My Ramadan: Suhoor through the Years

July 20th, 2012

Most people know about iftar, that pivotal meal during Ramadan that breaks the dawn-to-sunset fast. Another Ramadan ritual is suhoor, the early morning meal typically eaten in the pitch-black hour just before dawn.

My introduction to suhoor was in my husband’s family home in Bethlehem. It was my first Ramadan, and I fasted “for the experience.” At about 3:30 am, my husband’s family gathered on the floor seated around a low table in the sitting room, florescent lights on, tea brewing, eggs frying.

What I remember well was being woken by a man whose job it was to walk the streets in the middle of the night beating a drum and shouting supplications in Arabic. The whole neighborhood woke up: shops and bakeries and pajama-clad neighbors buying rounds of fresh bread.

The food at the table consisted of a protein dish such as eggs, hummus or ful. Little plates were set out: jam, leban, chunks of sesame halva, and triangles of Laughing Cow cheese—all eaten with bites of bread. Gracing the table was always tea, strong and sweet, flavored with mint, prepared in an aluminum tea pot and served in tiny tea glasses.

Back home in Washington State, as a young wife during Ramadan, I recreated a variation of this suhoor for my husband. I set out the same tea in the same pot and arranged little plates of nuts, dried fruits, jam, yogurt, and sesame halva—lots of dishes, but nothing cooked. I was aiming for maximum visual impact with minimal effort.

Some years later, I began to fast myself, this time for real. Out of fear of fainting from starvation, I woke up extra-early to serve myself elaborate suhoors—including fruit, main course, side dish and dessert (yes, it’s true), followed by American coffee and two Tums.

Then our family grew, and gradually one by one, our children began to fast. Suhoor took on a whole new importance: I wanted to fill my three kids with as many calories, nutrients and liquids as possible. My friend Rima told me about her Arab-American suhoors growing up in Michigan. In the middle of the night, the house was brimming with smells. Rima and her brothers would come to the dining table spread with an array of Arabic foods—just as her mother pulled from the oven a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls. I wanted to be that mother.

But I never was. Not even once.

Like breakfast, suhoor is a personal thing. Naturally, each kid wanted something different. The oldest wanted a bowl of cereal, the youngest, eggs, and the middle child insisted on a Nutella sandwich on white bread with no crusts (whatever). Some of these suhoors were served bedside—with me begging the child to eat a piece of fruit and drink a glass of something. Anything!

I still had this vision of us eating suhoor together. That’s when the candle tradition started. My daughter simply could not stand the lights flipped on in the middle of the night. So, we started the candle-lit suhoor.

As the kids got older, they began to wake themselves and prepare their own suhoor. For a mother, this is a revelation. Suhoor got easier. I could focus on my own meal of oatmeal with raisins and walnuts.

And last year, we had the most slovenly Ramadan ever. It was August in Dubai, the heat beastly, and the kids off school. We slept until noon (or later) and often stayed up until suhoor. We didn’t eat our typical suhoor foods, but rather a continuation of the grazing since iftar. We were shameless.

And this year, what will suhoor hold for our family? Time will tell, but I suspect it will involve Nutella and candles. The food will not be the same as those first iftars in Bethlehem; however, I hope to gather the family around the table in the same way that my mother-in-law did.

Question: What are your suhoor traditions?  

  1. Rima aburashed
    July 20th, 2012 at 23:02 | #1

    Ramadan Mubarak! I just enjoyed our first suhoor with my parents and children. To make things easier I created ‘stations’ on my mom’s kitchen island: cereal station (bowls, cereals, and milk) and juice station. The actual dining table consisted of bagels with all the works, watermelon, apple strudel, and various fruit yogurts. Instead of candle light, we just dimmed the lights and dealt with the fussy first morning suhoor faces. Happy Ramadan! Tomorrow, we’ll whip up the cinammon rolls:)

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 20th, 2012 at 23:20 | #2

      Rima, Thanks for telling me about your American suhoor. Sounds like a teacher’s method of stream-lined organization! 🙂 P.S. I can smell those cinnamon rolls!

  2. July 21st, 2012 at 00:04 | #3

    Such an interesting post – I’ve learned so much about suhoor from you and can empathise with your daughter about the bright lights and love your solution. Love the honesty too about how life really pans out against the ideals of perfection we all too often set ourselves.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 25th, 2012 at 23:14 | #4

      Thank you, Sally. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Andrea
    July 21st, 2012 at 02:14 | #5

    Lovely! My suhoor this morning consisted of a bowl of plain oats that I microwaved for 2 minutes with half milk & half water. I also poached 2 eggs in the microwave. These were eaten with some smoked herring fillets, a cup of V-8, glass of water, a banana, an a large (home brewed) coffee latte. Was wondering at the time if any other Norwegian-American-Muslims also eat herring for suhoor, and then laughed at myself. I, too, try to pack as many protein calories I can into the least amount of prep-time possible. The coffee is my normal fare during the non-Ramadan months and, although others may wean themselves off the caffeine before fasting, I make sure it’s included into whatever I eat for suhoor! Down the road I, too, will be eating leftovers (including dessert) for suhoor because the meal prep is already done 🙂

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 25th, 2012 at 23:15 | #6

      Hi Andrea, Thanks for the comment. Your suhoor sounds very hearty and healthy! … Yes, I’m one of those people who wean themselves from caffeine before Ramadan. It’s a big ordeal, but I do it every year. One thing about Ramadan: It shakes things up and makes one appreciate so many little things.

  4. July 21st, 2012 at 02:45 | #7

    Ramadan Kareem Sisters,
    I have had very similar experiences with suhoor. Having moved a lot of times I find each place I’ve lived has had its own style of suhoor. Some years I just drank lots of water and ate a few dates. Some years I was visiting my non Muslim family during the first few weeks of Ramadan and I found myself heating up left overs from dinner. One favorite that has been on our top suhoor foods for years is called a toad in the hole, basically a piece of American bread with a hole cut in the center and a fried egg cooked in the center. Mine with a piece of cheese melted on top his plain. We both drink tea and lots of water and we use these quiet mornings to talk about our loved ones lost and Ramadans past. My daughter usually slept through suhoor and had her suhoor at zuhr and then fasted til maghrib. This year she’s 7 and wants to wake up and have suhoor with us. She was very excited to try a toad in the hole this morning. I think the name was the most exciting part. We had a great suhoor this morning and I hope you all did as well. Remember its not about stuffing ourself with food but about remembering those who are less fortunate.

    Ramadan Kareem

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 25th, 2012 at 23:17 | #8

      Hi Muslimmamma, Thank you for your thoughtful post. I enjoyed reading about your traditions. I’m going to try the Toad in the Hole. 🙂

  5. July 21st, 2012 at 09:36 | #9

    Your post reminded me of suhoors from my childhood … My children are still very young to fast.. so it’s just my husband and I for Suhoor.. I try my best to catch some sleep before Suhoor so that I can say Tahajjud prayers… We have typical Kerala food with tea… and we try to drink loads of water. I just can’t drink water early morning.. But I do it anyways.. 4-5 glasses straight! yikes! but it keeps me hydrated all day…

    I’ve been planning to write about my Ramadan memories from childhood in my journal.. you have given me just the boost I wanted..


    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 25th, 2012 at 23:20 | #10

      HI Neelu, What a lovely idea, writing your childhood Ramadan memories. Best wishes with that.

  6. July 21st, 2012 at 10:10 | #11

    A beautiful post… first and foremost Ramadan Kareem to you and everyone in your family. Though we have different rituals and festivals one fact remain the same amongst all of us – we are trying to adapt and invent to a few individual rituals ourselves so as to initiate the next generation into tradition. As long as the feelings and the essence is there, we have done justice in bringing them up!

    And you are doing that wonderfully:)
    Sharing this beautiful post…

  7. July 21st, 2012 at 10:36 | #12

    Love how you’ve woven such a telling narrative of your suhoors. It does change based on place, age, family circumstance…the weather. I did stuffed turkey sandwiches the whole of last Ramadan, they really kept me going through the day. Right now I’ve started with cereal, but I get the feeling I’ll switch back to Turkey sammies in a few days. Summer is just a really hard month to have Ramadan in. I won’t lie, but I shamelessly can’t wait for Ramadan to fall in the cooler months again.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 25th, 2012 at 23:22 | #13

      Ishita & I Live in a Frying Pan, thank you for reading and for the kind words. I appreciate both.

  8. July 21st, 2012 at 12:48 | #14

    Beautiful and evocative post. I am publishing a round-up of Sohoors next week and will link to this post. Thanks for sharing and Ramadan Kareem. x

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 25th, 2012 at 23:23 | #15

      FooDiva, Please link away! I look forward to reading your Suhoor round-up. Ramadan Kareem to you.

  9. Shy
    July 21st, 2012 at 13:45 | #16

    Such a delightful post Holly…love your re cap as you take the reader down memory lane..suhoor when the kids were younger and how they’ve all grown now and each one now eating what they fancy….Love your phrase”Maximum impact with minimum efforts”
    Ramadan Kareem to you and your family:))

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 25th, 2012 at 23:24 | #17

      Thank you for reading, Shy. Happy Ramadan to you, too. 🙂

  10. Zvezdana
    July 22nd, 2012 at 04:17 | #18

    Enjoyed reading this post. My kids are terrible at Sohoor, don’t want to be fed at all…but they eat a late ‘dinner’. As for me I am more of coffee and dates kind of faster. Thank you for sharing:)

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 25th, 2012 at 23:26 | #19

      HI Zvezdana, coffee & dates work for me, too! I hope your Ramadan is going well.

  11. brenda
    July 22nd, 2012 at 12:16 | #20

    Ramadan Kareem. Thanks for this entertaining and evocative post. My own love of suhoor grew from my own experiences as a young child @home. And now I too try to re-create that in my own home but somehow its never the same as with parents. Hope this month brings peace and blessings to all.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 25th, 2012 at 23:25 | #21

      Hi Brenda, Thank you for your lovely comment. Ramadan Kareem to you.

  12. July 23rd, 2012 at 11:15 | #22

    What an interesting post on Suhoor!

    You reminded me of so many suhoor stories.
    Some of which my mother used to share with us about their Ramadan as children.

    I lived this post with every word you wrote!

    Thank you!

  13. July 23rd, 2012 at 11:26 | #23

    As a non-muslim I have wondered how such traditions are taken on by families of different cultures. Your post made me smile and giggle. Your spirit and zeal shows in how you have tried to mix the traditions with your own experience. Love it!

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 25th, 2012 at 23:27 | #24

      HI Meeta & LaMereCulinaire, Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. It means a lot.

  14. July 25th, 2012 at 09:11 | #25

    I suppose laughing is NOT the correct response to this, but that’s, sadly, what I did. Kids! We try our darndest for them. And then, even worse, our expectations for ourselves. Don’t get me started.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 25th, 2012 at 23:12 | #26

      Natalie, Please laugh. It’s supposed to be funny! 😀

  15. OB
    July 27th, 2012 at 01:44 | #27

    Fasting actually starts approximately 1hr and 15mins before dawn. It is a common mistake among many expats to think that it starts at dawn. It actually starts at the first call to prayer. “Imsak” or abstinence from suhoor should start 10 minutes before the first call as a measure of safety.

  16. Holly S. Warah
    Holly S. Warah
    July 27th, 2012 at 04:37 | #28

    Salaam OB, Thank you for your clarification. Yes, you are right. We stop our suhoor and start fasting at imsak, which was at 4:14am this morning in Dubai. Unfortunately, there is no word for Imsak in English. If you want to get really precise (and it sounds like you do), Fajr was at 4:24 in Dubai and dawn is 55 minutes later at 5:19. Of course, this varies based on geographical location… Meanwhile, wishing you a blessed Ramadan. 🙂

  17. July 31st, 2012 at 10:58 | #29

    Lovely post, really enjoyed it and it has made me even more keen – if that’s possible 🙂 – to visit Bethlehem. I’d heard about the beating drum tradition before…

    I had my first experience of a proper dawn suhoor last year in Beirut and it was special. (Posted about it here )

    Was lovely meeting you and Ramadan Kareem to you and your family 🙂

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      August 7th, 2012 at 14:39 | #30

      HI Radhina, so great meeting you, too. Thanks for stopping by & I will check your own suhoor story. Take care.

  18. November 15th, 2013 at 13:12 | #31

    Ahlan Wah Salah 🙂

    Well Its great to read such articles which show so much of culture and festival n foods …

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      November 16th, 2013 at 09:09 | #32

      Thanks for reading, Dubaifoodies. Yes, never-ending food & culture here. 😀

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