Gourmet meals for Ramadan

Amira Hisham, Tuesday 2 Apr 2024

Introducing new culinary experiences to the less fortunate during the holy month of Ramadan can be a joy in its own right.

Meals for Ramadan
Meals for Ramadan


Shrimp, pistachios, cashews, mangoes, cinnamon, duck, and honey: these are just some of the delicacies to be found on the tables of the affluent in Egyptian society, their allure heightened by their sometimes exorbitant prices rendering them beyond the reach of struggling families.

The prevailing perception of food distributed to those in need has long been one of providing only essential sustenance, barely sufficient to stave off hunger and meet the most basic nutritional requirements and devoid of any hint of luxury.

But today, many people who give to charity in the holy month of Ramadan have been following the Quranic verse that says “Never will you attain the good [reward] until you spend [in the way of Allah] from that which you love. And whatever you spend, indeed, Allah is knowing of it” (Al-Omran: 92. Translation: Sahih International).

They are thus endeavouring to donate more expensive foods to spread joy among the less fortunate.

“I had never eaten a Cinnabon roll,” a popular brand of cinnamon pastry. “It was like the ones you see some people relishing and it was delightfully sweet,” said recipients of Cinnabon treats arriving at their homes courtesy of the Abwab Al-Khair Foundation, which has been giving out 424 delectable pieces to 106 families across various neighbourhoods of Cairo. 

Each family received a box containing four pieces, a gesture totalling some LE17,000.

Haitham Al-Tabei, director of the Abwab Al-Khair Foundation, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the foundation’s “feeding project is extensive, providing 1.5 tons of meat monthly to over 1,400 families across six governorates as part of our routine operations. However, the inclusion of gourmet items such as shrimp, cinnabon, or duck is reserved for donor requests.”

“There is a family in the Ain Shams neighbourhood of Cairo that has a fondness for duck. During Ramadan, they generously provide a significant quantity of duck meals to the foundation for distribution among those in need. Similarly, we also receive donations of shawerma or shrimp meals,” he added.

“When it comes to distributing cinnabon, we also consider empowering local initiatives. For instance, we supported a woman raising orphans by purchasing 400 pieces of cinnabon for her. This not only aided her but also allowed us to introduce a new taste experience to those we serve,” Al-Tabei noted.

“Another donor who loves mangoes donated 10 kg for distribution to poorer families. Last year, the foundation distributed a ton of mangoes during Ramadan.”

Al-Tabei reflects on the impacts of introducing new culinary experiences to the less fortunate, both adults and children. He recounts touching moments of happiness and gratitude, such as when an elderly man was moved to tears upon receiving a box of kahk, a traditional Eid dessert. 

“This is in a box wrapped just like the ones the affluent buy,” Al-Tabei cited the man as saying.

“It all started when one day we distributed shrimp meals. The following day, a grateful mother approached us, revealing that her children had never tasted, or known about, shrimp before,” said Gehad Talima, one of the foundation’s donors. 

Talima and her mother Nagah Tayea have prepared and distributed meals to families in need during Ramadan for years, carrying on the legacy of Gehad’s late father, Mohamed Talima, a former member of the People’s Assembly who dedicated himself to supporting marginalised families.

“Since my father’s passing, we have continued our initiative, occasionally providing shrimp meals to families who cannot afford them and whose children are unfamiliar with this delicacy. We cook the meals ourselves,” Talima said.

Nada, another contributor, has a favourite dessert of rice pudding, and she sought to share this dish with others by organising a distribution for the less fortunate. However, her enthusiasm was met with accusations of impracticality from some members of a cooking group on Facebook, who argued that basic staples like bread, meat, and rice should be prioritised over luxuries.

Undeterred by the backlash, Nada remained steadfast in her belief that everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, deserves to enjoy the same quality of food. 

Inspired by her love of chocolate, Dalia, another contributor, distributed imported chocolate bars to those in need despite being advised to focus on more conventional food items like rice, pasta, or chicken. The reactions from recipients varied, but one moment stood out when a man chose to save the chocolate to share with his loved ones at home, cherishing the opportunity to enjoy a simple pleasure with his wife and children.

“I started distributing shrimp meals six years ago. The first year I distributed 15 and the second year 50,” said Doha Mustafa, a Cairo resident. “Last year, with donations from other people, we managed to distribute 1,850 shrimp meals,” she added.

Not content with stopping there, she also “managed to distribute 200 gm of cashews and almonds sourced from the finest establishments to individuals during Ramadan.” 

Explaining her choice of shrimp, Mustafa said that “it is my favourite food, but many people have yet to experience its exquisite taste. Besides, it has exceptional nutritional benefits.”

Distribution methods vary based on the preferences of the donors or organisations involved. Some people opt to personally distribute meals to passersby, while others choose to delegate the task to charitable institutions.

Some people prefer to target specific locations, such as the Abul-Rish Children’s Hospital and the Oncology Institute in Cairo, where families accompanying sick relatives can often find themselves waiting outside without access to food. Distributing meals in such places also addresses the immediate needs of those facing difficult circumstances.

Many charities also maintain databases containing information about less-fortunate families, facilitating targeted assistance to those most in need.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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