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Michigan’s Muslim Community Breaks Fast With Fanciful Foods During Ramadan

The holy month is a time for special iftar feasts, late-night gatherings at coffee shops, and an enormous suhoor festival

A plate of falafel, three non-alcoholic cocktails, and other dishes set on a round table with a black table cloth
Iftar spread featuring a falafel platter and non-alcoholic speciality drinks to complement the cuisine by chef Omar Anani of Saffron De Twah - (from front to back - Rose Mule, Zobo, The Chapman)
Fatima Syed

The ninth month on the Islamic calendar is a time of spiritual renewal and community. Ramadan, a period of fasting, is also a time of celebration.

This year, Ramadan started at sundown on April 2 and ends with Eid-al Fitr on May 2 and 3, with restaurants and cafes staying open late or opening early and festivities large and small taking place throughout the Muslim community in metro Detroit, in particular, in Dearborn — home to one of the largest concentrations of Muslim Americans in the United States.

Eater visited several locations on the evening of April 16 to capture some of the celebrations.

Saffron De Twah

Roughly two dozen guests patiently wait to break fast once sunset hits, around 8:25 p.m., at Saffron De Twah, the Eater Award-winning modern Moroccan restaurant on the city’s east side. They’re eager for iftar, the meal that takes place after a day of fasting, which on this night is being prepared through a collaboration with Nadia Nijimbere and Hamissi Mamba of the celebrated Burundi restaurant, Baobab Fare. for their Ramadan dinner collaboration.

Hungry guests are treated to several regional delicacies, including mhogo, a hearty, chicken-based stew with cassava root, and an aromatic mustard-onion sauce.

Saffron De Twah’s Omar Anani dazzles with his signature dips and harissa potatoes. To drink, diners are offered an array of non-alcoholic cocktails like zobo, a refreshing pineapple hibiscus tea with ginger beer and topped with an edible hibiscus flower.

Anani has set up a prayer space for Muslims to pray before breaking fast.

“We wanted to give the Muslim community outside of Dearborn, a place where they could come and eat and congregate have a sense of community, and not feel any sort of external pressures,” Anani said.

Tea being poured into a cup from a metal container with containers of spices in the background
A barista at Haraz Coffee House in Dearborn prepares adeni tea, a black tea with heavy cream and haraz spices, on April 16, 2022.
Fatima Syed
Two women look down at a little girl in a pink jacket and pants, men bundled up in winter layers standing in the background
Families and friends flock to Dearborn-area restaurants, bakeries, and cafes like Haraz Coffee House, pictured here, which are open late during Ramadan.
Fatima Syed
Smiling man with a brown beard wearing a black polo shirt with his elbow leaned against a wood countertop
Hamzah Nasser, owner of Haraz Coffee House in Dearborn, talks about coffee culture amongst Muslims during Ramadan, on April 16, 2022.
Fatima Syed

Haraz Coffee

Following iftar, it’s time for a coffee break and Haraz Coffee House, a Yemeni coffee shop at 13810 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn, is buzzing with action. Sleepy children and their families and 20-something friends fill the space, all looking for sustenance and community. During the holy month, Haraz is open until midnight on weekdays and until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

“Coffee shops have been in the culture in the Middle East for centuries. Coffee came before Islam, it’s always been in the culture,” says Haraz owner Hamzah Nasser. “In the Middle East bars are not popular for our social gatherings, [so] instead of bars, we go to coffee shops.”

Among the many house specialties is adeni tea, a black tea with heavy cream and haraz spices. The beverage is filled with floral aromatics and spice giving it a full-bodied taste and serves as a welcomed source of comfort for the devout.

A crowd of people wearing winter clothing standing in front of a copy of the Ramadan sermon at the Ramadan Suhoor Festival in Dearborn
A crowd of people standing in front of a giant copy of the famous Ramadan sermon (delivered by Prophet Muhammad) at the Ramadan Suhoor Festival in Dearborn on April 16, 2022.
Fatima Syed
A bearded man wearing a headscarf, black shirt, and black latex gloves filling a wrap with lettuce
Chef Jawdat preparing the mortadella roll at the Lebanese Sushi food stall at the Ramadan Suhoor Festival in Dearborn on April 16, 2022.
Fatima Syed
A man wearing black latex gloves slicing an orange wrapped stuffed with beef shawarma on a white cutting board
Chef Jawdat at the Lebanese Sushi food stall at the Ramadan Suhoor Festival slicing a beef shawarma roll on April 16, 2022.
Fatima Syed
A crowd of people wearing winter attire waiting for food from food stalls at the Ramadan Suhoor Festival in Dearborn
A crowd of festival-goers braving a cold night on April 16, 2022 for the many treats on offer from The Fry Guyz and Aya’s Sweets food stands at the Ramadan Suhoor Festival in Dearborn.
Fatima Syed
Two festival-goers, one wearing a headscarf and big hoop earrings and both wearing black jackets eating tacos at the Ramadan Suhoor Festival in Dearborn
Two women enjoying halal birria tacos from the Taco Drip food stall at the Ramadan Suhoor Festival in Dearborn on April 16, 2022.
Fatima Syed
A bearded man wearing a hooded coat standing in front of a sign at the Ramadan Suhoor Festival in Dearborn
Hassan Chami, founder of the Ramadan Suhoor Festival in Dearborn, on April 16, 2022.
Fatima Syed

Ramadan Suhoor Festival

The warm beverage will come in handy for the last stop of this chilly April evening, the Ramadan Suhoor Festival. Suhoor is the pre-dawn meal that takes place before fasting resumes at sunrise.

Situated this year in the Sears parking lot at Fairlane Shopping Center, the outdoor celebration features more than 50 food vendors, ranging from makers of edible cookie dough bites to halal tacos. The entryway glimmers with twinkle lights and a Ramadan passage displayed in large print. By the time the festivities here begin at 11 p.m., lines have already formed at the many food stalls.

Hassan Chami, founder of the festival, says that the event launched in 2018 as a pop-up with about 8,000 visitors. Now, the festival draws about 20,000 people a night.

“It’s very important because it gives us a safe place, a family-friendly environment, and allows the youth specifically to have that Ramadan feeling that those in the Middle East have that we don’t really have in the west,” Chami said.

Vendor Dalia Zarka of Lebanese Sushi says she and other food-makers have waited a long time due to COVID-19 to participate in the festival. The event was canceled the previous two years because of the pandemic. Zarka’s tent features a twist on traditional sushi with its monstrous wraps and shawarma, each rolled, grilled, and cut to resemble a typical sushi roll.

While many guests hail from metro Detroit, the Ramadan Suhoor Festival attracts visitors from all over the state and from all religious faiths. Madison Kargol of Grand Rapids and a student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn was among those from the campus who were encouraged to attend the event.

“This isn’t something that we normally see or celebrate so it’s just really cool to be able to see different cultures,” Kargol said.

The festival will continue through April 30. Admission is one dollar and is donated to charity. For more information, click here.