I·ATE Food Term of the Week: Fasting Around the World

June 16, 2018 9:30 am

Ramadan is underway and Muslim communities in the EU and around the world are practicing it to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief. In fact, fasting and the voluntary abstinence from food as a spiritual purification rite are among numerous similarities that different religions share. In this respect, IATE food term of this week will look at how fasting is practices in Judaism, Christianity and Islam from the point of view of foods and drinks.

Fasting in Judaism

Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is believed to be the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar. On this day, Jews fast from sundown on the previous evening to sundown the next night, that is, 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services.

What kinds of foods are eaten for the Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur suggests two meals, namely the pre-fast meal and the break-fast meal. It goes without saying that for the duration of the fasting, no food or drink is allowed. The pre-fast meal is called seudah ha-mafaseket (literally, “meal of separation” or “concluding meal”). Some traditional recipes for different meals include: rice, kreplach (stuffed dumplings), challah (dipped in honey), chicken, or fish. In order to avoid dehydration during fast, meals usually should be prepared with minimum salt. For this reason, it is highly recommended to drink plenty of water. The break-fast meal usually consists of hi-carb dairy foods like sweet kugel (noodle pudding), bagels, quiches, soufflés, eggs, cheese, etc.

Fasting in Christianity

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, fasting and abstinence were historically practiced at various times each year. For Catholics, fasting is the reduction of food portions, whereas abstinence implies refraining from meat, for instance.

In Lent[1], many Christians commit to fasting, as well as giving up certain luxuries as a replication of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s journey into the desert for 40 days.

In the Western Catholic Church, the obligation to fast no longer applies to all weekdays of Lent (40 days), but only to Ash Wednesday[2] and Good Friday[3]. In the tradition of this part of the Catholic Church, abstinence from eating some form of food, i.e. meat, but not dairy or fish products, is distinguished from fasting. Fasting implies having only one proper meal with up to two collations during a day. Collations are light meatless meals; in terms of their size, they are much less than a full meal, however, sufficient to maintain strength.Fasting in the Orthodox Church is usually considered abstaining from certain foods during specific days or periods.

During Great Lent, Wednesdays, and Fridays, daily fasting implies abstaining from:

  • meat (anything with a backbone)
  • dairy products (eggs are in this or the previous category),
  • olive oil,
  • wine

In addition to this, during Great Lent, the portion, as well as the number and selection of meals are smaller.

Fasting in Islam

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting (Sawm). During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from dawn to sunset. Ramadan is the time of spiritual discipline, deep contemplation of one’s relationship with God, additional prayers, strong commitment to charity and generosity, and intense study of the Quran.

During Ramadan, two main meals are served: suhoor, which is served before dawn, and iftar, which is served after sunset. Suhoor should be a hearty, healthy meal to provide needed energy throughout a day of fasting — it ends when the sun rises. Afterwards, the fajr, the morning prayer, begins.

When the sun sets, the maghrib prayer starts, and the day’s fast is broken with iftar. Many Muslims break their fast by eating dates before beginning the iftar meal. Muslims can continue eating and drinking throughout the night until the next day’s suhoor.

Both of the suhoor and iftar meals contain fresh fruit, vegetables, halal meats, breads, cheeses, and sweets.

Ramadan Foods from Around the World:

India – Dahi vadey: Lentil dumplings that are soaked in a spicy yogurt sauce

Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Central Asia – Haleem: A slow-cooked stew of meat, bulgur wheat, and lentils

Turkey – Ramazan Kebabi: A dish made with lamb, onions, yogurt, and pita bread

North Africa – Ful medammes: Fava beans cooked with garlic and spread on bread

China – Paomo: A bread and mutton soup

India and Pakistan-Chapatis: Unleavened flatbread that is rolled up with vegetables and meats

Lebanon and Arab countries – Fattoush: A salad made of vegetables and pita bread

Middle East – Konafah: A pastry made with phyllo dough and cheese

Indonesia – Kolak: A fruit dessert made with palm sugar, coconut milk, and pandanus leaf. Fruits, such as jackfruit or banana, or mung beans are added


We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Visit our page next Saturday to keep up with the latest terms and news.

[1] Lent (Latin: Quadragesima: Fortieth) is a solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter Sunday

[2] Ash Wednesday is a Christian holy day of prayer, fasting and repentance. It is preceded by Shrove Tuesday and falls on the first day of Lent, the six weeks of penitence before Easter.

[3] Good Friday is a Christian holiday celebrating the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary.


  • http://becomingeden.com/religious-fasting-traditions/
  • https://www.britannica.com/topic/fasting
  • http://aboutislam.net/reading-islam/research-studies/fasting-different-religions/
  • https://www.thekitchn.com/the-food-of-ramadan-when-and-what-to-eat-94989

Written by  Gohar Sharoyan – Communication Study Visitor at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg) and a student of the Master Program in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg. She holds a BA in Linguistics and Translation from the Yerevan Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences. She speaks Armenian, English, Russian and French.

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