Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ramadan in Istanbul

Just after Iftar at the Hippodrome in Istanbul

We weren't expecting that Istanbul would feel so different after only three weeks away, but it really does.  The reason is Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims.   

On our first night back to the city we wandered up to the Hippodrome, a long paved area used for chariot racing in ancient times but now a lively walkway connecting the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia.  Every inch of grass and pavement along the Hippodrome was being used by families and friends for picnics.  The interesting part is that no one was eating, at least not yet.  The food, the utensils, the bottles of water were ready, but everyone was waiting for Iftar, the evening meal after sunset when Muslims break the fast.  We've learned that those who observe the fast rise before the sun and have a big meal before abstaining from food and drink (including water) until Iftar.  Ramadan is not always in July and this must be a particularly difficult time of year for those fasting because of the long and very hot days. 

Eating a meal in Fatih just after Iftar

Another night we made our way to the Fatih neighborhood just a few tram stops from where we are staying in Sultanahmet.  We were in for another learning experience.  It was about 45 minutes before sunset when we arrived in Fatih.  As we wandered around all of the restaurants had Turkish mezes (appetizers) laid out on the tables and some had people sitting, but no one was eating.  We approached a restaurant to see about getting a table and learned that all of the restaurants in the area serve a set menu Iftar meal.  So we joined in, took a seat, and took notes from the locals, preparing our salads, opening our waters, and waiting for Iftar.  The loudspeakers on the minarets of the mosques around the city announce the end of fasting at sundown.  As the loudspeakers came to life, we took a moment to watch everyone around us gulp down two or three bottles of water and start eating.  Although we hadn't been fasting all day, it was a great experience and we definitely felt the anticipation as we waited for Iftar to begin.

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