What’s on the iftar menu this Ramadan?

CAIRO (Arabnews): Egyptians are heading into the holy month this year with economic concerns that will prevent them from going all out with their celebrations of Ramadan, and result in overflowing dining tables not creaking quite so much as usual.

The first day of Ramadan usually means a busy kitchen as everyone lends a hand to prepare the feast. It requires bringing out the fancy china for special guests, so that when the Maghrib prayer starts everyone is gathered around an impressive dining table full of soups, juices, duck, meat, and an assortment of carbs.

This year might be different as Egyptians continue to struggle with the cost-of-living crisis. February’s inflation rate jumped to 31.9 percent, a five-and-a-half-year high, according to official data.

Food prices led the jump with a 61.8 percent annual increase, with poultry prices leading the way.

This jump in inflationary pressures, paired with the Egyptian pound’s continued depreciation against the US dollar and other currencies, has hit people’s purchasing powers.

This will result in the iftar table being emptier than usual this time around.

Menna Mahmoud, who has three children, said: “This year we will definitely cut back on inviting people over for iftar.

“Our food spending is so high and our salaries are not able to cover our usual level of living. We have had to stop buying name brands and switch to generic products.

“Meats have become so expensive and you can’t really host an iftar without a variety of meat dishes, so we decided to keep our hospitality scarce this Ramadan season. We can’t afford to host as many people as we once did.”

The government has been working to help those struggling with the cost of living, with Ahlan Ramadan discounted outlets playing a big part in securing families’ needs ahead of the holy month.

The outlets sell rice, oils, sugar, flour, poultry, fish, vegetables, and other items, at a 25-30 percent discount. The state has thousands of Ahlan Ramadan outlets to ensure all families are able to get their hands on essentials.

Bank teller Mohamed Abdo, a father of three, said: “Things are significantly more expensive these days but Ramadan isn’t about fancy dinner tables and piles of food.

“It is about bringing family and friends together, so even if we’re breaking our fast with just cheese sandwiches, we will invite people over.”

Ramadan was hit by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, while last year a global wheat shortage resulted from the Ukraine conflict. This time economic concerns are the issue, but people are still keen to celebrate.