both sweet and savory. Fiteer is a flaky layered bread. I got fiteer with honey and cream on top. Others got it stuffed with sweet apples or bananas, topped with bananas and chocolate, or filled with vegetables. Servings were massive (and cheap!) and we all shared bites.
Once we were all stuffed, we headed off into the market to see all the lights and decorations. We particularly liked the shops with lots of lanterns lit up! We made our way to El Moez (Muez) Street. This street has a lot of mosques, madrasas, sabils and other historic buildings. It has minimal cars and lots of people hanging out, shopping, eating, and socializing. It was so festive! We really enjoyed it! I particularly liked the guys selling light up balloons. They were so cool in the dark.