(photo credit: ben jacobson)
Ramadan is best known as a time when Muslims fast, but there's much more to the month-long holiday. Islamic dogma espouses not only elevated levels of holy energy but also "extra credit" given for good deeds during this time.
Throughout Ramadan, Muslims focus on shaking their various vices, which can be especially challenging when one's blood sugar levels plummet. Moreover, a variety of customs are associated with eating during Ramadan - which is encouraged, in moderation, between sunset and sunrise each day.
All month long, families partake in iftar, a post-sunset snack, and suhoor, a pre-dawn munch, and when Ramadan ends, they celebrate with a festival called Id al-Fitr.
For all of these rituals, eating syrupy, fried semolina sweets and date-based foods is customary, since Muslims are encouraged to emulate the prophet Muhammad, who is reported to have subsisted on water and dates.
Israel's Muslims have their own set of customs and popular foods for Ramadan, which fell in mid-September this year. Salim, a young kitchen worker at the Old City of Jerusalem's landmark Abu Sbeih sweet shop, favors the bite-size zongol. "These are very popular in Ramadan - forget about it," he says.
Moving inside, where rows and rows of packaged multi-pastry sampler trays line the walls, he says: "During the last week of Ramadan, when we begin to celebrate, these gift platters start to get popular. These have baklava, small pastries and whatnot with lots of dates and nuts in them."
Based on an informal survey of reference materials and local professional confectioners, In Jerusalem has compiled the following list of the top ten Ramadan sweets:
1. Filled katayef: deep-fried dough pockets with nut or cheese fillings.
2. Trapezoidal baklava: large, pistachio-layered, flaky pastries.
3. Zongol balls: syrup-covered, deep-fried, honey dough.
4. Aamber-topped kanafeh: cheese-flavored cake bites.
5. Frozen katayef: dough for frying at home like a pancake.
6. Bite-size borma: pistachio-filled and log-shaped with a shredded dough outer layer.
7. Nut-topped halwachmar: date-flavored cake bites.
8. Triangular baklava: small, sweet, cheese-layered, flaky pastries.
9. Large borma: like the bite-sized variety but longer and wider.
10. Zlabiya squiggles: syrup-covered, deep-fried, pink dough.