I got caught out today. In aimless wanderings around my neighbourhood, trying to find shops open in the middle of the day, I came across the one shop doing a roaring trade, Mandarine Koueider, a chic patisserie on Korba, specialising in all the sticky, super-sweet delights that Egyptian Muslims love to eat once the sun has gone down and the feasting begins. Actually, not just Muslims, all this sweet-toothed country loves mainlining baklawa, kunafa, zalabia – anything involving pastry or fried dough, crushed nuts and lots of honey or sugar syrup.
So I’m queuing up with the best of them, and finally my turn comes. I order kunafa, with its pastry base, fresh cream and sweet vermicelli on top, little fingers of baklava – crushed nuts and honey rolled in filo – and what I thought looked like the Greek mezzaluna shortbread and pistachio bites. As he was making my tray of sweets, the guy behind the counter did what all sweets men do and offered me a taste of the baklava. So I did what I always do and smiled and popped the sweet in my mouth, only to realise I was surrounded by perhaps 40 people who have not eaten nor drunk a thing in 12 hours. Spot the non-Muslim, eh?
For those of you who haven’t twigged yet, it’s now Ramadan, Islam’s holy month. Falling on the same date in the Islamic lunar calendar, in ‘our’ Gregorian solar calendar, it’s a moveable feast. This year, Ramadan (which translates as ‘scorching heat’) runs from 22 August (so we’re well underway) finishing with Eid-el-fitar on 20 September.