• Ramadan in Bosnia




    Ramadan (Ramazan in Bosnian) is arguably the most interesting and most contested time of the year in Bosnia. It is one of few axial points in time for the people, even non – Muslims. Events and activities are talked about as being before and after Ramadan; vacations are planned according to it, working hours are adjusted to it, and at least two days off are given for Eid. 

    Everything slows down. The fast, of course, begins with suhur, and the sight of Sarajevo at suhur is heart-softening; lights in houses and apartments appear suddenly and strikingly, contrasting the surrounding darkness like stars do with the darkness of the cosmos when they appear. Other than light bulbs, ovens and microwaves, one electric device that gets disturbed from its night’s rest is the phone. People call to check up on each other, and if a complete stranger would pass through a tightly-knit neighborhood at this time, with its lights on and phones ringing, he’d might think that the sun is on the wrong side of the planet. In the old times, the task of waking people up was up to a telal, a man who would go through the streets and repeatedly announce in a loud voice that it’s time to rise and eat (his other duties included making important announcements on the town square in a similar, i.e. loud, fashion). 

    Those who do get up for suhur will probably not miss eating a piece of pastry called somun, one famous folkloric feature of Ramadans here. Roundly shaped, spiced and decorated with some blackseed, and smelling wonderfully when freshly baked, it’s something that the fasting and the non-fasting people look forward to in Ramadan. Customs and habits surrounding it are among the signposts of the month; for example, since everyone wants their somun fresh and warm, most wait until the last hour (or less) before iftar to buy it (although it is eaten for suhur as well, iftar is its prime time). That can create an interesting image on the streets of Sarajevo; long droves of people in front of bakeries with baskets, slabs or sheets for their pastry chatting, arguing, watching the time, looking and acting nervous, and sometimes even slowing the traffic a bit. It can be an additional test of patience during the month of self-restraint; there’s usually no place to sit, the waiting can be long, and people there do not necessarily follow the rules of shariah with regards to gender mixing and good manners. Also, on more than a few occasions during the month someone will try to look smart and buy his somun before his turn even comes (usually by asking a familiar person, who is closer to the bakery, to buy it for him), which can lead one to be submitted to a round of verbal lynching by the righteously angered, hungered masses.

    Another culinary feature of Ramadan is an appetizer called topa. Made of cheese (sometimes with several different types of cheese), butter and possibly eggs and some additional diary products, like somun, it is considered an almost obligatory part of iftar; while it can be eaten with a spoon, the traditional way of consuming involves a skillful manual use of a piece of somun, which is dipped into topa and used to pick up some amount of it,  which is then brought to the mouth, preferably without anything falling somewhere outside of the target location (and with your hands clean, fingertips not included). This particular meal is considered by some to be one of the main culprits for the weight gain that many people experience during Ramadan; it’s considered an appetizer, but it’s so powerful that it makes any subsequent main meal superfluous; the problem, of course, is that the main meal is never missed. As for dates, they make their annual comeback during Ramadan and as far as I can tell, more and more people are making sure that they have and eat dates during Ramadan, at least for iftar.


     Photo by: Zaim Pivalic





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